Hitchcock Arrives on Blu-ray

  • James Barber
  • October 31, 2012
  • Movies
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Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection is a massive Blu-ray upgrade to the 2005 DVD box set. This new release adds North by Northwest to the original package’s fourteen films and features Blu-ray premieres of all but two of the films included in this collection. As with any project of this size and ambition, the quality of the movies and the restoration results vary but the overall project is a spectacular gift for any Hitchcock fan with a state-of-the-art home theater setup.

The set comes in an elaborate binder with a 50-page book that features art elements from each film, production trivia and detailed information about exactly where Hitchcock makes his standard cameo in each picture. There’s a brand-new HD documentary about the horror movie legacy of The Birds and each movie comes with the full complement of extras available on previous DVD packages; there’s a total  of over 15 hours of bonus material in the set.

This is a trailer for the UK version of this collection, a set that doesn’t include ‘North by Northwest.’

Here’s the complete list of movies in the set, in chronological order: 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), North by Northwest (1959), Psycho (1960), The Birds (1963), Marnie (1964), Torn Curtain (1966), Topaz (1969), Frenzy (1972) and Family Plot (1976).

Lots of fans can tell you about studio deals the filmmaker started making the mid-1950s, agreements that allowed the director to control his own work. After he got truly wealthy (and famous) from producing the Alfred Hitchcock Presents TV series, Hitch settled in for the rest of his career at Universal Studios. Mostly for that reason, this set (starting with Rear Window) includes thirteen of his final fiften films, with only 1955’s To Catch a Thief with Cary Grant and 1956’s The Wrong Man with Henry Fonda left out here. Since the director did a lot of his finest work in the late 1950s and early 1960s, this collection includes most of the director’s biggest commercial successes and a good percentage of the his most creatively revered films.

Best movies missing from this collection: The 39 Steps (1935), Rebecca (1940), Suspicion (1941), Notorious (1946), Strangers on a Train (1951), Dial M for Murder (1954) and To Catch a Thief (1955).

Trailer from the original ‘Psycho’ Blu-ray release.

Psycho and North by Northwest are the two movies previously available on Blu-ray. These are the exact same disks that are previously available and both feature new 5.1 audio mixes as well as impeccable visual restoration. Psycho, a low-budget quickie that turned into the biggest success of Hitchock’s career, was originally conceived as a way to take a break and stay home after the elaborate production on the spy thriller NXNW. Each of these films has supporters who call it the best Hitchcock film ever and these disks are make an great case for either one.

Vertigo recently unseated Citizen Kane as the greatest movie of all time in the once-a-decade Sight & Sound critics poll and this restoration makes an incredibly good case for that status. Whether it was because the original film elements were in pristine condition or because Universal decided to focus its efforts on a movie considered one of the crown jewels in its library, Vertigo looks as good as any old film I’ve seen on Blu-ray. The 5.1 sound mix doesn’t detract and this version looks far better on my TV than it did in the famous 1980s theatrical re-release that returned the movie to circulation for the first time in over 20 years. The only way you can get Vertigo on Blu-ray (for now) is to invest in this package. If you’re a huge fan on this film, that price might be worth it.

Every other film in this set has a nicely restored mono soundtrack .WWII spy thriller Saboteur looks fantastic, as does the comic dead body caper The Trouble With Harry (featuring an incredibly young Jerry Mathers, years before he was famous as The Beaver) and Cold War spy thrillers Torn Curtain (starring Paul Newman and Julie Andrews) and Topaz (featuring Dean Wormer from Animal House looking like Che Guevara). The Man Who Knew Too Much (James Stewart and Doris Day singing “Que Sera Sera”), Shadow of a Doubt and Frenzy also look good, even if the restoration’s not on the level of the other films I’ve already mentioned. Rear Window looks better on Blu-ray than a lot of other movies its age but it can’t quite compare to the spectacular presentation on Vertigo or HarryRope seems to be a casualty of hard-to-salvage original elements.

The less-than-stellar titles here may also be casualties of the way they were made. It’s hard to hold filmmakers responsible for not making their films hold up to technologies that would be invented for fifty years or more in the future, but the special effects in The Birds look terrible. They didn’t really look that good on VHS twenty years ago and any attempts to make them work in high-def just seem to make things worse.

Marnie is the worst movie in this collection. Sean Connery looks worried that he’ll never be allowed to do anything besides James Bond once this one’s released and it seems whoever was in charge of the film transfer had a hard time getting excited about the task at hand.

That leaves Family Plot, Hitchcock’s last film. It was the first Hitchcock movie I saw. I went to a theater because it was directed by the guy from those books about The Three Investigators and I thought it was hilarious. I hadn’t seen it since until today. It’s still really funny but it truly looks like an episode of Murder She Wrote. Hitchcock was always sloppy about the green screen in his car scenes but this looks awful. I don’t think the transfer technicians can be blamed for this one; it truly looks like the master was given a token budget by the studio and allowed to try to finish his career on a more lighthearted note after Frenzy creeped everyone out and bombed at the box office.

You can rent digital or buy versions of most of these movies on Amazon or iTunes. They’re not available on Netflix. The whole package here is a great purchase if you afford the price or get one as a Christmas gift. Alfred Hitchcock was one of the greatest filmmakers of the 20th century and all of these movies are worth the effort. Except Marnie. Marnie is terrible.

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