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HTF REVIEW: Alfred Hitchcock Presents - Season One

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#1 of 3 Steve Tannehill

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Posted October 24 2005 - 03:08 PM

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Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Season One
Studio: Universal Studios Home Video
Year: 1955-56 (2005 Release)
Rated: Not Rated
Aspect Ratio: 4x3
Audio: English DD 2.0 (Mono)
Captions/Subtitles: English SDH; Spanish Subtitles
Time: 16 hours 43 minutes
Disc Format: DS/DL (DVD-18)

The Feature:

Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Season One was the beginning of a landmark decade of television from the Master of Suspense. Brought to us each week on black and white film, these thirty-minute stories (slightly less after commercial breaks) "brought murder back into the home--where it belongs." So said Alfred Hitchcock, who directed some seventeen of the 361 episodes, and served as series host. His dry lead-ins and lead-outs, along with playful criticisms of sponsorship were always a highlight.

Season One includes all 39 episodes that aired between October of 1955 and June of 1956. As one of my friends is quick to point out (with tongue firmly planted in-cheek) Hitchcock couldn't get a cast: consider stars of the day like Joseph Cotten, John Williams, Beulah Bondi, Vera Miles, Tom Ewell, Claude Rains; don't forget the stars who would go on to bigger and better things: Darren McGavin, Ellen Corby, John Forsythe, Harve Presnell, Charles Bronson... the list goes on. As I sampled the episodes on side one of the set, I was going "Hey, that's Aunt Bea!" and "Hey, her sister spends an evening at the Bates Motel!"

The episodes are mostly complete, although the wipes to commercial fade early to prevent the appearance of advertising. And while I could list out all the episodes on the disc, you can Google to find an episode guide that, at a minimum, will list episode titles and air dates. A trip to the Internet Movie Database will even list all the guest appearances. I'm intentionally keeping this brief, because I've got a bone to pick with Universal on this set.

The shows are great, however.

The Feature: 4 / 5
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Video:

For a fifty-year-old black-and-white TV show that was shot on film, Alfred Hitchcock Presents has held up fairly well. Oh, there are scratches and speckles and dirt, but not enough to be distracting. The picture is surprisingly clear and detailed, with excellent contrast. I noticed no artifacts. Watch it on a normal-sized TV, and I doubt that there will be any complaints whatsoever.

Video: 3.5 / 5
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Sound:

Sound is equally acceptable for a monophonic soundtrack from the 1950's, not earth-shaking, but not distracting. Only an English DD 2.0 soundtrack is offered, but subtitles in Spanish are available (as well as English SDH--odd that French subtitles would be excluded, it is usually the norm on Universal product).

Sound: 3.5 / 5
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Extras:

The lone extra is a featurette titled Alfred Hitchcock Presents: A Look Back (14:44) on Disc 3, Side B. This is actually a very interesting documentary including interviews with daughter Pat Hitchcock, Norman Lloyd (producer of eight years, and star of TV series St. Elsewhere) and others. Short and sweet, this documentary describes the interaction Hitchcock had with the making of the series, the lead-ins and lead-outs (which were all written by the same man) and the fame that the series brought to Hitchcock around the world.

Extras: 3 / 5
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A Series of Unfortunate Events...

Now for the bad news. I have problems with this set. If you have purchased it already, hold on to your receipt.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents has the potential to yield ten seasons--some 361 episodes--of the best mystery and suspense television ever. Season One is an unfortunate start.

At first, I thought my troubles would be limited to packaging and scratches. The screener arrived in good shape on the outer surface--no discs sounded like they were floating about inside the package. The three dual-sided/dual-layered (DVD-18) discs were housed in a tri-fold digipak case (with a fourth flap covering one of the discs). The case went into a slipcover.

Surface scratches were the first sign of problems on the disc. Even though the hubs were sturdy and the discs locked on them solidly (almost too solidly), two of the discs had scratches, one of the scratches was almost three inches long. Had this been a purchase, it would have gone back to the store immediately. Even the plastic digipak carriers were scratched up. How does this happen? Well, since it is all folded up and shrink-wrapped during shipping, I can only conclude that it occurs during manufacturing.

I went out to my local warehouse club and picked up my own copy of the set. While there was no three-inch scratch on one disc, one disc did have slight scratches. At least I could return this one for an exchange if problems warranted. (And as it turned out, they did.)

I played Disc 1, Side A of the original set. There were no obvious surface scratches on this side of the disc. But I experienced skips, pixelization, and a hard freeze at one point in episode 4. I then put in my purchased copy of the disc; I had skips, pixelization, and a hard freeze at a different location in the same episode. WTF? And to add salt to the wound, I have seen other reports of problems with this disc at other locations.

I'll be off to the warehouse this week to see if I can still get a replacement, and if that does not work I'll be calling Universal to have them send one.

I don't want to be negative. I want to like this set. But from this reviewer's perspective, it is seriously flawed in its current incarnation, on review equipment that has never encountered a problem.

How could it improve? First, let's get rid of the scratches. The tri-fold cardboard/plastic packaging has to go. On the same release day, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, with the same number (and type--DVD-18) of discs, came out in a box set with three individual ThinPaks. This takes up virtually the same amount of shelf space, and does not expose the discs to each other, or to harsh cardboard outer packaging. There was nary a scratch on the top surface of the Kolchak discs. The Kolchak discs played, too.

Second? There has got to be some quality control. While not everyone has experienced problems with Universal's DVD-18 product, a growing number have. Up until this day, I never had a problem. Then I had it twice in five minutes. Why? Could it be the location of the manufacturing facility?

Third? If DVD-18 can not work consistently, make it single-sided, dual-layered. DVD-18 seems to be a problem. How about giving DVD-9 a try?

Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Season One is a missed opportunity.

Buyer Beware




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#2 of 3 MikeGale

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Posted October 25 2005 - 02:41 AM

I rented this set from NetFlix, and they have a version of it on 6 DVD-9 disks, with a note on the sleeves to ignore the Menu info that tells you to turn the disk over for more episodes. All of the rental disks played properly, so there may indeed be a problem with the DVD-18 format. It is worth noting that, unlike most TV show collections, the episodes themselves have no chapter stops within them. This is unfortunate, because I would have liked to be able to jump to some of the Hitchcock intros or wrap-ups to watch them again -- they are sometimes as good or better than the episodes. Another slight annoyance is that before an episode begins, you get a menu page with a synopsis that sometimes gives away too much of the story. It's easy enough to ignore these, but it's just another indication that Universal did a second rate job in putting this set together. I'm glad these shows are available on DVD, but given the problems with the packaging and the DVD-18s stated above, coupled with the lack of chapters in the episodes, Universal should redo this set. (In other words, I'm glad I rented instead of purchased.) Let's hope they did a better job with the upcoming "Leave It To Beaver" set.

#3 of 3 TravisR

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Posted October 25 2005 - 02:56 AM

Like I said in another thread, it's unfortunate that Universal's messed up DVD-18s overshadow the shows. I was fortunate enough to get a functioning copy and the show is great. What's not so great is the lousy discs that they use that have so many problems.

Call Universal and tell them to drop DVD-18s.