Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Season 1
While many people can’t wait to get the latest block buster flick on DVD, complete with the six channel surround sound and anamorphic video, there is another, perhaps more important use of this digital media, preserving old classics for future generations. Now, Universal has released one the all time best television series every to be shown on television, Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Starting to 1955 each week this anthology series offered tale of mystery and suspense with just the right touch of thrills and horror tossed in for good measure. You see, back in those days, correctly called the golden age of television, it was the steak not the sizzle that mattered, talent reigned supreme and quality was important to the studio executives. It was also a time when there was a sharp distinction between the worlds of television and film, crossovers where almost unheard of. Going against this tradition one of the undisputed best film directors of all time, Alfred Hitchcock, took on the small screen in his unique fashion.
Hitchcock was a genius but he was also a man with a sizable ego. He is famous for his cameos in every film he has ever directed and brought this quirk over to his television series. Each week he would introduce the story, usually with a little jab at the sponsors. He would then come back after the story to wrap things up with a parting shot. Hitchcock would also employ little props, a guillotine, noose or some other method of death often would find their way on screen. Thankfully, this first season box set includes the preamble and postscript to each of the thirty nine episodes. Most introductions began with the famous phrase ‘Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen’, softly spoken by a man that could handle suspense like no other. The master even made fun of his sizable girth with his well known walk into a silhouette of himself to the sound of his theme song, Funeral March of a Marionette. These are the little bits that I remember most from my childhood and it just wouldn’t be the same without them.
In many ways this series was the precursor to other anthology series like the Twilight Zone and the Outer Limits. While not oriented to science fiction as those two examples Hitchcock always managed to find the best writers, crew and actors possible. Such notable writers as Ray Bradbury, Alec Coppel and Roald Dahl provided the stories and often the scripts for the episodes, these where authors already famous on stage, screen and novels bringing their talents to the small screen. In one episode a man comes home to find his wife beaten and their home ransacked. When his wife identifies a stranger as the assailant the man kills him only to find out that is wife is insane, randomly identifying others, the man has killed an innocent man. It’s these little twists that make each of the thirty nine stories presented in this box set a delight to see even fifty years after they originally aired. All the dark emotions common to the human race are explored. In another story a man and wife conspire to alleviate their financial woes by having the wife disappear for seven years, have her declared dead and collect the insurance. In a turn of events the wife shows up two days before the seven years to collect, the husband kills her and the detective who always suspected the husband of murder finally gets his man. Revenge, greed and scorn all are given imaginative tales that because of the great writing stand the test of time like few story lines today could. Since each story runs only about twenty five minutes the stories are tightly written, fitting a lot into such a short time.
Although Hitchcock had a reputation of being very demanding of his actors he was loyal to the talent he directed. Many actors are reused in several episodes. For example, Michael Ansara, Darren McGavin and Gene Barry all show up several times, each appearance different from the one before. This is a testimony to the talent of these actors. While many actors get type cast in the same basic role time and time again these people where able to do what actors should do, take on different roles with commitment and dedication. The anthology nature of this series also was a proving ground for young actors and a way to keep the talents of veteran actors sharp in the then new media of television. As you watch the credits role up at the end of an episode you will see names like Vera Miles, Cloris Leachman, Peter Lawford, Barry Fitzgerald, John Cassavetes, John Forsythe and Joseph Cotton among the actors. Even the well known producer of so many hit televisions shows, Aaron Spelling, has an appearance. Look closely and you will even see a very young Charles Bronson long before his fame in the Death Wish flicks. Hitchcock was well known as a star maker and he continued this part of his career very successfully on television. One of the many reasons to purchase this set and add it to your collection is the assemblage of talented actors doing some of their best work.
Considering this series was the creation of one of the best directors every to command a sound stage you would expect talent in this quarter as well, you will not be disappointed. Hitchcock takes the helm for four episodes in this first season. Famed television director Robert Stevens has no less than nineteen times directing episodes. This man directed episodes of such classic television as Playhouse 90, The Twilight Zone and the Defenders, an excellent resume. Needless to say with such a short time allowed the pacing has to be impeccable and it certainly is. No matter who sat in the director’s chair that week the direction was tight, suspenseful and better than many films. Hitchcock was not the type of man that would let any director lacking in any way on a show that bares his name.
Universal has been releasing a lot of classic television shows but this one should be at the top of everyone’s list. The re-mastered black and white video is excellent, far better than I could have hoped. It is clear and clean of almost all artifacts or defects. The Dolby mono sound is a bit geared towards the mid range with little low frequencies but it sounds great. As if the complete first season of this series was not enough Universal has provided some extras. There are fresh interviews with Pat Hitchcock, daughter of the Master, Norman Lloyd of Saint Elsewhere fame, long time Hitchcock friend and co-producer, actor and director and Hilton Green, an assistant director under Hitchcock. They interviews give great insight into the mind of Hitchcock. For those that remember this series it is a look back in time, for the younger set get this and watch how television should be done.