Combustible Celluloid

The Alfred Hitchcock Classics Collection [Blu-ray] (2020)

Hitch Likes

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Released September 8, 2020, The Alfred Hitchcock Classics Collection, an eight-disc box set from Universal, features four of the absolute best Hitchcock movies all in one place. Although I could think of some other movies I'd like to see here (The Trouble with Harry), there's not a weak link anywhere. These are four unalloyed masterpieces. Four of the discs are new 4K transfers. In full confession, I have not upgraded to 4K. While it looks great for reality-based things like sports, news, and documentaries, I don't believe it's the best format for movies, and especially older, shot-on-film movies. The video looks too real, and tends to be a bit smeary, like videotape, where the frame rate was a bit higher than standard film (30 frames per second versus 24). It takes a viewer out of the visual and emotional experience of seeing the movie. I prefer the slightly softer, but still sharp, clear look of Blu-ray, which seems to enhance film grain. Happily, this collection comes with four Blu-rays, as well as digital copies, for the four films.

Adapted from a Cornell Woolrich story and written by John Michael Hayes, Rear Window (1954) is one of those entertainments that is nearly flawless in its conception, construction, and execution. It's a unique visual experience, exploring the idea of film as voyeurism, but it's also a crackerjack murder mystery, blisteringly tense, with great performances by James Stewart, Thelma Ritter, a luminous Grace Kelly (with whom the director was in love), and Raymond Burr as Lars Thorwald. (See more here.) It's available in English, French, or Spanish, with subtitles for each language. Bonuses include "Rear Window Ethics," "A Conversation with screenwriter John Michael Hayes," "Pure Cinema: Through the Eyes of the Master," "Breaking Barriers: The Sound of Hitchcock," an excerpt from Truffaut's legendary interviews with Hitchcock, and an episode of "Masters of Cinema."

Considered the director's masterpiece, and recently voted the greatest film ever made in the prestigious Sight & Sound poll, Vertigo (1958) is messier, less logical, but more emotionally daring, and arguably the most personal, revealing movie Hitchcock ever made. It has James Stewart, Kim Novak, Barbara Bel Geddes, and a wealth of San Francisco locations, as well as a legendary score by Bernard Herrmann. (See more here.) It's available in English, French, or Spanish, with subtitles for each language. Legendary Oscar-winning filmmaker William Friedkin provides a commentary track. Bonuses include "Obsessed with Vertigo: New Life for Hitchcock's Masterpiece," "Partners in Crime: Hitchcock's Collaborators," an excerpt from Truffaut's interviews with Hitchcock, the "Foreign Censorship" ending, and the "Vertigo Archives."

After making some of his biggest, most expensive, full color Hollywood extravaganzas, Hitchcock, at the age of sixty, pulled back and made Psycho (1960) almost like an independent film, with a low budget, in black-and-white, and with a no-frills TV crew. It's still tense and startling, not only for its legendary murder scene, and the chronology in which it happens, but also for its visual storytelling, and the way that Janet Leigh embodies such sweat-inducing paranoia. Anthony Perkins is amazing, and will forever be known, as Norman Bates. Vera Miles, John Gavin, and Martin Balsam co-star. Screenwriter Joseph Stefano adapted the novel by Robert Bloch, and Herrmann provided the nerve-rattling score consisting entirely of stringed instruments. (See more here.) It's available in English, French, or Spanish, with subtitles for each language. There's an audio commentary track by author Stephen Rebello. Bonuses include the 94-minute "The Making of Psycho," the 10-minute "Psycho Sound," the 25-minute "In the Master's Shadow: Hitchcock's Legacy," excerpts from Truffaut's interviews with Hitchcock, newsreel footage of the release of Psycho, the shower scene, with and without music, storyboards for the shower scene, the Psycho archives, posters and ads, lobby cards, photos, and trailers.

The Birds (1963) could be considered Hitchcock's most experimental works, stripped largely of plot or characters. Rather than an intricate mystery, there is no explanation as to what happens here. Birds merely begin attacking humans. And, after a career of guiding brilliant performances out of actors like Stewart and Cary Grant, here he works with Rod Taylor and Tippi Hedren, who, while likable, aren't the most awe-inspiring thespians; here they are more like Bresson's "models," serving the movie as a whole, rather than driving it. The FX are still astonishing, and Herrmann's screechy bird-noise soundtrack (no music is used) is brutally effective. (See more here.) It's available in English, French, or Spanish, with subtitles for each language. Bonuses include a "deleted scene," the original ending, "The Birds: Hitchcock's Monster Movie" (15 minutes), "All About The Birds," storyboard sequences, Tippi Hedren's screen test, an excerpt from Truffaut's interviews with Hitchcock, Universal newsreels, photos, a trailer, and other stuff.

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