You’ll want to make some time for this excellent “Siskel & Ebert” special from 1983, “Dial H for Hitchock,” in which the beloved and much-missed critical pair do their thing (after a few promos for their review of “The Big Chill”, for whatever reason). The show highlights an interesting bit of film history: it was made to coincide with the rerelease of several Hitchcocks in the early 80s–“Vertigo,” “Rear Window,” “Rope,” “The Man Who Knew Too Much,” “The Trouble With Harry”–all of which had been hard to see in the U.S. for some years before 1983, Hitchcock himself having intentionally kept prints scarce to increase their value. “Vertigo” and “Rear Window”, of course, are two of Hitchcock’s absolutely most influential film, so it’s strange to imagine a time when many film fans wouldn’t ever have seen them.
This isn’t just a Hitchcock hagiography though: the other three films aren’t quite of the same legendary status, and it’s fun to see Siskel and Ebert dismiss “The Trouble With Harry”, a weird, unremembered black comedy(ish) with Shirley MacLaine. The 1956 “The Man Who Knew Too Much”—the American version, with Jimmy Stewart—gets more credit, and the Morocco-set scene the two critics show is enormously atmospheric, but its messy, disconnected feel gets criticism it deserves. The last of the five, “Rope”, is famously the one ostensibly filmed in a single take (though actually a little trickery was involved, as Siskel explains), a fascinating technical exercise and Hitchcock’s first film with Jimmy Stewart, though again the pair aren’t shy about criticising aspects of it, chiefly the acting.
It’s Siskel and Ebert on Hitchcock in general, though–on his obsession and inventiveness–that’s really interesting, that and the sense they give of these five films as being fresh and surprising, which for many people they really were, and indeed still are. Check it out. [via Larry Wright and Brian Orndorf]