Previously released in 1997 as a 'flipper' disc, Warner Bros have remastered one of Alfred Hitchcock's best Fifties thrillers, and added some substantive goodies on a second disc that should please serious Hitchcock fans and neophytes.
Emulating the Criterion approach to editing myriad comments into a lively stream of memories, production notes, and career anecdotes, featurette expert Laurent Bouzereau has created a commentary track that also paints an affectionate portrait of the iconic 'Master of Suspense' through recollections from friends, scholars, and family members.
It's an excellent melange from people who largely knew and worked with the director at one time or another: contributors include production designer Joe Alves (who worked on "Torn Curtain"); historian Peter Schickel (whose first TV documentary on famous directors focused on Hitchcock); Peter Bogdanovich (who met and later interviewed the director); director Richard Franklin (director of "Psycho 2"); "Psycho" screenwriter Joseph Stefano, the late Whitfield Cook (who penned the film adaptation); Patricia Highsmith biographer Andrew Wilson; and actress Kasey Rogers.
The featurettes on Disc 2 largely avoid an information overlap, and contain additional interview materials that offer the same balance of facts and warm affection for the director. "Strangers on a Train: A Hitchcock Classic" is a straightforward making-of doc, adding interview extensions from some of the commentary participants, plus historian Robert Osborne, actor Robert Walker, Jr. (still the spitting image of his father), and co-star Farley Granger (who's almost unrecognizable under a dense beard).
The major asset to the featurette and commentary track is biographer Wilson, who gives an excellent portrait of novelist Highsmith, citing her childhood traumas, and the morose daydreams that became a catalyst for her dark novels about the sociopathic minds. Wilson also discusses key differences between the film and novel, and adds some diversity to a track that's obviously slanted towards the nuances of Alfred Hitchcock.
"The Hitchcocks on Hitch" featurette gathers additional interviews from daughter Patricia Hitchcock and her three daughters, with the latter trio offering some amusing childhood portraits of their famous grandfather before they pretty much knew who he was. There's some familiar, vintage home movies of Hitch horsing around with daughter Patricia, and more recent stills of the granddaughters.
"The Victim's P.O.V." is a more detailed interview with actress Kasey Rogers, covering her career, different stage names, and dying gracefully for her director.
M. Night Shyamalan's Hitchcock appreciation is very simplistic, and while lacking the level of analytical depth of his peers, it's an adequate dissection of the moral code that governs the film's immortal killer.
Carried over from the '97 DVD is the silent (and very kitschy) newsreel of Hitchcock doing a publicity stunt with two actors in historical costumes on train steps, and the “Preview Version” of the film (erroneously labeled as an alternate British version at the time).
The only Special Feature unique to the '97 release are some detailewd Production Notes, which are already covered via this set's massive extras.
Transfers of both versions are superior to the older DVD, with dirt and scratches cleaned up, and the overall picture doesn't suffer from a harshness and subtle wringing present in the older transfers. The original mono mix still bristles with excellent sound effects, and Dimitri Tiomkin's score still shines as one of the composer's best scores.
Though the other Hitchcock titles in Warner Bros' Fall wave aren't as heavy on extras, the new and improved "Strangers on a Train" release is a perfect gateway into the director's career, with several of the interview subjects also appearing in the seven films making their DVD debut in this series.
This Warner Bros title is available separately or as part of the Alfred Hitchcock Signature Collection that includes: “Strangers On A Train,” “Mr. And Mrs. Smith,” “Suspicion,” “North By Northwest,” “Dial M For Murder,” “Foreign Correspondent,” “The Wrong Man,” “Stage Fright” and “I Confess.”
© 2004 Mark R. Hasan