THE MASTERPIECE COLLECTION
“Happiness resides not in possessions,” is a quote attributed to Greek Philosopher Democritus, who died around 370 B.C. For over the past 2000 years, this idea has been a cornerstone of many philosophies and religions. Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Islam all speak about giving up personal possessions for a higher, spiritual reward. Of course, this was done before Alfred Hitchcock became a director and his films were available for the home video market. I’m sure if all those great thinkers saw this brilliant boxed set and the genius that it contained, they would change their thinking, much in the same way that the Catholic Church reversed itself in the mid-1960s, allowing its members to eat meat on Fridays.
When I first saw the burgundy-colored velvet box adorned with Hitchcock’s trademark silhouette, I got the chills. I hadn’t been this excited about a DVD set since the Stanley Kubrick set. I have been a film fanatic for as long as I can remember and consider Hitchcock to be among the pantheon of great directors due to his amazing and prolific body of work. This set, released by Universal Studios, contains 14 of his films: Saboteur, Shadow of a Doubt, Rope (originally a Warner Brothers production; it later became a Universal property in the ‘80s), Rear Window, The Trouble with Harry, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Vertigo, Psycho, The Birds, Marnie, Torn Curtain, Topaz, Frenzy and ending with his final film, Family Plot. A panel opens up to reveal four sleeves that hold three to four DVDs with stylish artwork on the front covers made up from the films’ poster art. There’s also a small booklet that contains that offers trivia about the films and their making.
Although this is the first time the films have been collected together, it is a bit of a double-dip before media companies transfer their titles to the new home video format hits the marketplace. There has been some minimal remastering to picture and audio, but all the bonus features have been available on previous versions. Aside from the usual trailers and production photographs, they include documentaries that look at a film’s making or provide a critical assessment of the work.
The only new content appears on a bonus disc which has a great interview with Hitch on a 33-minute program called Masters of Cinema where he is interviewed by Pia Lindstrom, daughter of Ingrid Bergman, and William Everson. There is also the AFI Salute to Alfred Hitchcock, a great piece of Hollywood history that features the likes of Henry Fonda, Cary Grant and other famous faces in the crowd along with testimonials by Ingrid Bergman, and Jimmy Stewart. It is a bit disconcerting to watch Hitch deliver his acceptance speech because it is edited poorly. A prerecorded version was assembled with his speech during the dinner; however, he is sitting in one and standing during the other. Unfortunately, the details on the packaging are a bit misleading because there is only a 15-minute excerpt of the AFI event, which ran over 90 minutes. With all the murder and espionage that takes place, this is the worst crime committed in the set, teasing the viewer with an excerpt from this rarely seen program.
While some will argue whether the designation “Masterpiece” belongs to each film, and they would get no disagreement from me in regards to Hitch’s later work from Marnie onward, there is no denying the acclaim given to Rear Window, Vertigo and Psycho, all of which were mentioned by AFI in their 100 Greatest American films.
With the collection of 14 films averaging about nine dollars apiece, or lower depending on where you find it, it is a good deal for a casual film fan. Serious aficionados and students can learn a great deal about directing even from the films that are flawed. For fans of Hitchcock that might already have a few of these films already in their library, there’s not enough in this set to make them sell their old DVDs; wait for the remastering that will be done when these films get re-released in the new HD-DVD or Blu-ray Disc format in the next few years. I had not owned any of the previous films on DVD other than The Birds so I found the set well worth the investment.
The only thing the set is missing is an index either on disc or in the booklet that tells the viewer where Hitch’s cameos are. Sure it’s easy to find on the Internet, but its inclusion would have been a nice feature.
Here’s a breakdown of the films in the set with a brief synopsis and the disc specs:
Saboteur, one of Hitch’s many “innocent man accused” stories, is about Barry Kane falsely accused of causing a fire at an aircraft plant and his cross-country efforts to find the guilty party. It is presented in Dolby 2.0, 1.33 Full Frame as are the next two selections.
On Shadow of a Doubt, Hitch worked with Thorton Wilder to tell this tale about a young woman who thinks her uncle, Joseph Cotton, might be the Merry Widow killer. It was his personal favorite.
Rope is Hitch’s first color film. It was adapted from a play and is loosely based on the Leopold and Loeb case. Famous for it’s long takes, this film is a parlor-room mystery where the dinner guests discover that their intellectual talk might have been acted upon.
Rear Window has wheelchair-bound photographer, Jimmy Stewart, believing that one of his neighbors has committed a murder. His girlfriend, Grace Kelly, provides the leg work on the case. It is presented in Dolby 2.0, 1.66 Widescreen.
The Trouble With Harry has a lighter tone than most Hitchcock films as Harry’s dead body continues to turn up in a New England town, causing everyone to feel responsible. This and the remaining films are all presented in Dolby 2.0 and 1.85 Anamorphic Widescreen unless otherwise noted.
The Man Who Knew Too Much(1956) sees Hitchcock remaking his own film from 22 years earlier. While vacationing in Africa, a family stumbles upon an assassination plot and gets caught in the middle when their son is kidnapped.
Vertigo tells the tale of retired police detective who suffers from a fear of heights and an obsession for a suicidal woman. The authors who wrote Diabolique created the story. The audio is also available in 2.0 Mono.
Psycho tells the story of embezzler, Janet Leigh, and her stay at The Bates Motel run by Norman and his domineering mother.
The Birds is the story of nature run amok as birds attack the Northern California community of Bodega Bay.
Marnie, played by Tippi Hendren, is a psychological study of a thief who ends up marrying one of her intended victims, Sean Connery, who makes her confront her past.
Torn Curtain is a thriller set in Cold War Germany. Julie Andrews is concerned that Paul Newman, a renowned scientist and her fiancé, might be defecting.
Topaz is another Cold War tale as a CIA agent investigates Russia’s involvement in Cuba regarding missiles and a NATO spy.
Frenzy returns Hitch to a familiar story as an innocent man tries to clear his name while he is suspected of being The Necktie Murderer.
Family Plot is part suspense/part humor as a pair of con artists cross paths with a pair of kidnappers.