Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection – Blu-ray review

While the films included in the Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection are classics in their own way, the collection is a bit of a disappointment due to less than stellar transfers on many of the titles and one so bad it completely ruins the picture and enjoyment.

Still, the films assembled in the collection are some of cinema’s best from a master at suspense, horror and dark comedy.

Along with 13 films making their Blu-ray debut (only North by Northwest and Psycho have been available on the format before), the collection includes a great 50-page book that spotlights each title with storyboards, costume sketches, correspondence, photographs, and more. The films are housed in a book-style box that also features poster art and little bits of information on each film title.

The films in the collection include Psycho, The Birds, Vertigo, Rear Window, North by Northwest, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Marnie, Saboteur, Shadow of a Doubt, Rope, The Trouble with Harry, Torn Curtain, Topaz, Frenzy and Family Plot. Each of the films comes with their own set of special features to help make the set worth the purchase price.

The films span three-and-a-half decades of Hitchcock’s directing career along with showing his ability to jump film genres – from thriller to drama to comedy. It also features some of Hollywood’s biggest stars including James Stewart, Grace Kelly, Cary Grant, Julie Andrews, Paul Newman, Janet Leigh, Anthony Perkins, Tippi Hedren, Eva Marie Saint, Kim Novak and Sean Connery.

Saboteur (1942) - The set kicks off with one of Hitchcock’s early best. Saboteur looks incredible on Blu-ray with a clean picture with very little grain.

The plot is a wartime thriller that sees Robert Cummings as a factory worker on the run after being falsely accused of sabotage. The film starts off with an explosive opening and continues to build suspense until the final credits roll.

Although the acting is a bit stiff and dated, the film works as well today as it did in 1942 and is just as suspenseful.

Bonus features on the Blu-ray include Saboteur: A Closer Look; Storyboards: The Statue of Liberty Sequence; Alfred Hitchcock’s Sketches; Production Photographs; and Theatrical Trailer.

Shadow of a Doubt (1943) - Hailed as Hitchcock’s personal favorite film, Shadow of a Doubt is a tense thriller about a young woman (Teresa Wright) who discovers that the uncle (Joseph Cotten) she idolizes is suspected of being a serial killer known as the “Merry Widow Murderer” – who got his name due to the fact he preys on wealthy widows.

The girl discovers the truth about her uncle and he decides he should make sure she stays quiet about his little secret. Although dated, the film still works considerably well as a thriller and has very little grain to the picture. It didn’t seem quite as clean as Saboteur but there was nothing that distracted from the tension on the screen.

Bonus features include Beyond Doubt: The Making of Hitchcock’s Favorite Film; Production Drawings by Art Director Robert Boyle; Production Photographs; Theatrical Trailer

Rope (1948) - Rope is one of my personal favorite Hitchcock films, and is truly a twisted premise – even by today’s standards. The film opens with two friends Brandon Shaw (Dall) and Phillip Morgan (Granger) strangling one of their classmates David Kentley (Dick Hogan) right before hosting a party for the guy’s family and their friends – including their former teacher Rupert Cadell (James Stewart). The corpse is nicely tucked away in a wooden chest.

The murder and the party that follows feel like a cat and mouse game between the two friends (who killed the classmate just for the joy of doing it and getting away with the perfect crime) and their former teacher – who starts to suspect them. Like most Hitchcock thrillers, the director builds the tension quickly in the opening moments of the movie and never lets the audience off the hook.

The fact that the two friends (Brandon a little happier with their experiment than Phillip) committed the murder just for the experience makes the plot even more twisted not to mention they invited David’s mother and father to the party – where they are serving food on top of the chest where David’s body is hidden.

The film looks solid on Blu-ray with very little grain to the picture and a crystal clear sound – which helps pick up on some of the smartly evil dialogue between the two friends. Bonus features include Rope Unleashed; Production Photographs; and Theatrical Trailer.

Rear Window (1954) - Another of my personal favorites from Hitchcock, Rear Window sees James Stewart and Grace Kelly teaming up for one of the director’s greatest thrillers.

Stewart owns the film despite being stuck with a cast on his leg and wheel chair bound. Not able to move about due to his broken leg, photographer L.B. “Jeff” Jefferies (Stewart) spends his hours watching the neighbors in his Greenwich Village apartment. He also starts to suspect one of his neighbors (Raymond Burr) murdered his wife.

His obsession with the murder pulls in his girlfriend Lisa Fremont (Grace Kelly) and his nurse Stella (Thelma Ritter). The film works on multiple levels and shows how charismatic Stewart was on screen – even when stuck in a wheelchair. Hitchcock also makes the most of the film’s voyeuristic device filling the windows of Jeff’s neighbors with half-dressed dancing girls, fighting couples, and a nosey neighbor offering gardening advice while sunbathing.

On Blu-ray the film looks clean with the colors (such as Burr’s hair and his flower garden) and sound (both the noise from the street and the musical score) really popping.

Bonus features include Rear Window Ethics: An Original Documentary; A Conversation with Screenwriter John Michael Hayes; Pure Cinema: Through the Eyes of The Master; Breaking Barriers: The Sound of Hitchcock; Hitchcock-Truffaut Interview Excerpts; Masters of Cinema; Feature Commentary with John Fawell, author of Hitchcock’s Rear Window: The Well-Made Film; Production Photographs; Theatrical Trailer; Re-Release Trailer Narrated by James Stewart; and Blu-ray exclusives: BD Live, Pocket Blu.

The Trouble with Harry (1955) - Hitchcock showed his unique sense of humor with this black comedy and introduced film audiences to the talented Shirley MacLaine.

The film is simply charming and funny. It holds up quite well and looks extremely good on the Blu-ray format – which really helps the colors of its Highwater, Vermont, countryside setting pop.

The laughs come from the fact that Harry ((Phillip Truex) is quite dead and at least three people – Captain Wiles (Edmund Gwenn), Jennifer Rogers (MacLaine), and Miss Gravely (Mildred Natwick)  – think they are the ones that did the deed. The other problem with Harry is that no matter how many times the three suspects put him in the ground, he keeps popping back up or has to be moved from one place to the other.

The movie isn’t a laugh a minute, but the interaction with the characters is great and the situations they find themselves in make the film worth taking the time to watch.

Bonus Features include The Trouble with Harry Isn’t Over; Production Photographs; and Theatrical Trailer.

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) - Hitchcock remakes Hitchcock with this film that sees vacationing doctor Ben McKenna (James Stewart), his wife Jo (Doris Day) enjoying the sites of Morocco when they are thrown into the middle of an international plot to assassinate a foreign statesman in London.

Following a chance meeting with a Frenchman named Louis Bernard (Daniel Gelin), the couple learns their son Hank (Christopher Olsen) has been kidnapped by the people planning the murder and they must act on their own if they want to get Hank back.

Like other Hitchcock thrillers, the director lets the film’s tension build throughout the movie then finally boil over in the final moments – where he draws out the potential assassination to the last possible moment.

I have read some comments on the film that criticized the way it looked on Blu-ray, but I failed to notice any real problem with it – other than the edges not looking as clear as some of the other films. It isn’t the best transfer I have seen, and there are some grain issues from time to time. Still, the grain and edge issues are nothing compared to Marnie or Family Plot – where the grain practically ruins the picture.

Vertigo (1958) - One of Hitchcock’s greatest thrillers sees James Stewart taking on the role of former police detective John “Scottie” Ferguson – who had to leave the force due to his problems with acrophobia – which gives him vertigo. Ferguson is hired by an old college friend to follow his wife Madeleine Elster (Kim Novak) – who seems to have some issues of her own.

Bonus features include The Making of The Man Who Knew Too Much; Production Photographs; and Trailers.

The film is complex web of murder, mistaken identity and even romance. Hitchcock makes the most of the film’s vertigo device by shooting from odd and dizzy angles, constantly changing the color schemes and doing extreme closes ups of his actors.

On Blu-ray, the film is extremely polished (such as the opening scenes with Stewart and a beautiful Barbara Bel Geddes) and it makes you wish all the titles in this collection could have had the same love. It has a slight grain and dark edges during some of the night shots, but otherwise looks fantastic.

Bonus features include Obsessed with Vertigo: New Life for Hitchcock’s Masterpiece; Partners in Crime: Hitchcock’s; Collaborators; Hitchcock / Truffaut Interview Excerpts; Foreign Censorship Ending; The Vertigo Archives; Feature Commentary with Associate Producer Herbert Coleman, Restoration Team Robert A. Harris and James C. Katz, and Other Vertigo Participants; Feature Commentary with Director William Friedkin; 100 Years of Universal: The Lew Wasserman Era; Theatrical Trailer; Restoration Theatrical Trailer and BD Live, Pocket Blu (Blu-ray Exclusive).

North by Northwest (1959) - Another suspenseful masterpiece from the master, North by Northwest saw Cary Grant as an adman who has a very bad case of mistaken identity when he is thrown into the world espionage. He also finds himself on the run and framed for murder.

The film is filled with some of the most iconic moments in cinematic history thanks to Grant on the run from a crop-duster plane and fighting it out on Mount Rushmore.

On Blu-ray, the film (which has been available on the format for some time), looks and sounds (like many of Hitchcock films the music helps add to the tension) great. The picture has next to no grain and the format helps bring all the little things into great detail.

Bonus features include Feature Commentary by screenwriter Ernest Lehman; The Master’s Touch: Hitchcock’s Signature Style; Cary Grant: A Class Apart; North by Northwest: One for the Ages; Destination Hitchcock: The Making of North by Northwest; Music-only audio track; Stills gallery; and Theatrical trailers and TV spot.

Psycho (1960) - One of the greatest (if not the greatest) thrillers ever to find its way to the big screen and possibly Hitchcock’s true masterpiece in a collection of masterpieces, Psycho saw the director truly terrifying his audience with a story so dark and twisted you couldn’t look away for a minute.

Anthony Perkins, in a role that would define his career, stars as Norman Bates who runs the quiet Bates Motel with his demanding mother. The motel has seen better days thanks to a new highway killing off much of their business, but there are clean sheets on the bed when Janet Leigh’s Marion Crane shows up and needs a room for the night. Unfortunately for her, Norman’s mother doesn’t approve.

The film is filled with shocks, twist and true terror (Perkins closing moments in the film still send chills down the spine and he doesn’t even say a word), and it should be a crime to spoil any moment of this movie for those who haven’t seen it.

The black and white picture looks beautiful (Psycho has been available on Blu-ray for some time), and the sound is crystal clear (every knife stroke is heard and that ear shattering music makes you jump even higher).

Bonus features include The Making of Psycho; Psycho Sound; In The Master’s Shadow: Hitchcock’s Legacy; Hitchcock-Truffaut Interview Excerpts; Newsreel Footage: The Release of Psycho; The Shower Scene: With and Without Music; The Shower Scene: Storyboards by Saul Bass; The Psycho Archives; Posters and Psycho Ads; Lobby Cards; Behind-the-Scenes Photographs; Production Photographs; Theatrical Trailer; Re-release Trailers; and Feature Commentary with Stephen Rebello (author of Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho).

The Birds (1963) - I have never understood why people say The Birds scared them, but there is no doubt it is yet another masterpiece thriller from Hitchcock. The director makes the most of his man against beast plot device and proves that to some even a simple seagull can be as scary as Norman Bates.

‘Tippi’ Hedren and Rod Taylor star in the film that sees thousands of birds deciding they no longer like mankind being at the top of the food chain and start attacking the good people of Bodega Bay, California. The film suffers a bit from the forced romance between Hedren’s Melanie Daniels and Taylor’s Mitch Brenner, but the Hitchcock more than makes up for with the birds gone wild scenes.

For its Blu-ray debut, The Birds looks solid on the format with very little grain. The format does hurt many of the scenes where the birds are attacking (actors seem to have a halo around them and the bird effects are clearly fake), but otherwise it is a decent upgrade from past releases.

Bonus features (which give the film the rightful attention it deserves in Hitchcock’s filmography) include Deleted Scene; Original Ending; The Birds: Hitchcock’s Monster Movie – New! (Blu-ray Exclusive); All About The Birds; Storyboards; Tippi Hedren’s Screen Test; Hitchcock-Truffaut Interview Excerpts; The Birds Is Coming (Universal International Newsreel); Suspense Story: National Press Club Hears Hitchcock (Universal International Newsreel); Production Photographs; 100 Years of Universal: Restoring the Classics; 100 Years of Universal: The Lot; Theatrical Trailer; and BD Live, Pocket Blu (Blu-ray Exclusive).

Marnie (1964) - One of the collection’s worst transfers sees Hitchcock’s psychological thriller of damaged woman named Marnie (Hedren) covered in so much grain that the picture is almost unwatchable – or at least it bothered me to the point I couldn’t even enjoy the film.

The movie has a very unique plot and features Hedren playing a thief who ends up married to the man (Sean Connery) she is attempting to rob. Connery’s character also doesn’t seem to be completely on the level. While not a masterpiece from Hitchcock, the film deserved better treatment than this transfer. Bonus features include The Trouble with Marnie; The Marnie Archives; and Theatrical Trailer.

Torn Curtain (1966) - Hitchcock returned to the international world of espionage with this Paul Newman and Julie Andrews thriller. The film’s plot follows Newman’s Michael Armstrong, an American physicist and rocket scientist, as he goes undercover in East Berlin to discover how much the Soviet Union knows of America’s anti-missiles defenses.

Along for the ride is his assistant and love interest Sarah Sherman (Andrews). Things go from bad to worse as the two end up on the run from the enemy agents out to stop Armstrong from making it back to the U.S.

While not a masterpiece from Hitchcock, Torn Curtain makes the most of its Cold War setting and the natural charisma of its two leads. On Blu-ray, the film looks decent with a slight grain to the picture. It isn’t as impressive as some of the other titles in the collection, but is a major improvement over Marnie.

Bonus features include Torn Curtain Rising; Scenes Scored by Bernard Herrmann; Production Photographs; and Theatrical Trailer.

Topaz (1969) - Hitchcock takes a story straight from the headlines with his screen adaption of Topaz. The film stars John Forsythe as an American CIA agent hunting for a spy with the codename of “Topaz” and trying determine if rumors of Russian missiles in Cuba were true. Like most of Hitchcock films, the director makes sure to throw in a romance to help make the movie more than a simple spy thriller.

Watching the movie for the first time, I enjoyed its plot and the twists and turns it took. The film looks decent on Blu-ray with very little grain to it. It has a huge international scope to the story which help make up for some of its weaker moments.
Bonus features include Alternate Endings; Topaz: An Appreciation by Film Historian and Critic Leonard Maltin; Storyboards: The Mendozas; Production Photographs, and Theatrical Trailer.

Frenzy (1972) - Hitchcock shows off his wicked sense of humor with this “horror” story that follows the “Necktie Murderer” as he eludes the London Police and an innocent man (Jon Finch) who is determined to track him down so he can clear his own name.

Frenzy has a suspenseful plot, a scare or two, and more than a few laughs – provided you enjoy Hitchcock’s style of comedy. The movie is far from the classics of the director earlier in his career, but showed he hadn’t missed a step when it comes to creating suspense.

On Blu-ray, the film looks solid and clear. There is some grain from time to time, but other parts of it are crystal clear with lots of details popping on the picture. Bonus features include The Story of Frenzy; Production Photographs; and Theatrical Trailer.

Family Plot (1976) - Another suspense/comedy, Family Plot is the last film for Hitchcock, and is probably the one Hitchcock film I simply dislike. The movie has some great moments in it and its plot – which follows a phony psychic and her not-so-bright boyfriend attempting to get rich with a diamond heist – has some of Hitchcock’s classic fingerprints.

On Blu-ray, the film simply looks terrible. There is grain, there is halo, there is bad coloring. While it is far from Hitchcock’s best film, the movie did deserve better treatment than this Blu-ray presentation. The shoddy transfer does nothing to help the film gain any new fans or win over those who have wrote it off. Bonus features include Plotting Family Plot; Storyboards: The Chase Scene; Production Photographs; and Theatrical Trailer.

Overall, the films in Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection show just how much of a master Hitchcock truly was as a director. The set has some issues (mostly dealing with the transfer of some of the titles) and might not be worth the high purchase price. Still, the films are all good in their own way, and belong in any movie collection.

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