The extensive filmography of Alfred Hitchcock began appearing in high definition at a snail’s pace. Over the years since Blu-ray began taking hold, fans of the Master of Suspense have had relatively few opportunities to upgrade from standard DVD. Warner Bros. released a stellar restoration of North By Northwest, followed more recently by Strangers on a Train. Universal gave us a solid Psycho. The Criterion Collection has maintained their usual standard of excellence with The 39 Steps and The Lady Vanishes (the original 1934 The Man Who Knew Too Much is due in January). MGM reclaimed a trio of titles previously issued on DVD by Criterion—Rebecca, Notorious, Spellbound—and gave them rather perfunctory Blu-ray editions. Paramount issued a lovely BD of To Catch a Thief.
Now Universal Studios Home Entertainment has opened up the field considerably with the massive, 15-disc Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection. Only two of the titles have been previously available (the aforementioned Psycho and North By Northwest, the latter having been licensed from Warner only for inclusion in the U.S. configuration). It’s an expensive set that carries a suggested retail price of $299.98 and has been tagged as a “limited edition.” Basically a high definition upgrade of the still-available DVD set of the same name, Masterpiece is a bit of a misnomer. Several of the included titles do indeed live up to the billing, but much of what’s found here is decidedly second (or third) tier Hitchcock. Still, if you can foot the bill—and your goal is to collect all things Hitchcock on Blu-ray—it’s an essential purchase.
Let’s get this out of the way up front. Much like Universal’s recent Classic Monsters box set, Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection is available at a much lower price from the U.K. Yes, that means you’ll have to pick up Northwest separately, but that’s hardly a deal breaker. The U.K. edition is “region-free,” meaning that unlike with standard DVDs, you’ll have no problem watching the discs on U.S. players. It’s frustrating that Universal has chosen to price-gouge the U.S., so it’s worth noting the alternatives.
Enough preamble, what exactly is on this set? From the 1940s we get the “wrong man” thriller Saboteur, the creepy family drama Shadow of a Doubt, and the Leopold and Loeb-inspired Rope (famously told in real time). Moving into the ‘50s, there’s Rear Window, the light comedy The Trouble with Harry, the remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much (with Doris Day singing "Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)"), Vertigo, and North By Northwest. The ‘60s entries include the horror films Psycho and The Birds, the largely underrated character study Marnie, and the more politically-oriented international thrillers Torn Curtain and Topaz. Finally, from the ‘70s we have Hitchcock’s final two works. Frenzy was a last gasp of greatness, while his final film, Family Plot, remains a sad mess.
No complaints in terms of sheer volume of material. While not every one of these films is great on its own terms, the fact that they’re all Hitchcock-directed makes them worth watching. Anyone not completely enamored with the Master might consider waiting for the inevitable standalone releases in order to pick and choose. As for supplemental material, with the exception of a short featurette on The Birds, all of it has been ported over from previous DVD releases. The visual presentation is somewhat inconsistent. Many of the 1080p transfers are marred by source imperfections that a careful restorative clean-up would probably take care of, should Universal choose to do so at some point in the future. For the price of this set, it’s a shame it wasn’t done the first time around. The transfers range from insultingly bad (The Man Who Knew Too Much, Family Plot) to highly impressive (Shadow of a Doubt, The Trouble with Harry). Most fall comfortably into “good enough” territory. While there are 5.1 surround mixes for Vertigo, Northwest, and Psycho, the rest of the bunch have solid, faithful DTS-HD 2.0 mono mixes.
There are still many gaps to be filled when it comes to getting Hitchcock’s entire catalog on Blu-ray. The Masterpiece Collection provides a slew of his most popular and respected titles in one fell swoop.