5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
THE CRITERION COLLECTION version is AWESOME,
This review is from: The 39 Steps (The Criterion Collection) (DVD)I have seen the Laserlight version. While I found it to be fairly acceptable considering the low cost, if you are a Hitchcock fan Criterion is the only way to go. The Criterion presentation is hard to fault; considering the age of the film, the image is clear and the sound is always intelligible. Plus I believe the Laserlight version is missing a few minutes, running about 83 minutes as opposed to the 86 minute Criterion.
The movie, after all these decades, remains very entertaining. The humor, particularly, holds up surprisingly well. This is in large part to a fantastic performance by Robert Donat. Much has been said about the movie, so rather than reiterate a similar appraisal I'll move on to discuss more reasons why the Criterion version is superior (besides the great picture and audio).
There are four main supplements included. The two best are actually vintage pieces, which is somewhat surprising for a 1935 film. The 1937 Lux Radio Theatre broadcast is presented in its entirety, including a commercial break and interview with a retired U.S. spy. This radio adaptation is very entertaining, and also interesting in the ways it compromises for the lack of picture. It runs for just shy of a full hour. Criterion was thoughtful enough to include a handful of still photos of the cast members that occasionally show up on-screen as the radio show plays.
The second most interesting piece is a text-based feature, and one of the best of its kind that I've seen. The original pressbook is presented page-by-page. This in itself is useful if you're at all interested in the evolution of movie promotion, as this pressbook is sort of like a newspaper- very different from the pressbooks of today. What makes this a great feature is the ability to highlight and enlarge much of the content on each page; you can get a better look at the vintage photos, as well as read the full text of many articles about the film's stars, about Hitchcock, and many anecdotes about the making of the film.
Marian Keene, a Hitchcock scholar, provides audio commentary for the length of the feature. It's not the greatest commentary of all time, but it's very worthwhile. She talks in detail about the compositions of the shots, explaining why the film was visually groundbreaking for its time. She also seems to find phallic symbols in most of the scenes. The downside of her commentary is a tendancy to merely tell us what we're already looking at, or what we're about to look at. But regardless, I felt my appreciation of the movie was increased after listening.
The least useful of the main supplements is an approximately 30 minute documentary that originally aired on TV in the '70s. Basically it consists of film clips from a variety of late 20s and early 30s Hitchcock film, mixed with a few still photos, and narrated by Douglas Fairbanks Jr. If you keep in mind that there was no home video in the 1970s, it is easy to see why this program would be valuable for its time. Most of the public had no way of seeing these old films. But now that they are widely available, it makes more sense to just watch the films themselves. In fact, this documentary will spoil the films if you haven't already seen them- many important plot points and twists are revealed. Still, its a passable overview of Hitchcock's early career.
Lastly, there are a handful of stills featuring original production art. These is actually more valuable than the documentary, since they pertain directly to "The 39 Steps."
Criterion really did a great job with this release. If you're serious about collecting Hitchcock on DVD, spring for this version. If you just want to see the movie without dropping thirty bucks, the Laserlight disc isn't the worst thing out there (plus its got one of those great Tony Curtis intros! I'm not kidding, those intros are the best thing about the bargain-basement Laserlight series.)