I'm ashamed to admit that until maybe a year or two ago, I'd seen more films by Hitchcock acolyte Brian De Palma than I had by old Hitch himself. That's right--I saw Femme Fatale well before I had a chance to consider Hitchcock's own identity shifting thriller Vertigo, a curious film education that might explain more about me than I care to admit.
Anyway, Universal's release of their Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection has been my opportunity to consider the filmmaker in full, a 15-movie collection ranging from 1942's WWII thriller Saboteur to 1976's winking, kind of silly Family Plot. Honestly, I'm still in the process of wading through everything here, but wanted to check in and assure you that for fans of the master of suspense and those with only a passing but interested knowledge of his work alike, this set is an essential education or chance to reacquaint oneself with his work.
In fact, maybe the most impressive thing about this collection is how fairly comprehensive it is, with only a handful of glaring omissions -- couldn't we at least have gotten either Lifeboat or The Lady Vanishes (though arguably, the former would be redundant on the WWII front and the latter--well, okay, Criterion has that covered, but I'm being greedy); the absence of Dial M For Murder would feel like simply poor curation and oversight if Warner Brothers hadn't just recently released that film on Blu (in 3D, no less). I could argue for others like Strangers On A Train or Spellbound (which I've learned some friends and colleagues absolutely despise, go figure), but let's consider the 15 gems before us:
Shadow of a Doubt (1943)
Rear Window (1954)
The Trouble With Harry (1955)
The Man Who Knew Too Much (1955)
North By Northwest (1959)
The Birds (1963)
Torn Curtain (1966)
Family Plot (1976)
Let's step back and take a look at the overall package: the set is given a book-style presentation (something I've becoming very partial to in these omnibus releases) with each film in a slipsleeve opposite its theatrical poster under a quote from the film, a still, a blurb about the movie, and a list of each one's included special features, all presented chronologically. One minor flaw: several of the slipsleeve pages for the discs aren't quite sealed at the bottom, meaning if you were holding the set open vertically, one might slip loose. A 50-page booklet provides concept sketches, script pages, and bullet pointed overviews of several of the films, which slides in next to the set in hard slipcover.
The majority of the films here are presented on Blu-ray for the first time, getting a basic making of doc, the theatrical trailer, and some production drawings for added value. It's about five movies in with Rear Window that the set starts acting as a real retrospective on Hitchcock's work rather than simply a collection. That film carries over many of the special features from the 2001 DVD while adding a feature commentary by Hitchcock historian John Fawell. Ditto, Vertigo, Psycho, and The Birds,
Having only had the set in my hands for a couple of days, I've had the opportunity to sample only a few of the titles here in terms of picture quality. The black and white films here have benefited well from the upgrade, although Shadow of a Doubt suffers from some flaws in the original print (scratches, etc). Otherwise, that film looks quite nice. Among the color releases, North By Northwest is the most impressive, although it appears to be the 2009 Warner Brothers disc with some features added and a couple removed. I'll be digging into the other films in more detail in the coming days because there's simply too much here to pass up.
Again, save for my wishlist of films that could have/should have made it in, this is a fantastic set and well worth picking up for a Hitchcock fan.
Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection is available on Blu-ray now from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.