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Alfred Hitchcock - The Masterpiece Collection (DVD)

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Review

Masterpiece indeed. With 14 films, each supplemented with numerous documentaries, commentaries, and other bonus materials, Alfred Hitchcock - The Masterpiece Collection will be the cornerstone for any serious DVD library. Packaged in a beautiful, conversation-starting velvet box, the individual discs inside come four to a case, decorated with original poster art.

No doubt opinionated fans will argue about what should fall under the rubric of "masterpiece" in Hitchcock''s body of work, but with the bona fide classics Vertigo, Psycho, and The Man Who Knew Too Much, there''s plenty of timeless movie magic here. Eye-popping transfers and gorgeous sound make this set one of the must-have releases of the year.

Should the Hitchcock fan have the energy for more after imbibing on the movies themselves, a bonus disc provides additional documentaries. These include a revealing interview in which the master of suspense discusses, among other things, how much he dislikes working with method actors, going so far as to name names (we''re talking about you, Jimmy Stewart and Montgomery Clift). In an American Film Institute lifetime achievement ceremony, the master of suspense is praised by the likes of Stewart and Ingrid Bergman, and seems to be suffering from severe boredom as celebrities pile on the flattery. Then Hitchcock opens his mouth to accept the award, delivering an endlessly witty stream of perfect bon mots that prove once again that he was a master of high comedy as well. Revealing documentaries about the making of Psycho and The Birds round out the feast of extras. The 36-page booklet, filled mostly with stills and poster art, provides little new information about the films.--Ryan Boudinot

Films Included in Alfred Hitchcock - The Masterpiece Collection

Saboteur
Robert Cummings stars as Barry Kane, a patriotic munitions worker who is falsely accused of sabotage, in this wartime thriller from Alfred Hitchcock. Plastered across the front page of every newspaper and hated by the nation, Kane''s only hope of clearing his name is to find the real villain. The script as a whole is a clever one--Algonquin wit Dorothy Parker shares a screenwriting credit, and her trademark zingers make for a terrific mix of humor and suspense. Saboteur is a pleasure whether you''re a die-hard Hitchcock fan or just someone who likes a good nail-biter. --Ali Davis

Shadow of a Doubt
Alfred Hitchcock considered this 1943 thriller to be his personal favorite among his own films, and although it''s not as popular as some of Hitchcock''s later work, it''s certainly worthy of the master''s admiration. Scripted by playwright Thornton Wilder and inspired by the actual case of a 1920''s serial killer known as "The Merry Widow Murderer," the movie sets a tone of menace and fear by introducing a psychotic killer into the small-town comforts of Santa Rosa, California. Through narrow escapes and a climactic scene aboard a speeding train, this witty thriller strips away the façade of small-town tranquility to reveal evil where it''s least expected. And, of course, it''s all done in pure Hitchcockian style. --Jeff Shannon

Rope
An experimental film masquerading as a standard Hollywood thriller, Rope is simple and based on a successful stage play: two young men (John Dall and Farley Granger) commit murder, more or less as an intellectual exercise. They hide the body in their large apartment, then throw a dinner party. Will the body be discovered? Director Alfred Hitchcock, fascinated by the possibilities of the long-take style, decided to shoot this story as though it were happening in one long, uninterrupted shot. Since the camera can only hold one 10-minute reel at a time, Hitchcock had to be creative when it came time to change reels, disguising the switches as the camera passed behind someone''s back or moved behind a lamp. James Stewart, as a suspicious professor, marks his first starring role for Hitchcock, a collaboration that would lead to the masterpieces Rear Window and Vertigo. --Robert Horton

Rear Window
Like the Greenwich Village courtyard view from its titular portal, Alfred Hitchcock''s classic Rear Window is both confined and multileveled: both its story and visual perspective are dictated by its protagonist''s imprisonment in his apartment, convalescing in a wheelchair, from which both he and the audience observe the lives of his neighbors. Cheerful voyeurism, as well as the behavior glimpsed among the various tenants, affords a droll comic atmosphere that gradually darkens when he sees clues to what may be a murder. At deeper levels, Rear Window plumbs issues of moral responsibility and emotional honesty, while offering further proof (were any needed) of the director''s brilliance as a visual storyteller. --Sam Sutherland

The Trouble with Harry
A busman''s holiday for Alfred Hitchcock, this 1955 black comedy concerns a pesky corpse that becomes a problem for a quiet, Vermont neighborhood. Shirley MacLaine makes her film debut as one of several characters who keep burying the body and finding it unburied again. Hitchcock clearly enjoys conjuring the autumnal look and feel of the story, and he establishes an important, first-time alliance with composer Bernard Herrmann, whose music proved vital to the director''s next half-dozen or so films. But for now, The Trouble with Harry is a lark, the mischievous side of Hitchcock given free reign. --Tom Keogh

The Man Who Knew Too Much
Alfred Hitchcock''s 1956 remake of his own 1934 spy thriller is an exciting event in its own right, with several justifiably famous sequences. James Stewart and Doris Day play American tourists who discover more than they wanted to know about an assassination plot. When their son is kidnapped to keep them quiet, they are caught between concern for him and the terrible secret they hold. When asked about the difference between this version of the story and the one he made 22 years earlier, Hitchcock always said the first was the work of a talented amateur while the second was the act of a seasoned professional. Indeed, several extraordinary moments in this update represent consummate filmmaking, particularly a relentlessly exciting Albert Hall scene, with a blaring symphony, an assassin''s gun, and Doris Day''s scream. The Man Who Knew Too Muchis the work of a master in his prime. --Tom Keogh

Vertigo
Although it wasn''t a box-office success when originally released in 1958, Vertigo has since taken its deserved place as Alfred Hitchcock''s greatest, most spellbinding, most deeply personal achievement. James Stewart plays a retired police detective who is hired by an old friend to follow his wife (a superb Kim Novak, in what becomes a double role), whom he suspects of being possessed by the spirit of a dead madwoman. Shot around San Francisco (the Golden Gate Bridge and the Palace of the Legion of Honor are significant locations) and elsewhere in Northern California (the redwoods, Mission San Juan Batista) in rapturous Technicolor, Vertigo is as lovely as it is haunting. --Jim Emerson

Psycho
For all the slasher pictures that have ripped off Psycho (and particularly its classic set piece, the "shower scene"), nothing has ever matched the impact of the real thing. More than just a first-rate shocker full of thrills and suspense, Psycho is also an engrossing character study in which director Alfred Hitchcock skillfully seduces you into identifying with the main characters--then pulls the rug (or the bathmat) out from under you. Anthony Perkins is unforgettable as Norman Bates, the mama''s boy proprietor of the Bates Motel; and so is Janet Leigh as Marion Crane, who makes an impulsive decision and becomes a fugitive from the law, hiding out at Norman''s roadside inn for one fateful night. --Jim Emerson

The Birds
Vacationing in northern California, Alfred Hitchcock was struck by a story in a Santa Cruz newspaper: "Seabird Invasion Hits Coastal Homes." From this peculiar incident, and his memory of a short story by Daphne du Maurier, the master of suspense created one of his strangest and most terrifying films. The Birds follows a chic blonde, Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren), as she travels to the coastal town of Bodega Bay to hook up with a rugged fellow (Rod Taylor) she''s only just met. Before long the town is attacked by marauding birds, and Hitchcock''s skill at staging action is brought to the fore. Beyond the superb effects, however, The Birds is also one of Hitchcock''s most psychologically complicated scenarios, a tense study of violence, loneliness, and complacency. What really gets under your skin are not the bird skirmishes but the anxiety and the eerie quiet between attacks. Treated with scant attention by serious critics in 1963, The Birds has grown into a classic and--despite the sci-fi trappings--one of Hitchcock''s most serious films. --Robert Horton

Marnie
Sean Connery, fresh from the second Bond picture, From Russia with Love, is a Philadelphia playboy who begins to fall for Tippi Hedren''s blonde ice goddess only when he realizes that she''s a professional thief; she''s come to work in his upper-crust insurance office in order to embezzle mass quantities. His patient program of investigation and surveillance has a creepy, voyeuristic quality that''s pure Hitchcock, but all''s lost when it emerges that the root of Marnie''s problem is phobic sexual frigidity, induced by a childhood trauma. Luckily, Sean is up to the challenge. As it were. Not even D.H. Lawrence believed as fervently as Hitchcock in the curative properties of sexual release. --David Chute

Torn Curtain
Paul Newman and Julie Andrews star in what must unfortunately be called one of Alfred Hitchcock''s lesser efforts. Still, sub-par Hitchcock is better than a lot of what''s out there, and this one is well worth a look. Newman plays cold war physicist Michael Armstrong, while Andrews plays his lovely assistant-and-fiancée, Sarah Sherman. Armstrong has been working on a missile defense system that will "make nuclear defense obsolete," and naturally both sides are very interested. All Sarah cares about is the fact that Michael has been acting awfully fishy lately. The suspense of Torn Curtain is by nature not as thrilling as that in the average Hitchcock film--much of it involves sitting still and wondering if the bad guys are getting closer. Still, Hitchcock manages to amuse himself: there is some beautifully clever camera work and an excruciating sequence that illustrates the frequent Hitchcock point that death is not a tidy business. --Ali Davis

Topaz
Alfred Hitchcock hadn''t made a spy thriller since the 1930s, so his 1969 adaptation of Leon Uris''s bestseller seemed like a curious choice for the director. But Hitchcock makes Uris''s story of the West''s investigation into the Soviet Union''s dealings with Cuba his own. Frederick Stafford plays a French intelligence agent who works with his American counterpart (John Forsythe) to break up a Soviet spy ring. The film is a bit flat dramatically and visually, and there are sequences that seem to occupy Hitchcock''s attention more than others. A minor work all around, with at least two alternative endings shot by Hitchcock. --Tom Keogh

Frenzy
Alfred Hitchcock''s penultimate film, written by Anthony Shaffer (who also wrote Sleuth), this delightfully grisly little tale features an all-British cast minus star wattage, which may have accounted for its relatively slim showing in the States. Jon Finch plays a down-on-his-luck Londoner who is offered some help by an old pal (Barry Foster). In fact, Foster is a serial killer the police have been chasing--and he''s framing Finch. Which leads to a classic Hitchcock situation: a guiltless man is forced to prove his innocence while eluding Scotland Yard at the same time. Spiked with Hitchcock''s trademark dark humor, Frenzy also features a very funny subplot about the Scotland Yard investigator (Alec McCowen) in charge of the case, who must endure meals by a wife (Vivien Merchant) who is taking a gourmet-cooking class. --Marshall Fine

Family Plot
Alfred Hitchcock''s final film is understated comic fun that mixes suspense with deft humor, thanks to a solid cast. The plot centers on the kidnapping of an heir and a diamond theft by a pair of bad guys led by Karen Black and William Devane. The cops seem befuddled, but that doesn''t stop a questionable psychic (Barbara Harris) and her not overly bright boyfriend (Bruce Dern, in a rare good-guy role) from picking up the trail and actually solving the crime. Did she do it with actual psychic powers? That''s part of the fun of Harris''s enjoyably ditsy performance. --Marshall Fine

Release Note

14 of the finest works from the universally acclaimed Master of Suspense come together for the first time in one collection. These captivating landmark films boast three decades of Hollywood legends, including James Stewart, Grace Kelly, Anthony Perkins, Sean Connery and Doris Day. The premium packaging and collectible book make Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection the must-own, definitive anthology of gripping works by a true genius.


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