Hard to believe it’s taken this long for studios to start putting Alfred Hitchcock’s movies on Blu-ray. Well better late than never, I always say. And with not one, but two movies about the master of suspense on the way (HBO’s “The Girl”, about the making of “The Birds”, and the theatrical “Hitchcock”, about the making of “Psycho”), what better time than now? If you’ve always been a fan of Hitchcock’s excellent brand of suspense, then you’ll be very pleased with the Blu-ray release of 1951’s oft-imitated “Strangers on a Train”, along with the 1954 Grace Kelly classic “Dial M for Murder”. Both titles are now available on Blu-ray for the first time courtesy of Warner Home Video.
STRANGERS ON A TRAIN (1951)
Stop me if you’ve heard this story before: two strangers meet on a train and decide to help the other out with their respective “problems”, and because they have no connections to the person they will be killing, it will be difficult for the police to suspect them. The results are two perfect murders committed by men with no motives for the crime. What could possibly go wrong? Lots, as it turns out.
Based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith, “Strangers on a Train” is the very definition of a white-knuckle thriller, boasting a tour de force performance from Robert Walker as Bruno, the slimeball who engages poor Guy about this little “murder” idea he’s been hatching for some time. Walker is crazy good in the role, and Farley Granger has the unenviable task of trying to match Walker’s brilliant performance. Easily one of Hitchcock’s best films, the movie feature co-writing credits by Raymond Chandler himself. Hitchcock is in prime form here, from the opening frame to the end, and Walker’s performance is simply gravy on top. If you’ve never seen “Strangers on a Train”, you are really missing out on a true classic.
Special features on the Blu-ray include an audio commentary track stuffed with over a dozen participants, including the likes of Peter Bogdanovich, Joseph Stefano, Peter Benchley, and Hitchcock himself. The editing is actually pretty good, though it’s easy to get lost among the different voices. I would have loved a full-length commentary by just Hitchcock, but this will have to do. A special “Preview Version” of the film that is a few minutes longer is also included, though nothing too Earth-shattering in terms of new content. There is also a half dozen featurettes that takes you behind-the-scenes of the film (over an hour and change), along with a theatrical trailer. The film looks great on Blu-ray, with crisp black and white, though I detected some issues with the audio here and there, but nothing that took me out of the film.
DIAL M FOR MURDER (1954)
It’s not “Strangers on a Train”, but “Dial M For Murder” does have Grace Kelly at her loveliest, and that’s, well, pretty damn good, too. Based on the play by Frederick Knott (who also adapted the screenplay), “Dial M for Murder” finds Kelly playing Margot, the cheating wife of Ray Milland’s Tony. In retaliation for his wife’s infidelity with writer Mark (Robert Cummings), Tony schemes to kill her, a plot that includes blackmailing her would-be killer. Things, well, do not quite go as planned, leaving poor Tony to improvise. Hell, you almost feel bad for the murderer.
Using a limited set of locations (as per the play, which was apparently just set in a single living room) for “Dial M for Murder”, Hitchcock manages to wring every last drop of suspense from very limited resources. In a lot of ways, the film was Hitchock at his most creative, though at times he had to stretch things in order to keep the plot going. If the premise of “Dial M for Murder” sounds familiar, that’s because it was basically remade in 1998 with Michael Douglas, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Viggo Mortensen. If you didn’t appreciate “Dial M for Murder” at first, try watching “A Perfect Murder”, and you’ll realize how good Hitch did it back in ’54.
“Dial M for Murder” has the distinction of being originally shot in 3D, so I guess it makes sense that the Blu-ray has an optional 3D version. (I don’t have a 3D player, so no comments there.) The film is also in color, though honestly I can’t decide if Grace Kelly in color is lovelier than in black and white. (Probably both.) The Blu-ray transfer was not as flawless as I had expected, which is disappointing, leaving me to wonder how it would have looked had they stuck to black and white? After all, “Murder” was only 3 years after “Strangers on a Train”, and look how good “Strangers” turned out in today’s Blu-ray format. Fortunately the film is a worthy classic, so there’s that. In any case, special features are limited to a featurette called “Hitchcock and Dial M” (about 20 minutes) and a theatrical trailer.