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Beautiful Restorations Of Hitchock's Earliest Films Show A Different Side Of The Master Of Suspense

By Steven Pate in Arts & Entertainment on Aug 6, 2013 7:00PM


In Rear Window Raymond Burr catches Grace Kelly pointing to a wedding ring, then follows the implied sight-line across the alley to catch James Stewart spying on him with a telephoto lens before the lamp can be turned off. Crows gather silently on the playground equipment behind Tippi Hedren as she obliviously smokes a cigarette in The Birds. Cary Grant is transformed from the dapper, undaunted Madison Avenue man into the paragon of vulnerability by a harassing crop-duster in North by Northwest or carrying a tray of warm, potentially poisoned milk up the stairs to Joan Fontaine in Suspicion. Alfred Hitchcock didn't need sound to create movie scenes you will never forget. Even the most infamous sequence Hitchcock ever created, Janet Leigh's shower scene derives far more of its impact through the music than the on-screen sound.

Hitchcock cut his teeth in the silent era, making ten pre-talkies before he turned 30. One of those films is completely lost, but the surviving nine have been restored by the British Film Institute and are currently traveling together on a 12-venue tour which stops at the Music Box Theatre this weekend. The BFI undertook the massive restoration project to celebrate Queen Elizabeth's jubilee by doting on British Cinema's most iconic export, and the results have been getting excellent reports.

On tap are a couple of movies that any Hitch fan would recognize as the handiwork of the Master of Suspense, Blackmail and the much-beloved The Lodger, which was not only dubbed by the director himself as "the first true Hitchcock picture" but also features the first of his trademark cameo appearances. To our way of thinking, however, the real treats are the other films, which don't fit as neatly with what we expect from the director. We're talking about a romantic comedy about a flapper? (Champagne), a Noel Coward adaptation (Easy Virtue), chorus girls just trying to make it (The Pleasure Garden), one love triangle involving a boxer (The Ring), another on the cliffs of Cornwall (The Manxman ), a tale of gossip and scandal (Downhill), and an unambiguous comedy (The Farmer's Wife).

"Silent pictures are the pure motion picture form," Hitchcock once said. Taking in these nearly-lost treasures in the form they were intended is quite a rare treat (they won't be finding their way to Blu-Ray or DVD any time soon, due to lack of funds and ongoing rights issues). The BFI commissioned new scores in period style for these films, the Music Box has accompaniment lined up from the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra and house organist Dennis Scott for many of the screenings. Check out the schedule below.

Friday, Aug. 9
8:30 p.m.: Blackmail (with live accompaniment from the Mont Alto Orchestra)

Saturday, Aug. 10
3:30 p.m.: Easy Virtue (with live accompaniment from organist Dennis Scott)
6 p.m.: Champagne (Dennis Scott)
8:30 p.m.: The Lodger (Mont Alto Orchestra)

Sunday, Aug. 11
3:30 p.m.: The Pleasure Garden (with Dennis Scott)
6:30 p.m.: The Ring (with the Mont Alto Orchestra)
9 p.m.: Downhill

Monday, Aug. 12
6 p.m.: The Lodger
8:30 p.m.: The Farmer's Wife (with Dennis Scott)

Tuesday, Aug. 13
6 p.m.: The Lodger
8:30 p.m.: The Manxman (with Dennis Scott)

The Hitchcock 9 show Aug. 9-13 at Chicago's Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport.