Alfred Hitchcock: The Ultimate Collection

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Tuesday November 28, 2017

Alfred Hitchcock: The Ultimate Collection

"Alfred Hitchcock: The Ultimate Collection" is essentially a high definition reissue of the 2005 DVD set "Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection," comprising 15 films from the Master of Suspense. This collection adds two more discs, for a total of 17, with two Blu-rays devoted to Hitchcock's television shows "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" and "The Alfred Hitchcock Hour."

The collection commences with 1942's "Saboteur" and progresses all the way up to Hitchcock's 53rd and final film, 1976's "Family Plot." Plucked from the years in between are "Shadow of a Doubt" (1943), "Rope" (1948, but done in glorious Technicolor - Hitchcock's first color film); "Rear Window" (1954); "The Trouble with Harry" (1955); "The Man Who Knew Too Much" (1956); "Vertigo" (1958); "North by Northwest" (1959); "Psycho" (1960); "The Birds" (1963); "Marnie" (1964"); "Torn Curtain" (1966); "Topaz" (1969); and "Frenzy" (1972).

The string of nine movies at Hitchcock's peak and during the long tail of his late career may seem a little odd, especially given what's left out: "The 39 Steps" (1938); "Rebecca" (1940); "Foreign Correspondent" (1940); "Spellbound" (1945); and "Strangers on a Train" (1951). If the inclusion of "Topaz" takes one aback, given the quality of the films omitted, at least we have the special features -- which in the case of "Topaz" features film scholar and historian Leonard Maltin making a compelling case for the film, flaws and all. (It also helps that several of those omitted films, and more, are available in a separate collection, "The Alfred Hitchcock Signature Collection," albeit one that's only on DVD and has yet to be reissued in Blu-ray.)

These Blu-rays look great, though in some instances the color seems a little muddy and muted -- but the image is clear, and the contrast is well balanced. The black and white films, in particular, look spectacular.

The special features are presented in standard definition, but they mostly look pretty good. Among the many, many extras, here are the highlights:

"Saboteur" - "Saboteur: A Closer Look" - In this featurette from 2000, Norman Lloyd recalls being cast as the villain and recounts the making of the film, including the famous Statue of Liberty sequence. (Other extras on this disc: Sketches, storyboards, photos, and the theatrical trailer.)

"Shadow of a Doubt" - "Beyond Doubt: The Making of Hitchcock's Favorite Film" - "The was my father's favorite film," daughter Pat recalls; "...he loved bringing the menace to a small town." Stars Hugh Cronyn and Theresa Wright also weight in. (Other extras on this disc: Production drawings, photos, and the theatrical trailer.)

"Rope" - "Rope Unleashed" - Screenwriter Arthur Laurents, treatment writer Hume Cronyn, Farley Granger, and others talk about Hitchcock's first color film, and offer frank assessments on the ways in which the film worked for them... and didn't. (Other extras on this disc: Production drawings, photos, and the theatrical trailer.)

"Rear Window" - "Rear Window Ethics: An Original Documentary" - This look at the movie discusses less the ethics of the film's central notion (a broken-legged Jimmy Stewart peeping at his rogue's gallery of neighbors) than the design, casting, and restoration efforts that went into the film. Another notable extra: "Through the Eyes of the Master," which focuses on Hitchcock's visual style, and the way his start in the silent era stamped his work forever after. A re-release trailer with Jimmy Stewart is both a badly relic and a delightful piece of cinematic nostalgia; the audio commentary track with film scholar John Fowell is a delight. (Other extras on this disc: "A Conversation with Screenwriter John Michael Hayes," "Breaking Barriers: The Sound of Hitchcock," "Masters of Cinema," production photos, and the original theatrical trailer.)

"The Trouble with Harry" - "The Trouble with Harry Isn't Over" - Star John Forsythe and others talk all about Hitchcock's full-on comedy - and dish about the stunning Shirley MacLaine. (Other extras on this disc: Production photos and a theatrical trailer.)

"The Man Who Knew Too Much" - "The Making of The Man Who Knew Too Much" - This in-depth documentary compares the 1955 version of the film (which this is) with Hitchcock's 1934 original. It's a pity that the earlier film was not also included as a bonus feature. The tale of Bernard Herrmann's score (and his appearance in the film) will thrill Hermann fans. (Other extras on this disc: Production drawings, original and re-release trailers.)

"Vertigo" - "Obsessed with Vertigo: New Life for Hitchcock's Masterpiece" - This doc tells the story of the film's production, paralleled with the story of its mid-1990s restoration. Narrated by Roddy McDowell. Another extra is "Partners in Crime: Hitchcock's Collaborators," which looks at title sequence designer Saul Bass, composer Bernard Herrmann, and others. There's an audio commentary by William Friedkin in which the famed "The Exorcist" director basically narrates the film's action, though his recitation is sprinkled with many insights and fascinating factual tidbits. There's also an "Alternate Ending" that was tacked on in foreign markets to satisfy censors abroad, and an odd little curio called "100 Years of Universal: The Lew Wasserman Era." "Hitchcock / Truffaut" is less exciting than one might hope; it's audio excerpts from the taped conversation between Hitchcock and Francois Truffaut. Be warned the quality of the audio is not great and an additional distraction is the translator who helps enable the conversation. (Other extras on this disc: "The Vertigo Archives," original and restoration theatrical trailers.)

"North By Northwest" - "The Master's Touch" - This featurette from 2009 boasts a who's who of directors (John Carpenter, Martin Scorsese, Guillermo del Toro, William Friedkin, Curtis Hanson, and more), who talk about Hitchcock's signature style: Cinematic focus, camera work, suspense, MacGuffins, humor, blondes... Hitchcock himself fetches up briefly in archival snippets. There's also a featurette called "Destination Hitchcock: The Making of North by Northwest," hosted by Eva Marie Saint, which TCM produced in 2000. Screenwriter Ernest Lehman appears on an audio commentary track, and there's also a featurette called "North by Northwest: One for the Ages." (Other extras on this disc: Production photos and original theatrical trailer.)

"Psycho" - "The Making of Psycho" - Clive Barker, star Janet Leigh, screenwriter Joe Stefano, and others weigh in with anecdotes, praise, insights, and theories in this feature length (90 minutes) documentary from 1997. Another thoroughgoing extra is "In The Master's Shadow: Hitchcock's Legacy," which seems to be Part II of the featurette of the same name included with "North By Northwest," with Scorsese, Eli Roth, John Carpenter, and other industry insiders offering their comments. The notorious shower sequence is examined in depth with "The Shower Scene: With and Without Music" (Hitchcock originally wanted it without music, but Bernard Herrmann convinced him otherwise), and "The Shower Scene: Storyboards by Saul Bass." (Other extras on this disc: "Hitchcock-Truffaut Audio Excerpts," newsreel footage on the film's release -- a time capsule that offers a glimpse of the mystique movies once had -- lobby cards, photos, original and re-release trailers, "The Psycho Archives," "Psycho Sound," and an audio commentary with film scholar Stephen Rebello.)

"The Birds" - "The Birds - Hitchcock's Monster Movie" is a short (about 13 minutes) featurette that makes the fascinating observation that "The Birds" is a good ol' fashioned creature feature. Also included is "All About The Birds," which discusses the film's source material and the production's technical challenges, along with Tippi Hedren's recollections. (She does not, however, say anything that will cause you to flash back on the HBO dramatization of the film's production and Hitchcock and Hedren's working relationship, "The Girl.") The original ending is revealed through script pages; harrowing storyboards show how meticulously the production was planned (despite the clunky-looking matte shots); and there are more excerpts from Hitchcock and Truffaut's conversation. (Other extras on this disc: Newsreels, Tippi Hedren's screen test, two "100 Years of Universal" featurettes, production photos, and original theatrical trailer.)

"Marnie" - "The Trouble with Marnie" - This featurette goes into detail about the story behind the troubled production having gone through three writers, Princess Grace's initial agreement to star and then her withdrawal from the project, Hedren's inclusion, that amateurish-looking backdrop, and the infamous rape scene. Joseph Stefano, who write the treatment and was originally intended as the screenwriter before the film was delayed, ended up doing "The Outer Limits" and so was not available; he talks about that here. Hedren offers her recollections, as do other cast members. (Other extras on this disc: "The Marnie Archives," original theatrical trailer.)

"Torn Curtain" - "Torn Curtain Rising" - Another troubled production, "Torn Curtain" saw Hitchcock coming into creative conflict with Paul Newman, a star from a new and rising generation. Though we hear the film praised as "full of great ideas and great life," the unseen narrator -- there are no talking heads here - doesn't shy away from detailing the film's various problems, including a rush to get into production before the script was in suitable shape in order to accommodate Julie Andrews' schedule. (Other extras on this disc: "Scenes Scored by Barnard Herrmann," production photos, and original theatrical trailer.)

"Topaz" - "Topaz - An Appreciation," in which Leonard Maltin talks us through the movie, acknowledges its shortcomings - "There are no stars!" (Well, to be fair, John Forsythe does fetch up.) But then he opines that even a mediocre Hitchcock movie is going to be worth watching for reasons of sheer technical ability, even if Hitchcock was more and more reliant on sound stages and process shots that weren't very convincing. Maltin references an "uncut version," and it's a pity that version is not offered here. Some deleted scenes, and a comparison extended scene, are included. The alternate endings are also offered as a separate feature. (Other extras on this disc: Storyboards, production photos, and original theatrical trailer.)

"Frenzy" - "The Story of Frenzy" - This is a step above the extras offered on the last two discs, but not by that much. Host and producer Laurent Bouzereau interviews various cast members and hears from star Barry Foster that his character -- a gay-coded serial killer -- was an "amusing villain." It's hard to imagine many contemporary gay viewers being that amused. On the other hand, filming "Frenzy" meant Hitchcock was able to return to England once more to make a movie. (It also meant re-visiting elements that had worked well in the past -- the spiral visual motif from "Vertigo," the "wrong man" theme of so many Hitchcock hits - as well as embracing -- gasp! -- nudity.) "Frenzy" actually turned out to be a late-career hit. (Other extras on this disc: Production photos and original theatrical trailer.)

"Family Plot" - Hitchcock's last film, from 1976, was a potboiler about a fake psychic, a wayward heir, and a deadly, close-guarded secret. The convoluted story came from the Victor Canning novel "The Rainbird Pattern," and was adapted for the screen by Ernest Lehman. The featurette dutifully covers all this, as well as reiterating how poorly served the film was by Hitchcock's unwillingness to shoot on location, which led to some visually inferior work on the big car chase scene. (Other extras on this disc: Production photos and original theatrical trailer.)

A missed opportunity is that there is no mention of Hitchcock's last screenplay, "The Short Night," which was never produced. Even a brief featurette on that unmade film would have been right at home in the extras here.

The final two discs seem a little sparse, each of them selecting one episode from each of the seasons their respective TV series ran. In the case of Disc 16, devoted to "Alfred Hitchcock Presents," this means there are seven half-hour episodes included - one from each of the series' seven seasons. In the case of the 17th disc, there are three hourlong episodes, one chosen from each of the three seasons of "The Alfred Hitchcock Hour." The episodes are not remastered for hi-def presentation, but the standard def resolution is high enough that for the most part the visual shortcomings can be overlooked. It helps, too, that the episode are so well-chosen, including Hitchcock-directed gems like the classic "Lamb to the Slaughter" and the super-suspenseful "Bang! You're Dead!" (In the latter, lesser-known episode, a young Billy Mumy guest stars as a child who ends up unwittingly toting a loaded gun he mistakes for a toy. No one in the neighborhood is safe, and your hackles rise with apprehension as he wanders the streets and the local supermarket in his cowboy hat, taking aim at everyone from the mailman to a little girl demanding a turn on a toy horse.)

Disc 16 includes a fun little documentary titled "Alfred Hitchcock Presents: A Look Back," while a six-minute throwaway featurette titled "Fasten Your Seatbelt: The Thrilling Art of Alfred Hitchcock" rounds out the 17th and final disc.

The last major extra to mention is the 58-page booklet that discusses the filmmaker. His leading men, his blonde leading ladies, composer Bernard Hermann, and best of all the movies themselves - complete with a full-color reproductions of posters, lobby cards, designer sketches, and storyboards, as well as a few pages of correspondence - and thumbnail depictions of just where, in the various films, Hitchcock placed his famed cameos.

The long and short of it: This is an essential Blu-ray box set. There is a huge trove of supplemental material here, even though much of it is focused on just a few of the films included: "Rear Window," "Vertigo," "Psycho," "The Birds." Toward the last few films there's a marked decline in the quality and exuberance of the set's extras, which are so numerous and enthusiastically produced for the films that mark Hitchcock's peak, but then steadily lose steam and luster. I'd argue that a similar decline plagues the films themselves, but no matter: This is still a massively impressive offering. If you have a cinephile on your holiday gift list, you can stop looking now.

"Alfred Hitchcock: The Ultimate Collection"

Blu-ray box set


Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.