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HTF REVIEW: Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection



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#1 of 306 OFFLINE   Steve Tannehill

Steve Tannehill

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Posted October 04 2005 - 05:04 PM

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Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection
Studio: Universal Studios Home Video
Year: 1942-1976 (2005 Release)
Ratings / Aspect Ratio / Audio / Timing / Captions / Subtitles / Times: Various
MSRP: $119.98

Introduction

This is going to be a special review. Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection is one of my most awaited releases of the year. Fourteen movies, fifteen discs, and (if you shop around a bit) a price per disc of around $5. This is nirvana!

It's going to take some time to do this right, though. My vacation plans for the week (yes, just to review these discs) may have fallen through, so I am going to have to improvise and provide you with incremental updates. When a new update is added, I'll bump the thread.

There has already been an outstanding thread here at HTF started by Mr. Robert Harris, who restored Rear Window and Vertigo for theatrical release. This is required reading to set the tone of this box, and will hopefully give you the insight you need to pick up on first-week sale prices.

My focus is going to be a little different. As I watch the movies, each one will be reviewed with the following areas:
[*]The Feature: what the movie is about[*]The Key Sequence: how the movie is remembered[*]Video and Audio: how it looks and sounds[*]Where's Hitch? known for his cameo appearances, this is where he is hiding in this particular movie[*]Extras: a review of the extras

I have original discs of Rear Window, Vertigo, Psycho, The Birds, Marnie, and Family Plot, and will compare these discs with their new counterparts.

I'll also take a look at the extra disc included for the entire set (the first cut is already included).

So without further delay...



Latest Update (click on links to be taken there)
10/06/2005 Vertigo reviewed
10/07/2005 Rope reviewed
10/07/2005 Psycho extras discussed
10/08/2005 Shadow of a Doubt reviewed; minor tweaks to Rope.
10/08/2005 Vertigo A/V section now cross-references highly informative post by Robert Harris
10/09/2005 Marnie reviewed
10/09/2005 Rear Window reviewed
10/10/2005 Initial Rating and Conclusions
10/10/2005 New screen grabs added to Rear Window review
10/10/2005 Psycho reviewed
10/11/2005 Family Plot new transfer discussed
10/12/2005 Family Plot reviewed




The Packaging

Ugh. The fifteen discs of this set are housed in a box covered in velour with the familiar Hitchcock caricature. A black pull flap opens the side panel, revealing four inserts with paper covers, and a 36-page booklet.

The inserts contains the discs, four per except for the last one. Cover art is on the front. The plot summary and bonus features are listed on the back. And on the inside... the discs are set out overlapping each other.

Yow! For a set of this stature, they could have used the exact same space and utilized thin packs. (I have 15 thin packs right here... it would work.) As it stands, someone with artwork skills should take this on as a project to provide inserts for thin packs. Short term, the discs can be managed as-is, but I personally don't like removing a disc just to get at another one. I also don't like paper covers. Paper does not hold up.

What would my ideal packaging have cost? Probably another $5-$10. Would it be worth it? You tell me.

Here are some pictures of the case and its contents. The bigger box is the packaging for warehouse clubs.


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The Packaging: 2.5 / 5
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Disc 1: Saboteur

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The Feature:

The Key Sequence

Video and Audio:

Where's Hitch?

Extras:
[*]Saboteur: A Closer Look[*]Storyboards[*]Alfred Hitchcock's Sketches[*]Production Photographs[*]Theatrical Trailer[*]Production Notes





Disc 2: Shadow of a Doubt
Year: 1943
Rated: PG
Aspect Ratio: 4x3
Audio: English, Spanish DD 2.0 (mono)
Captions/Subtitles: English SDH, French
Time: 1:47:52
Layer Switch: 1:02:34

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The Feature:
Joseph Cotten is Uncle Charlie. When we first meet Charlie, he appears to be totally burnt out. After being followed around by two men, he decides to visit his sister and family in the quiet town of Santa Clara, California.

Uncle Charlie is a disarmingly charming, independently wealthy man who drifts around the country. His eldest niece (Teresa Wright), also named Charlie, is enamored of her uncle, and feels that they share a special bond--almost of a psychic nature. For example, just as Uncle Charlie was cabling his intent to visit later in the week, she was doing the same to invite him.

But Uncle Charlie is hiding something. Young Charlie begins to see a darker side of her uncle that is frightening. And when two men arrive on the doorstep asking prying questions, the younger Charlie is torn between the allegiance to her family, and the need to help an investigation that could shatter them.

Shadow of a Doubt was Alfred Hitchcock's favorite film. While not as haunting as Vertigo it has moments of sheer suspense that kept me squirming. The last act is as tense as anything I've seen. The marriage of lead performances, supporting performances (yes, that is Henry "Clarence the Angel" Travers, as well as a young Hume Cronyn), screenplay (which was largely by Thorton "Our Town" Wilder), score (by the wonderful Dimitri Tiomkin) and direction makes this one of the best Hitchcock movies I have seen--and I am sad to say this is the first time I've seen it. It will not be the last.

Shadow of a Doubt is undoubtedly a 5 / 5 Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image flick.

The Key Sequence
It's a coin toss to the reveal in the library, and the climactic scene of the film. The reveal in the library was the right combination of music, technique, and story. The climactic scene caught me totally off-guard.

Video and Audio:
For a movie made in the early 1940's, Shadow of a Doubt is holding up well. The film is shown 4x3, with the credit sequence slightly window-boxed. Compared to the clips in the documentary, there has been cleanup of the video since the last release. There is good contrast and shadow detail, although some of the dissolves (presumably optical) look dark and muddy. I am impressed that you can still pick up on film-like elements. You see occasional lines, and you still see minor glitches in the picture, even what appears to be film passing by.

The sound is the typical mono soundtrack of the 1940's, presented in Dolby Digital 2.0. It is not overly harsh, and Dimitri Tiomkin's score sounds great, although I can hear a low rolling sound in the low-end. There is some concern about a slight sync issue, but I don't detect it.

Video: 3.5 / 5 Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image
Audio: 3.5 / 5 Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image

Where's Hitch?
He's the one with the Grand Slam on the train, at 16:28. (Hmm, a grand slam on a train. Do I detect a macabre sense of humor here?)

Extras:

The extras are lifted from the previous release:
[*]Beyond Doubt: The Making of Hitchcock's Favorite Film (34:47) - Another Laurent Bouzereau documentary. According to Patricia Hitchcock, this was Hitchcock's favorite because it was about bringing a monster to a small American town. How perfect it was that Thorton Wilder worked on the screenplay. We see interviews with Hume Cronyn, associate art director Robert Boyle, and Teresa Wright. Interesting.[*]Production Drawings by Art Director Robert Boyle - 32 of them, very detailed[*]Production Photographs - including posters, publicity stills, and behind-the-scenes photos[*]Theatrical Trailer (1:24) - one of those melodramatic trailers of times gone by[*]Production Notes - 8 pages

Extras: 3.5 / 5 Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image





Disc 3: Rope
Year: 1948
Rated: PG
Aspect Ratio: 4x3
Audio: English, French, Spanish DD 2.0 (mono)
Captions/Subtitles: English SDH
Time: 1:20:45

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The Feature:
The last time I saw Rope was when it received its first affordable release on VHS not quite 20 years ago. My tastes have changed a bit since then. Brandon Shaw and Philip Morgan (John Dall / Farley Granger) decide to kill a classmate, David, in a "perfect murder" to show that they are superior beings. They do this just prior to a dinner party where the victim's parents, best friend, and girlfriend are to attend. Also in attendance is the mens' former prep school housemaster, Rupert Cadell (James Stewart), who taught them some radical philosophies on murder.

What follows is a sly and occasionally witty game of clue where we know the victim's whereabouts, the party guests begin to wonder, the murderers begin to sweat a bit, and Rupert begins to suspect that something is going on.

Rope was shot as if it were a play, and was conceived as a series of long takes of up to 10 minutes. The joins were near-seamless--a reaction shot here, a zoom to someone's back there. The story flows quickly. The set had to be moved around as filming took place (every move was planned carefully in advance, so the stage hands knew what to do.)

Rope was also a sanitized version of a play, and a real murder: the infamous Leopold and Loeb case, where two privileged gay men killed a youth. The Hays Code prevented a portrayal of a homosexual relationship in movies, although anyone with more than an inkling of common sense could see that the two leads were being portrayed as homocidal maniacs. It's all very distasteful. That's probably why I don't watch this movie often.

Still, the filming technique and a fine performance by Jimmy Stewart make this a good film to include in any Hitchcock retrospective.

Rope deserves consideration. It gets a 4- / 5 Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image- rating from me.

The Key Sequence
Chapter 14. Jimmy Stewart starts to be the inquisitor to Farley Granger, as he plays the piano erratically while a metronome ticks quickly. "Unfortunately, I don't know anything. I merely suspect."

Video and Audio:
The video presentation is not perfect, but I am not even going to dare to pull out the VHS and see what it looks like in comparison. This was Hitchcock's first color production. Someone with a better knowledge of film stocks and processing of the era can hopefully clarify, but the color seems to be very slightly pale. There are some minor speckles and occasional bits of dirt, but nothing too distracting. The foreground detail is excellent.

The audio is Dolby Digital 2.0, and it is all focused on the center channel (at least, on my system). This movie is entirely dialogue driven, with only occasional bits of piano, and some score at the beginning and end. Dialogue is clear and crisp in the English version. The fidelity of the Spanish track is lower. The French track sounds like it was recorded from a telephone. Your audio rating may vary by the language you speak.

Video: 4 / 5 Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image
Audio: 4 / 5 Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image

Where's Hitch?
According to the making-of documentary, there are two appearances of Hitch in the film. I am fairly sure he is walking north by northeast in front of the apartment building just after his credit at the beginning of the film. There is also a flashing red neon sign with his profile at 55:18 in the distant background.

Extras:
[*]Rope Unleashed (32:28) - this documentary from 2000, written, directed, and produced by Laurent Bouzereau includes interviews with collaborator Hume Cronyn, screenwriter Arthur Laurents, daughter Patricia Hitchcock, and star Farley Granger. Particularly interesting is Laurents' discussion of the homosexual overtones and how the code of the day required that they be removed.[*]Production Photographs - 45 of them, including posters, behind-the-scenes photos (the set is fascinating) and publicity stills. They will auto-play, or you can step through them individually.[*]Theatrical Trailer (2:26) - this original take on the story uses scenes not in the movie, including Jimmy Stewart describing what goes on in an almost Dragnet style.[*]Production Notes - 7 pages

Extras: 3.5 / 5 Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image





Disc 4: Rear Window
Year: 1954
Rated: PG
Aspect Ratio: 1.66x1 (enhanced for 16x9 televisions)
Audio: English, French, DD 2.0 (mono)
Captions/Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish Subtitles
Time: 1:54:13
Layer Switch: 1:33:02

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The Feature:
L.B. "Jeff" Jefferies (James Stewart) is a high-action magazine photographer whose last shot of a car crash leaves him in a full leg cast for seven weeks. It is the last week of Jeff's convalescent captivity in a hot, New York City apartment that overlooks a courtyard of other apartments--a microcosm of reality that begins to take a dark turn when Jeff thinks he may be witness to a murder.

Jeff has a sassy insurance nurse, Stella (Thelma Ritter) who quotes the sayings of Reader's Digest ("We've become a race of peeping toms. What people ought to do is get outside their own house and look in for a change.") Jeff also has a frustrated socialite girlfriend, Lisa Fremont (the lovely Grace Kelly) who wants Jeff to settle down in New York instead of traveling the world as a photographer. Jeff will have no part of it. (The fool! This is a potential princess!! What is he thinking!!! Posted Image )

Yet despite their initial disapproval, even Stella and Lisa are drawn into the mystery of the salesman across the courtyard, whose wife has apparently vanished--piecemeal.

Rear Window has sparking dialogue and a story that just flies by. You might think it is difficult to hold tension and interest when the near entirety of the movie is shot from the interior perspective of one apartment. But it works.

I saw the 1983 theatrical re-release in a packed house with a great audience. Thirty years after the movie was made--even fifty years later--new audiences sit up on the edge of their seats when white-topped Raymond Burr returns to his apartment while Grace Kelly is inside. You can cut the tension with a knife.

Or a saw.

Rear Window is one of Hitchcock's best, and gets a 5 / 5 Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image rating.

The Key Sequence
The Kiss...what a way to meet Grace Kelly.

Video and Audio:
Robert Harris, who with James Katz restored Rear Window for its 2000 theatrical release, talks about the lineage of the Rear WIndow from an image and audio perspective. It is required reading.

Yes, there is grain evident in the video, but it is not overly distracting unless you really want to pick apart the main title sequence. There has definitely been a new transfer, based on some still-frame comparisons. Oddly, some of the tweaks made to this new transfer do not seem to fit. For example, the following picture shows a horizontal split view of the old version (across the top) and the new version (across the bottom). Look at Grace Kelly's flesh tones, and tell me which one you prefer (you can click on it to make it larger).

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Here are some more example images. On further examination, it looks like they have lightened the image a bit (particularly evident in the fleshtones) and they have changed the geometry by expanding the image from top to bottom. The new image is sharper, too. (The old image is always the first in the sequence. Click on it to enlarge.)

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The audio is full-sounding Dolby Digital 2.0 mono. I have no complaints.

Video: 4 / 5 Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image
Audio: 3.5 / 5 Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image

Where's Hitch?
That's Hitchcock playing with the mantle clock in the songwriter's apartment, at 26:11.

Extras:
[*]Rear Window Ethics: Remembering and Restoring a Hitchcock Classic (55:08) - this original documentary features the usual DVD supplement interview suspects, nice bits of an audio interview with Peter Bogdanovich and Alfred Hitchcock, and also moments with Robert Harris and James Katz discussing the film's restoration.[*]A Conversation with Screenwriter John Michael Hayes (13:11)[*]Production Photographs - set to jazzy music, this is a small collection of movie posters and lobby cards, production stills, and behind-the-scenes photos.[*]Production Notes - 13 pages[*]Re-Release Trailer Narrated by James Stewart (6:15) - this is the 1983 re-release, not the restoration, and it covers the return of Vertigo, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Rope, The Trouble With Harry and Rear Window. Well done.[*]Theatrical Trailer (2:42) - a post-Psycho reissue trailer

When compared to the last release, this DVD is missing Cast and Filmmakers screens, Hitchcock-themed DVD recommendations, and DVD-ROM features which included the original script. That's a fairly large omission, so keep that old disc around if you want all the special features intact (okay, you can print this script off, so I guess you could do that instead).

Extras: 4 / 5 Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image




Disc 5: The Trouble with Harry

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The Feature:

The Key Sequence

Video and Audio:

Where's Hitch?

Extras:
[*]The Trouble with Harry Isn't Over[*]Production Photographs[*]Theatrical Trailer[*]Production Notes




Disc 6: The Man Who Knew Too Much

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The Feature:

The Key Sequence
"QUE SERA SERA!" Okay, it's a bit over-the-top, but it certainly is memorable.

Video and Audio:

Where's Hitch?

Extras:
[*]The Making of The Man Who Knew Too Much[*]Production Photographs[*]Theatrical Trailer[*]Production Notes





Disc 7: Vertigo
Year: 1958
Rated: PG
Aspect Ratio: 1.85x1, enhanced for 16x9 displays
Audio: English DD 5.1; English DD 2.0 (mono)
Captions/Subtitles: English SDH; French and Spanish Subtitles
Time: 2:09:35

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The Feature:
"Scottie" Ferguson (James Stewart) is a San Francisco detective whose fear of heights leads to the accidental death of a fellow officer. Scottie retires until an old college classmate convinces him to follow the classmate's wife. Madeline (Kim Novak) is obsessed with a woman from her past who committed suicide. Scottie is drawn into the web of Madeline's story, and when she herself tries to drown herself is there to save her. But despite his best efforts to protect Madeline, Scottie can't overcome his fear of heights in time to prevent her from jumping to her doom from a mission bell tower.

Shattered, Scottie eventually recovers. Then one day, he crosses paths with a woman that looks like Madeline... and that is where Vertigo really begins.

Entire books have been written about Vertigo and its multi-layered story. You have to watch this movie more than once to fully appreciate it. Unfortunately, the movie had lost its luster over the years of use and duplication. It took a full restoration, headed up by Robert Harris and James Katz, to take Vertigo back to the heights of its cinematic look.

Vertigo is a classic and deserves it's 5 / 5 Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image rating.

The Key Sequence
The music swells... like a ghost from the past, she emerges bathed in a mist of blue-green neon... the couple embraces and travel back in time in a revolving kiss...

Video and Audio:
Yes, we are finally getting a Vertigo in 1.85x1 widescreen that is 16x9 enhanced. The original release was not enhanced. As Robert Harris has noted, there is a small discrepancy in color during the main title sequence (the face was supposed to look almost colorless until it was bathed in red light. Now it has a pale flesh tone). I did notice a tad of edge enhancement along building edges and blue skies, but it is not enough to annoy when looking at the gorgeous color palate and fine detail in the image. (Note, though, that no matter how good the DVD looks, this is a movie that screams to be seen on the big screen. I was fortunate enough to see the 70mm / DTS restoration at the premiere cinema in Dallas, and it was a sight to behold. For those into trivia, this was the first movie shown in 70mm with DTS sound.)

The sound... sigh. For the purists who wanted it, a monophonic track has been included in Dolby Digital 2.0. But as Mr. Harris has pointed out here at HTF, the mono track is taken from used 35mm optical prints, that are several generations removed from the quality you would expect from the magnetic originals (which, according to the commentary track, were all but destroyed in 1967). There is noise, pops, a harshness, and a lack of fidelity. But it's there! Thank you!

The other track is the reconstructed 5.1 soundtrack presented in Dolby Digital. As we learn in the commentary track, the dialogue was extracted from the mono print. Bernard Herrmann's music was the only surviving magnetic element, and even it needed some work. The sound effects had to be largely re-recorded, and this was sometimes to jarring effect (at my 1996 screening, the sound and ricochet of gunfire caused a bad laugh in the theater). But you know something? While I am glad that the mono track is available, I still find myself going back to the 5.1 track because it was so meticulously reconstructed to sound as close to the original as possible, and because the music is wonderful. With a little tweaking, I think that even this track would be no laughing matter.

A couple of notes: yes, there is a bit of LFE that I noticed during the flashback of the bell tower scene. This is a 5.1 soundtrack, not 5.0 as the previous release. And missing from this disc, as with the last, is the DTS soundtrack. I guess I'll have to keep my laserdiscs around, eh?

An additional note, added 10/8/2005: be sure to check out Robert Harris' detailed comments later in this thread on image and audio reconstruction issues.

Video: 4.5 / 5 Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image
Audio (5.1): 4 / 5 Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image
Audio (mono): 2.5 / 5 Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image

Where's Hitch?
There he goes, walking in front of the ship yard at the beginning of chapter 4, time 11:17

Extras:
The extras on this edition of Vertigo are the same as the previous edition, although they are authored a little differently. For example, in the original version you can get to all the trailers, the alternate ending, and the production archives from the chapter listings for the documentary. Not so on this disc. No biggie,.
[*]Obsessed with 'Vertigo' - New Life for Hitchcock's Masterpiece (33:14) - this American Movie Classics original production discusses the film's background and its restoration efforts. Meet Robert Harris and James Katz! With English SDH and French/Spanish captions.[*]Feature Commentary with Associate Producer Herbert Coleman, Restoration Team Robert A. Harris and James C. Katz and Other Vertigo Participants - this is a fascinating look at the making of the movie, with Harris and Katz keeping the questions to Coleman flowing. We also learn about all the work required to bring Vertigo back to life. If you ever want some schooling in fine art of restoration, this is the track to hear.[*]Original and Restoration Theatrical Trailers (3:55) - in 4x3 widescreen, no subtitles however.[*]Hitchcock’s Foreign Censorship Ending (2:10) - an interesting artifact of a demand for a "happy" ending that shows justice being done. Anyone who has seen Vertigo knows that the ending is ambiguous at best... With English SDH and French/Spanish captions.[*]The Vertigo Archives - an auto-playing (or still-stepping) series of 423 still frames including production designs, rough sketches, storyboards, production photographs, behind-the-scenes photographs, marketing materials, and more. There are also extensive production notes included in this section. This is hours worth of material.[*]Production Notes - 8 pages of them

Finally, this new DVD has static, anamorphic menus with a loop of the Funeral March of a Marionette. Personally, this gets old, so make those menu selections fast (or don't sit here typing with it spinning around-and-around in the background...)

Oh yes, I am disappointed to report that my very first copy of Vertigo, the stand-alone disc with the orange poster art, will no longer spin in any of my DVD players. The second copy, which came with the 3-disc collection that included Psycho and four episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents still works, and is the basis for comparisons.

Extras: 5 / 5 Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image





Disc 8: Psycho
Year: 1960
Rated: R
Aspect Ratio: 1.85x1, enhanced for 16x9 displays
Audio: English, French DD 2.0 (mono)
Captions/Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish Subtitles
Time: 1:48:50

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The Feature:
Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) is an unhappy office worker whose love life lives out-of-town until he can pay off his father's debts. Marion works for a realtor in Phoenix, Arizona. When she is entrusted with a large cash transaction, she skips town, intent on creating a new life for herself and her boyfriend. But before she can make it to her final destination, she checks in to the Bates Motel, where she meets the kindly, talkative, and quirky hotelkeeper Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins). And there, in one of the most shocking twists in a movie to that date...

she is murdered by a knife-wielding psychopath as she is taking a shower. Audiences today may think nothing of this, but going back 45 years, killing off the major character so early in the movie was simply not done. And the graphic nature of this killing, still mild by today's standards, had people shaking. Trivial note: at no time did a knife actually penetrate skin. It was all suggested with sound effects, cinematography, editing, and (of course) Bernard Herrmann's slashing score. But shocking it was.

An understandable shift in the story occurs, as Marion's sister, boyfriend, and authorities try to find her. And it is then the mysteries of the Bates Motel are revealed.

Psycho was a smash when it was released, but it also was a peak for Hitchcock in the 1960's. This was rather precipitous considering it was just the beginning of the decade. But the movie became a true classic, one that was (and will be) appreciated for years to come.

Psycho, while not the first Hitchcock movie I ever saw, was certainly the first one I ever became fascinated by, thanks to Anthony Perkins' hilarious appearance on Saturday Night Live in a commercial for the Norman Bates School of Motel Management:

Quote:
Are you motel material? Let's find out with a simple quiz. Question One -- A guest loses the key to her room. Would you:
(a) Give her a duplicate key.
(b) Let her in with your passkey.

© Hack her to death with a kitchen knife.

One thing I find curious, however, is the film's 'R' rating. Is this movie so shocking today that children should be kept from seeing it? Has Psycho fallen so far off the radar that we have to prepare a new generation for the surprises in store for them at the Bates Motel? (And no, we're not going to talk about unnecessary, shot-for-shot remakes either.)

Once again, we've got a classic movie on our hands, and anything less than a 5 / 5 Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image rating would be an insult.


The Key Sequence
After Psycho, will you ever take a shower in the hotel without bolting the door first?

Video and Audio:
Yes, this is a finally 16x9 transfer! It also appears to be a new transfer, based on the detail I am seeing in the new version when compared to the old. For example, here is a pair of money shots (with the old one being on top):

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Click on either image for enlargement. When you blow up the images further, you can almost read the serial number on the bill in the new transfer. Not so in the old. See what a difference extra resolution can make in an image? You can also see the contrast has been tweaked (and it looks fine when played, not just paused) and the image appears to be sharper.

The Dolby Digital 2.0 audio is mono, and it is wonderful. It captures Bernard Herrmann's shrieking score.

Video: 4 / 5 Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image
Audio: 4 / 5 Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image

Where's Hitch?
At 6:57, he is standing outside the window in a white hat.

Extras:

The extras are a port of the original DVD release, except for The Making of Psycho documentary which was shifted to the Bonus Disc. This allows more space to be allocated to the new video transfer.
[*]Production Notes - 18 pages from the original release's insert, rather interesting.[*]Theatrical Trailer (6:37) - this cracks me up. Hitchcock gives us a tour of the Bates Motel, and the house behind it. The music is so anti-psycho, it sounds like something out of a sitcom! Scratched-up, black and white, 4x3.[*]Re-Release Trailers (1:52) - "I want you to see 'Psycho' the way I originally made it! With every scene intact! The version TV did not dare show!" "No one will be admitted except at the beginning!" "Uncut! Intact! Alfred Hitchcock's 'Psycho!'"![*]Newsreel Footage: The Release of Psycho (7:46) - darn, that marquee at the DeMille Theater in New York was huge. This footage was actually intended for exhibitors, and has some cool information regarding the policies used to promote the film. Hitchcock wanted people to see the movie from the very beginning. People were forced to line up outside the theater (the horrors!). Theaters were provided with special promotional materials to state the policy, and to post showtimes. Sure it is all marketing, but it is fascinating stuff.[*]The Shower Scene: With and Without Music (2:32) - as the title implies, we see the shower scene with and then without Bernard Herrmann's slashing string score. It's a different effect, as you can well imagine.[*]The Psycho Archives - 45 b&w production photographs, [*]Production Photographs - 100 b&w publicity shots. The happy Anthony Perkins is just so... wrong.[*]Behind-the-Scenes Photographs - 47 b&w photos[*]The Shower Scene: Storyboards by Saul Bass - 24 pages, 2-up with storyboards. Incredible.[*]Lobby Cards - a set of 8 lobby cards[*]Posters and Psycho ads - 13 international posters, also the supplement credits

Extras: 5 / 5 Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image




Disc 9: The Birds

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The Feature:

The Key Sequence
The attack on the town... the gas station exploding... oh my.

Video and Audio:

Where's Hitch?

Extras:
[*]Deleted Scene[*]The Original Ending[*]Storyboards[*]Tippi Hedron’s Screen Test[*]the Birds Is Coming (Universal International Newsreel)[*]Suspense Story: National Press Club Hears Hitchcock (Universal International Newsreel)[*]Production Photographs[*]Production Notes[*]Theatrical Trailer





Disc 10: Marnie
Year: 1964
Rated: PG
Aspect Ratio: 1.85x1, enhanced for 16x9 displays
Audio: English, French DD 2.0 (mono)
Captions/Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish Subtitles
Time: 2:10:23

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The Feature:
Marnie ('Tippi' Hedren) is a thief. She works at a small company for a few months to gain access and trust, then hits the safe to steal the cash. Marnie returns to her mother, where we see they share a strained relationship, Marnie provides gifts and money. Then Marnie is off again, to find another town and another job. This time, it is to Philadelphia and Rutland & Co. There, she meets Mark Rutland (Sean Connery) who through a quirk of fate vaguely recognizes Marnie from her previous employer, his CPA. Despite her lack of solid references, Marnie--going by the fake name of Mary Taylor--is hired, thanks only to Rutland's direction.

The recently widowed Rutland takes further interest in Marnie, but grows more suspicious. He is alarmed at her frantic reactions to lights, colors, and thunderstorms, but it leads to The Kiss Of All Kisses, a trip to the race track, and a visit home to dear old Dad (as well as jealous young sister-in-law) on the family estate. Just as the shell of romance is about to crack, Marnie cracks the safe and leaves town. But Rutland catches up to Marnie... extracts what information he can from her... and marries her!

But this is a rocky marriage; Marnie does not want to be close to her husband; she attempts suicide on their honeymoon cruise; she has nightmares. Rutland wants Marnie to go to a psychiatrist, but she refuses--so he reads books, has someone investigate Marnie's real past, and deals with the fallout of a visit from his CPA--who recognizes Marnie and wants justice.

But it is only with a visit back to Marnie's mother that the secrets of Marnie's past can be truly revealed.

Marketed as "Alfred Hitchcock's Suspenseful Sex Mystery" it is hardly sexual except in the sense that the Connery character is not getting any, and that we do get a scene of Sean Connery ripping off Tippi Hedren's night gown. Marnie really is more of a psychological mystery and a love story--but sex sells.

Marnie was supposed to mark Grace Kelly's return to the screen, but it was ultimately Tippi Hedren who landed the role after The Birds. It is interesting seeing Sean Connery before he hit Gold with James Bond. Marnie was filmed just after Dr. No.

I liked Marnie, but not as much as other Hitchcock efforts of that era. Still even a 3.5 / 5 Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image rating on a Hitchcock movie is a five star rating for most other directors.

The Key Sequence
The close-up kiss in the rainy office....

Video and Audio:
But the picture has definitely gotten some color correction over the prior release, but is still fairly grainy at times. To see the color improvements, I did the following frame grabs and merged them together:

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The old disc is on the left; the new disc is on the right. Note the black bar on the left. The new release is properly centered, and has no black bars on the sides. Overall, the colors are brighter when compared to the old release.

The Dolby Digital 2.0 sound is monophonic, and sounds about as good as it can. Once again, Bernard Hermann's music is a highlight.

Video: 4 / 5 Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image
Audio: 3.5 / 5 Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image

Where's Hitch?
At 5:00, he leaves his hotel room and looks into the camera

Extras:
[*]The Trouble with Marnie (58:24) - with so many of the principals still alive, twice the normal space was dedicated to a documentary on the making on Marnie. Interview subjects range from Joseph Stefano (writer of Psycho, who discusses in detail the changes made to his original treatment), Evan Hunter (screenwriter of The Birds, who was fired after he had the temerity to suggest an alternate to a "rape" scene), Jay Presson Allen (who gets the final screenwriting credit), and even Tippi Hedren herself (who is holding up great...Hitch sure knew how to pick a blond beauty).[*]The Marnie Archives - set to music, so it auto-plays the publicity stills, behind-the-scenes photographs, poster art, and marketing material. There is no step function, however, which makes "fast forward" the only way to speed through things.[*]Theatrical Trailer (4:47)[*]Production Notes - 7 pages

Lost from the prior DVD is a rather nice motion menu.

Extras: 4 / 5 Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image




Disc 11: Torn Curtain

Posted Image


The Feature:

The Key Sequence
Ouch, ouch, sniff, gargh... shovels to the kneecaps and gas ovens, oh my...

Video and Audio:

Where's Hitch?

Extras:
[*]Torn Curtain Rising[*]Scenes Scored by Bernard Herrmann[*]Production Photographs[*]Theatrical Trailer[*]Production Notes




Disc 12: Topaz

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The Feature:

The Key Sequence

Video and Audio:

Where's Hitch?

Extras:
[*]Topaz: An Appreciation by Film Historian and Critic Leonard Maltin[*]Alternate Endings[*]Storyboards: The Mendoza’s[*]Production Photographs[*]Theatrical Trailer[*]Production Notes




Disc 13: Frenzy

Posted Image


The Feature:

The Key Sequence
The pullback onto the street in a single take.

Video and Audio:

Where's Hitch?

Extras:
[*]The Story of Frenzy[*]Production Photographs[*]Theatrical Trailer[*]Production Notes





Disc 14: Family Plot
Year: 1976
Rated: PG
Aspect Ratio: 1.85x1, enhanced for 16x9 displays
Audio: English, French DD 2.0 (mono)
Captions/Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish Subtitles
Time: 2:00:05
Layer Switch: 1:24:38

Posted Image


The Feature:
"Madame" Blanche Tyler (Barbara Harris) is a fake psychic who has been brought in by Julia Rainbird, a rich widower, to find her nephew. The nephew was born out-of-wedlock in the 1930's, which was considered scandalous, and was promptly sent away to another family and lost. The reward for Blanch should she find the man? $10,000. The reward for the heir to the Rainbird estate? Untold millions. The man's name? No one knows. The man's location? No one knows. And so starts Alfred Hitchcock's last movie, a lighthearted mystery called Family Plot.

Blanche's boyfriend George (Bruce Dern) acts the part of Blanche's private investigator by day while driving a cab to make a living. As he drives Blanch home from the Rainbird Estate, he almost runs into a tall, blond, and mysteriously silent woman... who is in the concluding acts of a kidnapping! We follow this woman to the police station, where she receives a large diamond for ransom, then she leads the police via helicopter to the kidnapping victim. She escapes to her boyfriend's car. Fran (Karen Black) is actually a brunette in high heels and Arthur (William Devane) has a smile that would rival Jimmy Carter. He is a jeweler. Fran and Arthur plan to escape to Amsterdam, but only after one last kidnapping.

Meanwhile, George begins to trace the footsteps of the nephew, but hits dead ends at every curve. First, the chauffeur is long gone, but the chauffeur's daughter remembers a baby being brought to another family. The other family is dead. Or are they? The son's body was never found, and he was rumored to have set the fire that burnt the family's house down. The most promising lead appears to be a gas station owner named Joe Maloney, who some eleven years ago tried to get a death certificate for the son, and who apparently bought a tombstone for his grave.

And speaking of dead ends...did you notice the publicity still above?

Ultimately, all the stories converge in ways that any good mystery should. This story, adapted for the screen by the great Ernest Lehman (North by Northwest) puts the characters through enough humorous paces that you even share in the frustration of the villains. And Bruce Dern is great when he gets to play a normal person. (Yes, he is even better when he is unhinged, but give the guy a break!)

Family Plot is actually... gasp... my favorite Alfred Hitchcock movie. Oh sure, it is no Vertigo or Psycho but it is fun. This was the first Hitchcock movie I ever saw in the theater as a child, and it instantly made me a fan of his work. Of course, the sexual innuendo was all over my head, and believe me there was a lot of it. There was also some impolite language (gasp) making this a PG movie by even today's standards.

Family Plot, sadly, was Alfred Hitchcock's last movie. It was rumored before the movie's release that it would be some sort of career retrospective. But it was not--the American Film Institute took care of that three years later. (If only that entire show had been included on this set's extras.)

I would be remiss if I did not give my favorite Hitchcock film a 5 / 5 Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image rating.

The Key Sequence
The unrelenting scene down the mountain road... make sure and get those brakes checked, okay?

Video and Audio:
Family Plot has definitely gotten a new video transfer, as evidenced by at least two of the following screen grabs (old transfer on top, new on bottom, click to enlarge). In the case of the new transfers, it is more centered and moved up. The contrast has also been altered, which has improved the visible colors: look at Julia Rainbird's skirt and see how blue it looks in the new transfer as compared to almost black in the old transfer. The new transfer is also sharper and has undergone some dirt removal, as evidenced in the shop scene with Bruce Dern (look at his left jacket lapel--this is evident throughout).

Posted Image


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The video shows a touch of grain in some scenes, and the process shots during driving--which were always problematic--look just as problematic this time around. Nothing will fix that, short of going back to the original elements and doing it over, and I doubt that will ever happen.

The sound is monophonic Dolby Digital 2.0, with clear dialogue as you would expect, and a playful score by John Williams. It's fine.

Video: 4 / 5 Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image
Audio: 3.5 / 5 Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image

Where's Hitch?
Hitch's last movie appearance is a silhouette in the window of the Registrar of Births & Deaths, 40:35

Extras: [*]Plotting Family Plot (48:21)[*]Storyboards: The Chase Scene - 58 storyboards to the chase scene[*]Production Photographs - some 87 of them[*]Theatrical Trailers - two of them for Family Plot. "My word, what a grave insult."[*]Production Notes - 7 pages

Missing are the Cast and Crew notes, DVD Recommendations, and a Newsletter link from the prior release. Yes, the menus had to be reauthored to reassign content.

Extras: 4 / 5 Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image




Disc 15: Bonus Disc
[*]AFI Salute to Alfred Hitchcock (15:05 !!!) - this very shortened presentation of what was my introduction to the accumulated works of Alfred Hitchcock loses all the movie clips, but includes tributes by Ingrid Bergman, Jimmy Stewart, George Stevens, and Hitchcock's AFI award acceptance speech--which is a riot.[*]Masters of Cinema (33:37) hosted by Pia Lindstrom and William Everson - a TV interview[*]The Making of Psycho (1:34:07) - lifted from the original Psycho DVD.[*]All About the Birds (1:19:47) - lifted from the original The Birds DVD.


In Conclusion:

While this is a still review in-progress, I think it is time to start summing up my findings. I'll still come back to this once every last review is complete.

For now, it is safe to say that Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection is an incredible way to start an Alfred Hitchcock collection. The price is right. These discs used to sell in two separate box sets for a retail price of $150 each. Now you can get them all together for a retail price of $120. Online discounts take it down to $75-$85, which is hardly more than buying 4-5 of the discs separately. I have to recommend this set on price alone.

BUT...

The discs are not perfect. Even some of the new transfers leave something to be desired. A little more care should have gone into the production of this set, given its importance. Perhaps we'll see that care on the high-definition releases.

If you already have the bulk of these discs, you may just want to hold off for the eventual separate releases of the anamorphic Vertigo and Psycho. I'll bet they are coming eventually. But if you are like me, and only have a few Hitchcock titles to begin with, this set is a no-brainer.

Overall Rating: 4 / 5

Recommended

Release Date: October 4, 2005




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#2 of 306 OFFLINE   Steve Tannehill

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Posted October 04 2005 - 05:25 PM

(By the way, it's too soon to attach an official rating or recommendation without any meat to the review. But I'll tell you right now that, despite my dislike of the packaging, this is looking to be the set of the year.)

- Steve

#3 of 306 OFFLINE   DavePattern

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Posted October 04 2005 - 06:25 PM

Hi Steve

It's not just the "AFI Salute" that's been chopped down - the "Masters of Cinema" was originally broadcast by CBS as "Camera Three: The Illustrated Hitchcock" and apparently had a running time of 55 minutes.

#4 of 306 OFFLINE   David D H

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Posted October 04 2005 - 07:20 PM

Steve, in your first picture of the set, there are two boxes, a large one, and a small one. The small one is clearly the actual disc box, so what's the large one?

#5 of 306 OFFLINE   oscar_merkx

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Posted October 04 2005 - 08:57 PM

I will be looking at this review with great delight as I have none of the movies on dvd so far.

Cheers

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#6 of 306 OFFLINE   Deepak Shenoy

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Posted October 04 2005 - 11:11 PM

Quote:
Steve, in your first picture of the set, there are two boxes, a large one, and a small one. The small one is clearly the actual disc box, so what's the large one?

From Steve's review

Quote:
The bigger box is the packaging for warehouse clubs.

Warehouse stores like Sam's Club and Costco sell DVDs in these larger boxes. I have no idea why they do that. I have never bought one of these but I am assuming it is just a flimsy outer box containing the proper smaller box inside and that the outer box is meant to be discarded right away (seems like an awful waste of cardboard).

-D

#7 of 306 OFFLINE   Deepak Shenoy

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Posted October 04 2005 - 11:16 PM

Thanks Steve for doing this review in an incremental fashion instead of waiting until you have all the write-ups done. The packaging shots are the most detailed ones I have seen. I have this box on the way, but I am still looking forward to seeing your reviews for all the discs fleshed out.

-D

#8 of 306 OFFLINE   Dale MA

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Posted October 04 2005 - 11:48 PM

Thanks Steve, looking forward to your updates Posted Image

Looking at those pictures, the packaging looks awesome to me, maybe I'll change my mind when I see for myself though.

Edit: Also, you have to give props to Universal for including original poster art on the covers, sure there is four posters to one cover but it proves that they have been listening.

IMO, Universal has improved ten fold this past year.

#9 of 306 OFFLINE   Jason Hughes

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Posted October 04 2005 - 11:55 PM

The real question is are they going to make the new 16x9 Psycho and Vertigo seperatly? I already have everthing in this set...
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#10 of 306 OFFLINE   Steve Tannehill

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Posted October 05 2005 - 02:06 AM

So far, region 2 has a separate 16x9 Psycho on the way. There is no word on a new Vertigo in any region (although before they do that, they really should consult with Robert Harris...). Look at it this way, though... if Psycho and Vertigo are released for $20 each, and you can get this box set for just twice that, is it worth getting the box for several improved transfers?

As for the wholesale club packaging, all DVD's at Costco and Sams are in longbox packaging (although some larger sets are in hard shell plastic packaging). This is presumably to prevent shrinkage. The Hitchcock set is packed to be consistent with the other longbox packages, although they had the actual boxes down beneath the display tables, in a form-fitting outer-box.

Off to the day-job. Tonight, I'm going to pop in Vertigo and Psycho for more than just the few minutes I did last night. Vertigo looked amazing.

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#11 of 306 OFFLINE   Kevin M

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Posted October 05 2005 - 02:41 AM

I was apprehensive about the overlapping disc holders but from the photo you posted I don't think they look all that bad, certainly manageable.
Thinpak's (I assume you mean the type used in the 3 disc Hellboy SE) would have been more efficient, I agree, but they also seem to have a certain element of cheapness to them for a major release, IMO anyway. Perhaps the style of Digipak that is used in Criterion's Complete Monterey Pop Festival would have been more appropriate.
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#12 of 306 OFFLINE   Chris Bardon

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Posted October 05 2005 - 03:15 AM

It seems really odd that the case fits 15 thinpacks so well, expecially given that there's apparently plastic inside holding the paper cases in place. Perhaps this was a last minute change away from an original thinpack design?

Packaging aside, I'm looking forward to checking this out. Haven't seen most of these movies before, so it's a no-brainer to buy the set at this price!
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#13 of 306 OFFLINE   Ken_McAlinden

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Posted October 05 2005 - 03:21 AM

The key sequence for Saboteur has to be the Statue of Liberty confrontation. I seem to remember Universal Studios still incorporating that into their tour/exhibits 15 years ago or so.

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#14 of 306 OFFLINE   John Hodson

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Posted October 05 2005 - 03:26 AM

Quote:
The key sequence for Saboteur has to be the Statue of Liberty confrontation. I seem to remember Universal Studios still incorporating that into their tour/exhibits 15 years ago or so.

That scene, on the current R2 DVD, has always bothered me. It looked to me as if it had been badly edited in some way inasmuch as when Kane goes to confront Fry, he's carrying a gun. The we have a somewhat choppy sequence as they dance around the top of Lady Liberty...then Fry is shown clutching his arm as if he's been winged.

Was a shot cut from the final film, or am I waaay off base.
So many films, so little time...
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#15 of 306 OFFLINE   Robert Crawford

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Posted October 05 2005 - 04:16 AM

What's strange to me is the Universal packaging promoting Turner Classic Movies on it. Anyhow, I'm trying to decide which dvd I'm going to watch first. It will probably be either "Psycho" or "Vertigo".









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#16 of 306 OFFLINE   Patrick McCart

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Posted October 05 2005 - 04:21 AM

Quote:
What's strange to me is the Universal packaging promoting Turner Classic Movies on it.

I think TCM ads were placed in the W.C. Fields and Marx Bros. sets, too. The cross-promotion is a wise idea since TCM has the broadcast rights to nearly all Alfred Hitchcock films (British and American). Also, Universal moved most of their classic film packages to TCM... the monster films, Marx Bros., Fields, Hope and Crosby, Preston Sturges, etc. And TCM is really nice about promoting classic DVD releases from other studios both in bumpers between films and on their website.

#17 of 306 OFFLINE   Robert Crawford

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Posted October 05 2005 - 04:26 AM

I think TCM ads were placed in the W.C. Fields and Marx Bros. sets, too.

I never noticed it before so that might be true. In regard to TCM, my tivo and dvd recorder get a constant workout from that channel's programming.






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#18 of 306 OFFLINE   John Hodson

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Posted October 05 2005 - 04:30 AM

'Abbot & Costello Collection 4' came in a digipac with a flap for, well, something useful...and it was just a TCM flyer.

Sorry to go OT, but do TCM always show movies anamorphically in the correct ratio with no ad breaks over in the US? Because it irritates me that it isn't true of their UK counterpart (and the standard of many prints is awful).
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#19 of 306 OFFLINE   Robert Crawford

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Posted October 05 2005 - 04:33 AM

Sorry to go OT, but do TCM always show movies anamorphically in the correct ratio with no ad breaks over in the US? Because it irritates me that it isn't true of their UK counterpart (and the standard of many prints is awful).

John,
At times, when they license certain titles, they're not able to get it in the proper aspect ratio. However, there are no ad breaks during a movie.

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#20 of 306 OFFLINE   Ken_McAlinden

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Posted October 05 2005 - 04:35 AM

I don't think TCM in the US has a hi-def or any kind of 16:9 channel. They show most, but not all, movies in their appropriate aspect ratio, presumably whenever they have a broadcast master available to do so.

Regards,
Ken McAlinden
Livonia, MI USA


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