The Good

It’s an Alfred Hitchcock Box Set that is filled with extras. What’s not to like!?!?

The Bad

No Rebecca? No North By Northwest? Okay, Rebecca I can understand, but North By Northwest is a film that is glaringly missing and it really should be in here.

Alright, lets just begin by saying that I think Hitchcock is a master of the motion picture language. I start off my long winded DVD review of his box set with this declaration because I loved being given the opportunity to review it. If you have followed my work on this site, you will most certainly know that I review a lot of DVDs. Some great, some good, some not so good. So when I am given the chance to use my mind (and Film Studies degree) to write about someone like Alfred Hitchcock, it is an opportunity that I revel in. So without further adieu, lets get to my review of Alfred Hitchcock - The Masterpiece Collection.

The movies that come with this box set are Saboteur (1942), Shadow of a Doubt (1943), Rope (1948), Rear Window (1954), The Trouble With Harry (1955), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), Vertigo (1958), Psycho (1960), The Birds (1963), Marnie (1964), Torn Curtain (1966), Topaz (1969), Frenzy (1972) and Family Plot (1976). While Hitchcock wasn’t afraid to work within the same genres more than once, what sets him apart as a director is his ability to handle all the facets of each genre as if that is the one he is most known for. While I would think that for him he was just making the movies that interested him at the time, it really says something when you can create fear like he does in Shadow of a Doubt, examine the human psyche in Rope and explore such taboo issues as incest in Psycho. His ability to do all of that while never calling too much attention to it is what really sets Hitchcock apart.

This is to say nothing of the work he has done in such films as Vertigo, The Birds and Rear Window. While I think Vertigo and Rear Window are pretty similar in both style in tone, Hitchcock seems to love the fun he is having (and the terror his instilling) with The Birds. The casts of his movies read like a “who’s who” of Hollywood royalty with James Stewart, Paul Newman, Sean Connery, Anthony Perkins, Doris Day, Grace Kelly and many others appearing in this well put together box set.

Features

14 Documentaries, 9 Featurettes and Commentary Tracks

These well made bonus features are The Story of Frenzy; Plotting Family Plot; The Trouble With Harry Isn't Over; The Making of The Man Who Knew Too Much; Obsessed with Vertigo; Newsreel Footage: The Release of Psycho; Saboteur: A Closer Look; Beyond Doubt: The Making of Hitchcock's Favorite Film; Rope Unleashed; Rear Window Ethics: An Original Documentary; The Birds Is Coming; The Trouble with Marnie; Torn Curtain Rising and Topaz: An Appreciation by Leonard Maltin. Truthfully, I didn’t have the time to go through each and every one of these pieces. Let me just say that I certainly plan to in the future, but on this pass I just dipped in and out of each extra. I focused my efforts on Psycho and Rope, which were two films of his that really appealed to me, and were also very different from each other and are quite different from other films. It is really interesting seeing a little bit about how Psycho was made and how they handled it’s release. Though I am not sure about this, this film may have been the first one (or at least one of the first) to have such an interesting plot twist. I mean lets be honest, how many films kill off their lead actress about 30 minutes into the movie? Rope will always be one of favorite films simply because it flies in the face of what so much of the film intelligista says about movies. As I mentioned Hitchcock was a master of film language, but in this film he really shows how dialogue can be both action and narrative. There are no amazing shots in this movie yet it is stunning in it’s visuals.

Storyboards and Production Photographs

Saul Bass handles the storyboard duties here and it seems rightfully so because he is so well known as a designer of movie titles. Looking at the storyboards for a Hitchcock film I was taken with how simple they were. I have heard that these are the best kinds of storyboards to have, and that you don’t want the drawings to be that great, but I was almost shocked by how they looked here. Then again, Hitchcock was such a fan of preproduction (it has often been said that the actual production of the movies bored him), and he really did see the movies he made in his head, so what would be the point of putting so much into the drawings of the film? They mainly seem like they were used as reference pieces so that he could consult them if he needed to. The “Production Photographs” are basically pictures that were taken that documented the life on a Hitchcock set. I actually scanned through most of these. Usually, you can look at 5-10 of these pictures and get the gist of things, but these just weren’t any old pictures and as such I wanted to really observe them.

Bonus Disc: AFI Salute to Alfred Hitchcock; Masters of Cinema: Alfred Hitchcock; All About The Birds and The Making of Psycho

This disc was a nice piece of closure to this entire box set. They must have had a ton of extra footage for this DVD and the fact that they seem to have mined it for all these gems, is really a feat if you think about it. The AFI Salute to Alfred Hitchcock was interesting because Hitchcock looked like he would have rather been anywhere else. The fact that people were piling on the praise doesn’t do anything for his demeanor. He speaks at the end, unleashing comments with the same wit that I remember from his show Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Masters of Cinema is a well rounded look at Hitchcock’s career, and while it revealed a lot of things that we already knew (especially from watching most of the supplemental features), it is a good “Cliff Note’s” roundup of this director’s career. “All About The Birds” and “The Making of Psycho” were a lot of fun to watch, mainly because I really like these films a lot. Hearing about how life was on the set, and being given a glimpse behind the curtain to see Hitchcock’s tricks, was something I found really special.

Video

With so many films in this collection I am just going to list out what the aspect ratios are as opposed to listing them out individually for each movie. They are 1.66:1, 1.85:1, 2.00:1, Anamorphic 16x9, Full Frame and Widescreen. They have spared no expense with this collection. The only version of The Man Who Knew Too Much that I has ever seen was a crummy SLP VHS copy. As this film was made in 1956 I am sure you can put together that my screening experience wasn’t that great. Still, all the films on this box set have been given the utmost care so that they can have the best presentation possible. So impressed was I with the way that these transfers looked, I actually sat through Rope, Psycho and a lot of the other films that I had already seen, simply because I was so impressed with their picture quality. People who don’t like black and white films should really give this box set a look, simply because these films have been so well preserved.

Audio

With so many movies the sound varies (in terms of types used, not the quality) but the audio for these discs ranges from 5.1 Dolby Digital and Dolby Digital Mono. Referring back to my early screening of The Man Who Knew Too Much, I was a bit leery when it came to screening this film and some of the others I hadn’t seen. Especially the early ones just because on most of the older films I’ve seen the audio hasn’t been that great. Well, my fears for this 15 disc set were completely unfounded. This isn’t to say that the sound was amazing on all the discs (and maybe I have lower standards than everybody else), but for someone with poor hearing and a crummy TV, I was able to hear everything just fine. I didn’t have to adjust the volume levels on my TV for the movies. I had to turn up some of the “Newsreel” footage that this DVD utilizes, but other than that I was fine. Interestingly, I don’t think this is the kind of box set that one would need a home theater system to enjoy.

Package

All the discs are housed in a velvet box and inside the box are cases in which there are 4 discs apiece. These discs are all packaged in their original poster art. This is something really cool because these posters are very well done. The colors, the body language, the actor’s expressions, etc..., they just don’t make covers like this anymore. The cover that houses all these discs is a dark, ominous purple with the familiar outline of Hitchcock emblazoned across it. The back of each disc lists out the story of the movie, the “Extra Features,” a credits list and the technical specs of that disk. Included amongst all of this is a special 36 page booklet that comes inside this box set. It is filled with pictures and looks at the films that are showcased here. This is a really nice touch because it will orient the viewer on where they may or may not want to start as they begin screening these films.

Final Word

Other than a couple of titles that I feel should be in here, Alfred Hitchcock - The Masterpiece Collection is a great addition to my DVD collection. Sure it is a little big and doesn’t really fit easily with any of the other DVDs in my collection, it is something that I am going to rewatch and continue to study over the years. I love that it is full of extras, but none of them seem redundant. As there are so many films on here, this set did a very good job of accentuating the more popular films, while also shining a light on some that some people (myself included) may never have screened before.

It will be an endless debate about what films should be in an Alfred Hitchcock “Masterpiece” Collection. Some people might want more films, other people might want less and I am sure there are those devotees out there that are going to want EVERYONE of his films present and accounted for. While I don’t think that Alfred Hitchcock - The Masterpiece Collection contains all the films that bespeak how great this man was, I do think that this collection is a very good start. Over the years I am sure that they will refine it, rerelease it and repackage it so that it suits everyone’s needs.

Lets not forget that eventually all of Alfred Hitchcock’s movies will be available on demand in some digital format, and when that happens people will be able to have all his films at their fingertips.

The Trouble with Harry was released October 3, 1955.