Spanning the years from Hitchcock’s first full directorial effort to the last film he made in Britain before going to America, Network’s 10-disc collection gives a useful crash course in the porky auteur’s formative forays into spine-bothering suspense. Although, in truth, this is really two boxsets – a triple-pack for buffs interested in Hitch’s silent pics, awkwardly twinned with a seven-strong retrospective featuring the classy ’30s espionage thrillers that earned him his ticket to Hollywood.
What’s missing here is Blackmail, the director’s first talkie and the crucial bridge between those two phases of his early career. Without it, you can’t help feeling that what follows is slightly cut adrift, despite the context offered by historian Charles Barr in his informative but too brief intros. That includes 1925’s The Pleasure Garden (a lurid melodrama whose eventful European shoot would make a film in itself) and 1927’s Downhill (a Hogarthian tale of a young man’s descent into penury and alcoholism, only notable for its experimental dream sequence).
On the plus side we get The Lodger – the first true “Hitchcock movie”, according to the man himself – with its familiar man-on-the-lam plot and stylistic flourishes. But don’t be surprised if you find yourself jumping forward to the more polished likes of The 39 Steps, The Lady Vanishes and 1936’s Sabotage, with its nail-gnawing bomb-on-a-bus set-piece.
The rest ranges right through from the entertaining (Hitch’s first stab at The Man Who Knew Too Much, as well as proto-Bond adventure Secret Agent) to the diverting (Young And Innocent, with its famous zoom on a killer’s incriminating eye-twitch), to the downright odd: Jamaica Inn, a Daphne Du Maurier adaptation that’s marred by Charles Laughton’s over-the-top hamming.