Format: DVDMultiple Formats, Box set, Black & White, Dolby, Full Screen, NTSC
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"If it ain't broke, don't fix it" appears to be the guiding philosophy behind season 2 of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Like season 1, these 39 episodes (totaling 16 hours, 52 minutes, and originally broadcast from September 30, 1956 to June 23, 1957) follow the established formula that made the series so popular, with self-contained tales of murder, suspense, and intrigue (mostly running about 26 minutes each) based on short stories from a variety of new and established writers in the mystery genre. (Many of these stories also found their way into Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine.) By latter-day standards of intensity, most of these episodes play like tame, parlor-trick mysteries or single-room chamber pieces that accommodated the show's emphasis on budget-friendly production values. Still, modern-day viewers can readily appreciate the consistently high quality of writing, direction, and performance, along with the droll, playful introductions by Hitchcock himself, now fully established as a TV celebrity in addition to his global acclaim as "the master of suspense." (Ironically, Hitchcock's first-season jokes at the expense of series sponsors are mostly missing here; apparently Hitchcock agreed to aim his humor elsewhere.) With the release of season 2, Universal has upgraded their disc format to appease fans who complained about double-sided discs in season 1; these five discs (eight episodes each, with seven on disc 5) are single-sided, double-layered, and neatly presented with no-frills menus and easy access to episodes. (Unfortunately, cast and credits are not listed on the packaging, which includes brief plot synopses on the inside slip-case.) Picture quality is uniformly crisp and clean, and sound quality is mostly excellent, allowing for somewhat lower volume on a few episodes (so turn 'em up). Another improvement on these DVDs is the inclusion of four chapter stops for each episode. As with season 1, the season premiere ("Wet Saturday") was directed by Hitchcock, who also helmed "Mr. Blanchard's Secret," the season highlight thriller "One More Mile to Go," and "The Three Dreams of Mr. Findlater." It's no accident that these rank among the finest episodes (Hitchcock enjoyed the speed and economy of TV directing), but while there are a few misfires along the way, most of these episodes adhere to the smart, literate standard of the series. They're also an impressive showcase for new and established actors from the twilight of Hollywood's golden age: Seasoned veterans like Cedric Hardwicke, Mildred Dunnock, Henry Jones, Hume Cronyn, Jessica Tandy, Edmund Gwenn, and Albert Salmi do fine work here, and the relative newcomers include Rip Torn, William Shatner, Dick York, and Robert Culp, among others. Of course, no crime could go unpunished in '50 TV-land, so Hitchcock (in closing each episode) assures us that all criminals were eventually brought to justice. All in a day's work for Alfred Hitchcock Presents! --Jeff Shannon