Last year, Warner Brothers put out a great ten-disc set of all of the Hitchcock films in their catalog. While not the ultimate Hitchcock collection, it was still an excellent representation of the Master’s work, including many films that have received a well-deserved second look as a result of their inclusion in the set. It was especially rewarding to be given the opportunity to see Montgomery Clift’s amazing portrayal of a Priest caught in the middle of a murder scandal in I Confess.
Not to be outdo…e, Universal has now decided to showcase its Hitchcock films as well. After all, nobody can out-Hitchcock Universal’s deep catalog, and they hit back hard at Warner’s with a staggering fifteen disc set of their own. While the WB set set is well worth purchasing, as the saying goes, “if you only buy one Hitchcock boxed set this year… make Universal’s The Masterpiece Collection be it.” These are the classics. The films that Hitch is known for. The hit list is as follows; Saboteur, Rear Window, Psycho, Vertigo, The Birds, Rope, Shadow of a Doubt, Marnie, Frenzy, The Trouble With Harry, Family Plot, Torn Curtain, Topaz and The Man Who Knew Too Much. While pieces like Topaz and The Trouble With Harry may not be well known films, there is no denying the important place in cinema history that so many of the others possess. This is an instant film school in a box, and thanks to packaging multiple discs in each case, Universal has kept the cost relatively low. If you order through Amazon, this set can be picked up for about $6 per film, and that doesn’t even include the book or the bonus disc.
Countless books and essays have been written on Psycho and The Birds, but not as much has been said about some of the other fine films in this collection. While not up to the same classic level of genius, they are still very entertaining in and of themselves. For instance, take Marnie. I had seen Marnie before, but I enjoyed it more this time around. The problem with this film is that it has a bit of a long-winded second act. Act one is gripping and act three is even better, but these are two fantastic slices of bread wrapped around a bland leaf of wilted lettuce. As with many of Hitch’s final flicks, I was again surprised at exactly how racy, horrible and violent parts of this film were, especially the climax.
Another overlooked film is Torn Curtain, which stars Paul Newman and Julie Andrews, of all people. The best scene in this film is bit where Paul Newman and a woman who speaks no English kill a German man. The idea was to show audiences how hard it is to kill a man in real life, and the result is a very tense scene that seems to last for 15 minutes with no music and very little dialog. The fact that the man finally met his fate with his head in a gas oven was a not-so-subtle comment on Hitchcock’s feelings about Germany in the wake of World War II.
My point is this… even the worst films in this set are above the level of most average Hollywood films around today, and the best films here are some of the best of all time. For Hitchcock fans, these films should feature prominently in their home DVD collections. I know they will stay in mine for years and years to come.
Universal has given these films the treatment they deserve on DVD. Each film has been completely remastered with enhanced audio and video. I was pleased to see that no 5.1 tracks were added to these discs, but instead they have opted to go with the same audio configurations that the films were originally presented in. There’s just no messing with a classic. What has been done, however, is that every pop, hiss and line of static-filled dialog has been removed, leaving only the purest audio available. I have seen many of these films before, and they have never sounded this good. As Hitchcock fans know, sound (or often-times the absence of sound) plays an important part in many of his films. Universal has given these films new life in the audio department.
Since they were already working on all that re-mastering, why not go ahead and clean up the video as well? Due to the age of some of these films, there will always be some blemishes here and there, but Universal has done an admirable job of cleaning up these classic masters. The later films in the catalog look especially clean and new, as they were originally shot with the wide screen in mind. It is fun as you work your way through this set to see not only how Hitchcock was evolving as a director, but how the film process was evolving over time as well. In this context, even Psycho is seen in a new light, for just as audiences were getting used to big color widescreen productions, here comes this full screen black-and-white scare machine that makes something new and fresh out of an old format. Lucky for us, Universal has paid attention to detail with the technical aspects of the films in this set.
The only area that viewers might have some concern with is when it comes to the special features. Some may feel that there is a ton of stuff here to devour, while others may feel slighted. You see, many of these discs have been released before, so there is a large amount of extra material already in existence pertaining to each disc in this set. However, not all of that information was included here.
Personally, I am more than pleased with the amount of special content in this set, and I feel that anyone who would ask for more is just being pretentious. Normally I wouldn’t include something like special edition packaging as a special feature, but this is some really outstanding packaging. The case itself is made of velvet, and has a door on one side with a pull-tab. On the inside, the discs are packaged four-to-a-case, in sueded cardboard books that are printed with the original theatrical posters both inside and out.
As for more traditional extras, each film has its own selection of special features on its corresponding disc. These vary for each film, but include things such as storyboards, production sketches, trailers, production photographs, production notes and various featurettes. So many times, sets like these only offer a couple of extras to tie up the set, but this one has a little something set aside for each film.
Of course, this set has the obligatory bonus disc as well. On this final disc, Universal has added The AFI Salute to Alfred Hitchcock, Master of Cinema: Alfred Hitchcock, All About The Birds and The Making of Psycho. All told, there are 14 documentaries and 9 featurettes scattered throughout this set.
The extras wrap up with a 36-page collectible book, which is filled with facts about each film in the set., as well as production photographs. This is a very respectable collection of extras for a boxed set, and I am quite pleased with the quality of the material here.
Put simply, this collection is a “must own” release. It is not very often that a set comes along that gives its owner “instant film collection” status, but this is most definitely one of those releases. Excellent films, quality technical aspects and a nice selection of extras are all that it takes to make a great boxed set. Attractive packaging and an arguably low price point makes this one of those sets that belongs in every DVD collection.
Special Features List
- Ultra-premium velvet packaging
- 36-page collectible book
- 14 documentaries and 9 featurettes, including: 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 o
- Production photographs
- Theatrical trailers
- Bonus Disc: AFI Salute to Alfred Hitchcock; Masters of Cinema: Alfred Hitchcock; All About The Birds; The Making of Psycho