Blu-ray Review: Stunning Restorations in ‘Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection’

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CHICAGO – Seeing Kim Novak’s first appearance in “Vertigo,” that stunning shot of a green dress in a sea of black suits at Ernie’s, is something that every movie fan should experience in HD. And now they can on one of the fifteen discs included in the glorious “Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection,” the Blu-ray release of 2012. Blu-ray rating: 5.0/5.0
Rating: 5.0/5.0

Spanning four decades of the career of arguably the best filmmaker of all time, this is a glorious Blu-ray release, the kind of set that serves as a centerpiece for a true movie fan’s entire collection. You may have heard that early editions of this set included a few notable problems (bad color mixes on some films and font issues on others) but those have been corrected and to this Hitchcock fan’s eyes, the films have never looked better.

Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection was released on Blu-ray on October 30, 2012
Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection was released on Blu-ray on October 30, 2012
Photo credit: Universal

“Saboteur” (1942)

Arguably the least-known film in the set (in close competition to the final few films of Hitch’s career), “Saboteur” suffers historically from a relative lack of star power (part of the resonance of some of Hitchcock’s biggest hits comes from who he cast in them) but it does feature a surprising scope that history has somewhat forgotten. Originally pitched to David O. Selznick with Gary Cooper & Barbara Stanwyck in the lead roles, one wonders what “Saboteur” might have been with the budget for which it was originally conceived. Still, what resulted features Hitchcock’s brilliant sense of pacing. “Saboteur” may be ridiculous but it is so in such a well-paced way that one doesn’t mind while they’re watching it. It is the kind of international escapism that modern Hollywood filmmakers would be wise to imitate seventy years after its release.

Special Features:
o Saboteur: A Closer Look
o Storyboards: The Statue of Liberty Sequence
o Alfred Hitchcock’s Sketches
o Production Photographs
o Theatrical Trailer

“Shadow of a Doubt” (1943)

I started my journey through this collection with the film that I hadn’t seen in the longest time, “Shadow of the Doubt,” and my response throughout was how much I had undervalued the film in memory. This is a GREAT movie, reportedly Hitchcock’s favorite from his entire career, and it’s not often mentioned enough in conversations regarding the filmmaker’s best movies. This is a master class in tension as Joseph Cotten rocks as Uncle Charlie, the figure that Teresa Wright’s naive niece thinks will break her out of her small-town rut but ends up introducing her to pure evil. The transfer on this one is particularly stellar with just the right color mix to amplify Hitch’s use of shadow and light.

Special Features:
o Beyond Doubt: The Making of Hitchcock’s Favorite Film
o Production Drawings by Art Director Robert Boyle
o Production Photographs
o Theatrical Trailer

“Rope” (1948)

Often seen as a product of its gimmick — the film, which reimagines a murder at the hands of Leopold and Loeb, is presented in one unbroken take — “Rope” was largely dismissed not only on its initial release but for decades after that. And yet the film has built up a pretty loyal following. Recent articles about most-underrated Hitchcock films always bring it up and I’ve noticed it has a huge following in non-critics circles. Ask your grandma her favorite Hitch, she might say “Rope.”

Special Features:
o Rope Unleashed
o Production Photographs
o Theatrical Trailer

“Rear Window” (1954)

And here’s where the real meat of the “Masterpiece Collection” starts, with one of Hitch’s most beloved films, a gem of timing, tension, and setting. Not just one of Hitchcock’s most well-liked films but one of the most referenced movies in film history, “Rear Window” has held up well enough that it could be released as-is and still be a box office hit (just ask the producers of “Disturbia.”) Constantly playing in art houses around the country, it’s stunning to watch “Rear Window” and think that it’s over a half-century old. The Blu-ray features one of the best remastered transfers in the set and has held up as well as any movie from the ’50s. It also includes some of the most interesting special features in the collection. “Vertigo” will always be my favorite but if there’s a second place prize in this collection in terms of film, transfer, and features, it probably goes to “Rear Window.”

Special Features:
o Rear Window Ethics: An Original Documentary
o A Conversation with Screenwriter John Michael Hayes
o Pure Cinema: Through the Eyes of the Master
o Breaking Barriers: The Sound of Hitchcock
o Hitchcock/Truffaut Interview Excerpts
o Masters of Cinema
o Feature Commentary with John Fawell
o Production Photographs
o Theatrical Trailer
o Re-Release Trailer Narrated by James Stewart

“The Trouble with Harry” (1955)

Most often skipped in the memory banks when one considers the masterpiece period of Hitchcock in the ’50s and ’60s, this unique flick exemplifies Hitchcock’s dark sense of humor. To be fair, I’d rather have “Notorious,” “Spellbound,” or about a dozen other films missing from this set in its place but “Harry” makes for an interesting diversion among the more intense films in the master’s collection.

Special Features:
o The Trouble With Harry Isn’t Over
o Production Photographs
o Theatrical Trailer

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