Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece CollectionSaboteur (1942), Shadow of a Doubt (1943), Rope (1948), Rear Window (1954), The Trouble With Harry (1955), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), Vertigo (1958), Psycho (1960), The Birds (1963), Marnie (1964), Torn Curtain (1966), Topaz (1969), Frenzy (1972), Family Plot (1976).
Dir. Alfred Hitchcock. 1942–1976. N/R. Universal Studios Home Entertainment. Available now ($119.98).
A Hitchcock set that doesn't contain North By Northwest, Strangers on a Train, Lifeboat or To Catch a Thief really can't justifiably be called the masterpiece collection. Neither can a set that contains duds like Topaz, ho-hummers like Torn Curtain and goofy-though-likeable outliers like Family Plot qualify homogeneously as a masterpiece collection. What you've really got here is a complete set of the 14 movies Hitchcock made for Universal—which is nothing to sneeze at—all of them beautifully remastered in 16:9 anamorphic widescreen transfers (which are infinitely better than pan-and-scan and substantially better than letterbox format). Plus the box the movies come in is covered in a purple mock suede that's just redolent of class, at least in a Bob Guccione sort of way.
There is, of course, nothing left to say about Rear Window, Vertigo, Psycho or The Birds, and if you haven't seen them all, you should drop this magazine now and get to work filling the gaps in your life experience. The less-celebrated titles here are all well worth seeing, too, with the exception of Topaz, which is a mutt no matter what your film-studies prof tells you. (Hitchcock knew he was floundering with this one, as is evidenced by the three fully completed alternate endings included among the bonus features, each one lamer than the last.)
Best among the lesser-known pictures here is Frenzy, the 1972 thriller about a London serial killer whose signature is strangling women with neckties. It's easily the most graphically violent film Hitchcock ever made, and makes you wonder exactly how far the sick bastard would be prepared to go if he were still working today. But it also contains a bloodless yet chilling sequence in which a murder most foul is conveyed by the camera backing away from a closed door that conceals the scene of the crime, then moves down the stairs and out onto a noisy street where life goes on. It may be the single greatest shot of Hitchcock's career, and it's no surprise that Michelangelo Antonioni should want to rip it off (sorry, we mean "quote it") for the climax of his 1975 The Passenger.
The bonus features (documentaries, interviews, theatrical trailers, production stills, ads, storyboard sequences, etc.) overflow onto a 15th disc, and are worth watching, especially the later comic trailers featuring the director himself wheezily hamming it up.—Cliff Doerksen