Case Number 24935

ALFRED HITCHCOCK: THE MASTERPIECE COLLECTION (BLU-RAY)

Saboteur
Universal // 1942 // 109 Minutes // Rated PG
Shadow Of A Doubt
Universal // 1943 // 108 Minutes // Rated PG
Rope
Universal // 1948 // 80 Minutes // Not Rated
Rear Window
Universal // 1954 // 112 Minutes // Rated PG
The Trouble With Harry
Universal // 1955 // 99 Minutes // Rated PG
The Man Who Knew Too Much
Universal // 1956 // 120 Minutes // Rated PG
Vertigo
Universal // 1958 // 129 Minutes // Rated PG
North By Northwest
Universal // 1959 // 136 Minutes // Not Rated
Psycho
Universal // 1960 // 109 Minutes // Rated R
The Birds
Universal // 1963 // 119 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Marnie
Universal // 1964 // 130 Minutes // Rated PG
Torn Curtain
Universal // 1966 // 128 Minutes // Rated PG
Topaz
Universal // 1969 // 143 Minutes // Rated PG
Frenzy
Universal // 1972 // 116 Minutes // Rated R
Family Plot
Universal // 1976 // 121 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Patrick Bromley // December 11th, 2012

The Charge

"Always make the audience suffer as much as possible." -- Alfred Hitchcock

Opening Statement

Fifteen (15!) of Alfred Hitchcock's movies, spanning a period of over 30 years, are collected together in one of the year's very best HD releases -- a perfect entry point for those new to the director and a reward for his most devoted fans.

Facts of the Case

Saboteur (1942)
A factory worker (Robert Cummings, Beach Party) is wrongly accused of starting a fire that kills his best friend and must race to clear his name.

Shadow of a Doubt (1943)
Bored teenager Charlotte Newton (Teresa Wright, Somewhere in Time) longs for more excitement in her life, and gets some in the form of a visit from her Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotten, The Third Man), a sophisticated ladies' man who Charlotte begins to suspect might be up to no good.

Rope (1948)
Two young men (John Dall and Farley Granger) strangle a classmate just to prove they can get away with it, then throw a party to celebrate and raise the stakes. One of their guests, Rupert (Jimmy Stewart, It's a Wonderful Life), proves to be the boys' match.

Rear Window (1954)
When photographer Jeff Jeffries (Jimmy Stewart) is laid up in his apartment after breaking his leg, he takes up "observing" (spying) on the neighbors -- and happens to see what he is sure is a murder.

The Trouble with Harry (1955)
When a body is found in a small East Coast town, everyone begins to suspect they may have played a role in the death.

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)
The remake of Hitchcock's own 1934 movie finds Dr. Ben McKenna (Jimmy Stewart) and his wife Josephine (Doris Day, Pillow Talk) vacationing in Morocco and uncovering a plot to assassinate a foreign statesman. The McKennas must attempt to stop the murder before it's too late and recover their son, who is kidnapped by the assassins.

Vertigo (1958)
Scottie Ferguson (Jimmy Stewart) is a San Francisco policeman who retires after being traumatized on the job and suffers from a paralyzing fear of heights. When an old friend hires Scottie to follow a woman, Madeline (Kim Novak, Picnic), who is behaving strangely, Scottie slowly grows obsessed with her, and then tragedy strikes. Then Scottie meets and obsesses over another woman, who looks a lot like Madeline, and things get stranger from there.

North by Northwest (1959)
Advertising executive Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant, Charade) is hunted and chased across the country when he's mistaken for a government agent.

Psycho (1960)
When Marion Crane (Janet Leigh, Hello Down There) steals money from her job and goes on the run, she makes a pit stop at the Bates Motel, run by Norman (Anthony Perkins, Pretty Poison), a nice guy with mother issues.

The Birds (1963)
Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren, Citizen Ruth) visits a small California town where there appears to be a larger-than-usual population of birds, and they start behaving strangely.

Marnie (1964)
Mark Rutland (Sean Connery, From Russia With Love) marries Marnie (Tippi Hedren), a thief and compulsive liar, then tries to cure her of those impulses by forcing her to revisit her past.

Torn Curtain (1966)
A physics professor (Paul Newman, Cool Hand Luke) and his assistant (Julie Andrews, The Sound of Music) travel to East Germany to obtain defense secrets, then must make their way back home with the German State Security in pursuit.

Topaz (1969)
A French special agent (Frederick Stafford, Werewolf Woman) is enlisted by his American friend to help expose a spy ring that has been giving secrets to the Soviet Union.

Frenzy (1972)
A down-on-his-luck writer (Jon Finch, The Vampire Lovers) is wrongly accused of murder when a London serial killer hits close to home.

Family Plot (1976)
A pair of con artists (Barbara Harris, Grosse Pointe Blank, and Bruce Dern, The Hole) are hired to find the nephew of a millionaire heiress, but the pair crosses paths with a kidnapper (William Devane, Rolling Thunder) and his girlfriend (Karen Black, Nashville).

The Evidence

Oh, my. Where do we start?

Alfred Hitchcock is one of the greatest directors of all time. Period. It's not a statement of opinion, it's a statement of fact. One could make a case that he's the greatest director of all time. I would be willing to hear that argument.

Universal's incredible Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection gathers a whopping 15 of the director's movies together, many of which are appearing on Blu-ray for the first time. These are not necessarily his 15 "best" movies, partially because of rights issues (Warner Bros. holds the license for several of his movies, though they did work with Universal to ensure that North by Northwest be included here). That's OK, because what's collected here provides a more interesting examination of Hitchcock as a filmmaker and at the trajectory of his career. As someone who loves to look at films as the body of work of a single author, The Masterpiece Collection is just as worthwhile for its hits as well as its misses -- and, to be fair, the misses are few. Even "miss" isn't really a fair classification, and one that's only being used because those movies are being held up against all-time great movies like Psycho and Vertigo. Not every movie can be Vertigo.

One of my roadblocks with Hitchcock has always been my own aversion to one of his favorite plots: the Innocent Man Wrongly Accused. It's there in Saboteur and in Frenzy; it's at the heart of one his best-loved classics North by Northwest, a movie I've always been able to appreciate much more than enjoy for exactly that reason. Thankfully (again, only as far as I'm concerned), that particular plot doesn't appear in too many of the titles in the Masterpiece Collection, which offers up a varied mix of suspense (Shadow of a Doubt, Rope, The Man Who Knew Too Much), psychological drama (Vertigo, Marnie), political intrigue (Topaz, Torn Curtain), horror (Psycho, The Birds) and even black comedy (The Trouble with Harry, Family Plot). Though every movie feels like a Hitchcock movie -- there's no mistaking his themes and style -- the offerings here are different enough from one another that it's easy to plow through all 15 titles without a sense of redundancy.

The chronological structure of the box set makes another argument for watching the whole thing in order, too, because it provides a real sense of just where the director peaked -- you can pretty much tell just by reading through the titles as listed. Hitchcock's streak from Rear Window through The Birds (minus maybe his remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much, which is good but not great, but including the underrated The Trouble With Harry) is as good as any filmmaker has ever had. It's an even more impressive accomplishment when you consider that Hitchcock was cranking movies out at the rate of about one a year, creating movies that are unmistakably his despite not writing any of the screenplays. Such is the strength of his directorial voice.

For my money, Vertigo remains Hitchcock's best movie (which was confirmed by Sight & Sound choosing it over Citizen Kane as the best movie ever made in this year's critics' poll, depending on how much faith you put in such things -- I'm mostly kidding when I say "confirmed"), though obviously Psycho is a close, close second. While there are going to be diehard fans of any of his movies (any movie period, actually), I don't think Hitchcock is one of those directors where there are a whole lot of entries in his filmography debated as his "best" -- the discussion is basically reduced to a handful of titles (some of which, like Vertigo, North by Northwest and Read Window, are included here, and some of which, like Notorious, are not). But the Blu-ray collection will hopefully allow audiences to fill in the gaps on a few titles they may have missed, or rediscover some of the underrated titles in Hitchcock's catalogue (like Frenzy and The Trouble with Harry) once deemed as "lesser" efforts.

Most of the transfers in The Masterpiece Collection, all presented in full 1080p HD, are excellent, looking better than they've ever looked on any home video format. The black and white transfers on Shadow of a Doubt, Saboteur and, of course, Psycho (which has been released on Blu-ray before) are all striking in their contrast and clarity, retaining all of their detail and rarely, if ever, succumbing to issues of crush or artifacting. Other films, like Vertigo, Rear Window and The Trouble with Harry, are just as striking in their vibrancy of color and cleanliness of the image. The good transfers on the set (and the majority of them are very good) rarely give away the age of the movies; Universal has done a terrific job of restoring and cleaning them up. There are, however, a few disappointing spots. Marnie suffers from a problematic grain structure, with grain swirling the screen to a distracting degree in one shot and being all but nonexistent in the next. Frenzy is a disappointment, too, but because it goes too far in the other direction -- it has been too "cleaned up," to the point where liberal doses of DNR has stripped the movie of a lot of detail and leaves things looking unnatural and plastic. The biggest bummer of the set, though, is Hitchcock's last movie, Family Plot, which seems like it was thrown in as an afterthought or that the studio ran out of time or patience to restore just one more movie. I've seen it compared to an early DVD transfer, and that sounds about right -- colors are bad, detail has been ruined by digital tinkering, black levels disappear from crush. Not only is it one of the worse Blu-ray transfers I've come across, it's all the more disappointing because it closes out a brilliant box set on such a down note. Universal should have stuck the landing and they didn't.

None of the lossless audio tracks suffer from the same inconsistencies. The majority of the movies feature DTS-HD mono tracks, which are faithful to the source and do a good job of balancing the dialogue and memorable music without any hiss or ever feeling tinny and hollow. Three of Hitchcock's best-known and most popular movies, Vertigo, North by Northwest and Psycho, receive surround sound mixes (though two of them, Psycho and Vertigo, also contain their original mono mixes for purists), all of which are effective and tastefully done. They're not bombastic or obnoxious, and offer the opportunity for Bernard Hermmann's scores for all three to really shine.

Many of the bonus features for each movie have been carried over from the many previous DVD releases, with only a few titles receiving any new content. Every disc contains a retrospective production featurette devoted to the movie in question (running anywhere between 30 and 60 minutes), a collection of photos ranging from storyboards to production stills to publicity galleries and at least one trailer. The documentaries are almost always enjoyable and informative, revealing the films to be richer and more complex than one or two viewings might suggest; Hitchcock's technique is often so sly that it's nearly invisible unless it's pointed out. Several of the "flagship" titles get a more deluxe treatment. The bonus features on those discs are as follows:

Rear Window: Commentary by author John Farwell, retrospective featurette, a second featurette that looks back at Hitchcock's entire body of work, a 30-minute interview with Hitchcock called "Masters of Cinema," excerpts from Hitchcock's legendary interviews with Francois Truffaut, an interview with screenwriter John Michael Hayes, a piece on the director's use of sound, a collection of production stills and trailers for the original release and that re-release.

Vertigo: Commentary by director William Friedkin, a 30-minute retrospective featurette looking back at the movie's production and legacy, a collection of featurettes covering Hitchcock's regular collaborators, more interview excerpts from Hitchcock and Truffaut, a short "100 Years of Universal" piece (presented in HD) focusing on Lew Wasserman's run at the studio, a collection if pre-production drawings, an alternate ending and trailers for both the original release and the restoration.

North by Northwest: Screenwriter Ernest Lehman's solid commentary track has been ported over from the DVD release; an hour-long doc on Hitchcock's directorial style, a making-of featurette and a retrospective featurette, a 90-minute documentary on star Cary Grant, originally produced for PBS, a collection of stills and trailers, as well as the option of watch the film with only Bernard Hermmann's score on the soundtrack.

Psycho: Commentary by Stephen Rebello, a 90-minute making-of documentary, a featurette on the remix of the movie, featurettes on the shower scene, the movie's original release and Hitchcock's legacy, storyboards for the shower scene, interview excerpts from the Hitchcock/Truffaut sessions, a still gallery consisting of publicity stills, lobby cards, posters and other ad materials.

The Birds: An 80-minute "making-of" documentary, a featurette on the movie's legacy as a horror film, a deleted scene the original ending, Tippi Hedren's original screen test, more excerpts from the Hitchcock/Truffaut interviews, a collection of storyboards and production stills, a featurette on the restoration of Universal's classics catalogue (the same one that appears on many of the studio's 2012 releases), a featurette on the studio backlot, two vintage newsreels promoting the movie's original release and the theatrical trailer.

Closing Statement

In a year that has seen some incredible Blu-ray box sets -- Indiana Jones: The Complete Collection, Universal 100th Anniversary Collection, Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection -- the Masterpiece Collection might just be the best one of them all. To have 15 films from one of the greatest (if not the greatest) directors of all time collected on Blu-ray -- many for the first time on the format -- plus hours of bonus content to boot is like a gift. It's film history, film school and endless entertainment all in one box. This is one of the must-own Blu-ray releases of the year.

The Verdict

Not guilty.

Review content copyright © 2012 Patrick Bromley; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice, Saboteur
Video: 90
Audio: 85
Extras: 45
Acting: 85
Story: 80
Judgment: 82

Perp Profile, Saboteur
Video Formats:
* Full Frame (1080p)

Audio Formats:
* DTS HD 1.0 Mono (English)

Subtitles:
* English (SDH)
* French
* Spanish

Running Time: 109 Minutes
Release Year: 1942
MPAA Rating: Rated PG

Distinguishing Marks, Saboteur
* Featurettes
* Still Galleries
* Trailer

Scales of Justice, Shadow Of A Doubt
Video: 88
Audio: 80
Extras: 40
Acting: 90
Story: 85
Judgment: 86

Perp Profile, Shadow Of A Doubt
Video Formats:
* Full Frame (1080p)

Audio Formats:
* DTS HD 1.0 Mono (English)

Subtitles:
* English (SDH)
* Spanish

Running Time: 108 Minutes
Release Year: 1943
MPAA Rating: Rated PG

Distinguishing Marks, Shadow Of A Doubt
* Featurette
* Still Gallery
* Trailer

Scales of Justice, Rope
Video: 85
Audio: 80
Extras: 40
Acting: 84
Story: 80
Judgment: 83

Perp Profile, Rope
Video Formats:
* Full Frame (1080p)

Audio Formats:
* DTS HD 1.0 Mono (English)
* DTS 1.0 Mono (French)

Subtitles:
* English (SDH)
* Spanish

Running Time: 80 Minutes
Release Year: 1948
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Rope
* Featurette
* Still Gallery
* Trailer

Scales of Justice, Rear Window
Video: 87
Audio: 88
Extras: 75
Acting: 92
Story: 90
Judgment: 90

Perp Profile, Rear Window
Video Formats:
* 1.66:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)

Audio Formats:
* DTS HD 1.0 Mono (English)
* DTS 1.0 Mono (French)
* DTS 1.0 Mono (Spanish)

Subtitles:
* English (SDH)
* French
* Spanish

Running Time: 112 Minutes
Release Year: 1954
MPAA Rating: Rated PG

Distinguishing Marks, Rear Window
* Commentary
* Featurettes
* Still Gallery
* Trailers

Scales of Justice, The Trouble With Harry
Video: 90
Audio: 80
Extras: 40
Acting: 89
Story: 87
Judgment: 89

Perp Profile, The Trouble With Harry
Video Formats:
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)

Audio Formats:
* DTS HD 1.0 Mono (English)

Subtitles:
* English (SDH)
* Spanish

Running Time: 99 Minutes
Release Year: 1955
MPAA Rating: Rated PG

Distinguishing Marks, The Trouble With Harry
* Featurette
* Still Gallery
* Trailer

Scales of Justice, The Man Who Knew Too Much
Video: 76
Audio: 84
Extras: 40
Acting: 84
Story: 80
Judgment: 80

Perp Profile, The Man Who Knew Too Much
Video Formats:
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)

Audio Formats:
* DTS HD 1.0 Mono (English)
* DTS 1.0 Mono (French)

Subtitles:
* English (SDH)
* Spanish

Running Time: 120 Minutes
Release Year: 1956
MPAA Rating: Rated PG

Distinguishing Marks, The Man Who Knew Too Much
* Featurette
* Still Gallery
* Trailer

Scales of Justice, Vertigo
Video: 90
Audio: 92
Extras: 70
Acting: 100
Story: 100
Judgment: 100

Perp Profile, Vertigo
Video Formats:
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)

Audio Formats:
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS 1.0 Mono (English)
* DTS 1.0 Mono (French)
* DTS 1.0 Mono (Spanish)

Subtitles:
* English (SDH)
* French
* Spanish

Running Time: 129 Minutes
Release Year: 1958
MPAA Rating: Rated PG

Distinguishing Marks, Vertigo
* Commentary
* Featurettes
* Alternate Ending
* Still Gallery
* Trailer

Scales of Justice, North By Northwest
Video: 92
Audio: 90
Extras: 75
Acting: 90
Story: 88
Judgment: 87

Perp Profile, North By Northwest
Video Formats:
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)

Audio Formats:
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (German)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Italian)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Japanese)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Portuguese)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Spanish)

Subtitles:
* English (SDH)
* Danish
* Finnish
* French
* German
* Italian
* Japanese
* Norwegian
* Portuguese
* Spanish
* Swedish

Running Time: 136 Minutes
Release Year: 1959
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, North By Northwest
* Commentary
* Documentary
* Featurettes
* Still Gallery
* Music-Only Track
* Trailers

Scales of Justice, Psycho
Video: 88
Audio: 90
Extras: 75
Acting: 100
Story: 100
Judgment: 100

Perp Profile, Psycho
Video Formats:
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)

Audio Formats:
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS 2.0 Mono (French)
* DTS 1.0 Mono (English)

Subtitles:
* English (SDH)
* French
* Spanish

Running Time: 109 Minutes
Release Year: 1960
MPAA Rating: Rated R

Distinguishing Marks, Psycho
* Commentary
* Documentary
* Featurettes
* Still Galleries
* Trailers

Scales of Justice, The Birds
Video: 80
Audio: 88
Extras: 65
Acting: 89
Story: 94
Judgment: 92

Perp Profile, The Birds
Video Formats:
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)

Audio Formats:
* DTS HD 1.0 Mono (English)
* DTS 1.0 Mono (French)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Spanish)

Subtitles:
* English (SDH)
* French
* Spanish

Running Time: 119 Minutes
Release Year: 1963
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13

Distinguishing Marks, The Birds
* Documentary
* Featurettes
* Alternate Ending
* Still Gallery
* Trailer

Scales of Justice, Marnie
Video: 80
Audio: 86
Extras: 40
Acting: 87
Story: 80
Judgment: 81

Perp Profile, Marnie
Video Formats:
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)

Audio Formats:
* DTS HD 1.0 Mono (English)

Subtitles:
* English (SDH)
* Spanish

Running Time: 130 Minutes
Release Year: 1964
MPAA Rating: Rated PG

Distinguishing Marks, Marnie
* Featurette
* Still Gallery
* Trailer

Scales of Justice, Torn Curtain
Video: 86
Audio: 88
Extras: 40
Acting: 85
Story: 80
Judgment: 80

Perp Profile, Torn Curtain
Video Formats:
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)

Audio Formats:
* DTS HD 1.0 Mono (English)

Subtitles:
* English (SDH)
* Spanish

Running Time: 128 Minutes
Release Year: 1966
MPAA Rating: Rated PG

Distinguishing Marks, Torn Curtain
* Featurettes
* Still Galleries
* Trailer

Scales of Justice, Topaz
Video: 84
Audio: 80
Extras: 45
Acting: 81
Story: 77
Judgment: 80

Perp Profile, Topaz
Video Formats:
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)

Audio Formats:
* DTS HD 1.0 Mono (English)

Subtitles:
* English (SDH)
* French
* Spanish

Running Time: 143 Minutes
Release Year: 1969
MPAA Rating: Rated PG

Distinguishing Marks, Topaz
* Featurette
* Alternate Ending
* Still Galleries
* Trailer

Scales of Justice, Frenzy
Video: 80
Audio: 80
Extras: 40
Acting: 90
Story: 91
Judgment: 90

Perp Profile, Frenzy
Video Formats:
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)

Audio Formats:
* DTS HD 1.0 Mono (English)

Subtitles:
* English (SDH)
* Spanish

Running Time: 116 Minutes
Release Year: 1972
MPAA Rating: Rated R

Distinguishing Marks, Frenzy
* Featurette
* Still Gallery
* Trailer

Scales of Justice, Family Plot
Video: 65
Audio: 82
Extras: 40
Acting: 87
Story: 80
Judgment: 84

Perp Profile, Family Plot
Video Formats:
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)

Audio Formats:
* DTS HD 1.0 Mono (English)
* DTS 1.0 Mono (French)

Subtitles:
* English (SDH)
* Spanish

Running Time: 121 Minutes
Release Year: 1976
MPAA Rating: Rated PG

Distinguishing Marks, Family Plot
* Featurettes
* Still Galleries
* Trailer

Accomplices
* IMDb: Saboteur
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0035279/combined

* IMDb: Shadow of a Doubt
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0036342/combined

* IMDb: Rope
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0040746/combined

* IMDb: Rear Window
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0047396/combined

* IMDb: The Trouble with Harry
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0048750/combined

* IMDb: The Man Who Knew Too Much
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0049470/combined

* IMDb: Vertigo
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0052357/combined

* IMDb: North by Northwest
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0053125/combined

* IMDb: Psycho
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0054215/combined

* IMDb: The Birds
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0056869/combined

* IMDb: Marnie
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0058329/combined

* IMDb: Torn Curtain
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0061107/combined

* IMDb: Topaz
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0065112/combined

* IMDb: Frenzy
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0068611/combined

* IMDb: Family Plot
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0074512/combined