Alfred Hitchcock was a true master of suspense. He started directing films in the medium’s silent infancy, and continued through the addition of sound, and creating some of his best work after color was added. Through the evolving technology and a variety of genres, what made Hitchcock’s work so compelling was his ability to craft dramatic scenes with ever-escalating tensions. Not everything always came together, but, to paraphrase the man himself, he played audiences like a piano. When he was on his game, his viewers needed to know what came next.
Four of his best — Rear Window, Vertigo, Psycho, and The Birds — are collected and restored in this new, gorgeous Ultra HD/Blu-Ray Alfred Hitchcock Classics Collection.
Rear Window tells the story of Jeff (frequent Hitchcock collaborator James Stewart), a photographer stuck in his apartment while recuperating from a broken leg. To break up the boredom, Jeff spies on his neighbors through their courtyard windows. It’s all in good fun until Jeff begins to suspect that one of his neighbors has committed a murder. The suspense is nearly unbearable as Jeff and his girlfriend Lisa (Grace Kelly) try to find evidence that can prove it to the doubting police. It’s a brilliant film, that makes audiences complicit with Jeff’s voyeurism, subtly (okay, maybe not so subtly) critiquing the medium Hitchcock helped birth. The windows into the neighbors’ lives look a lot like movie screens, after all.
This Blu-Ray includes a ton of extras including a 55 minute documentary, “Rear Window Ethics: An Original Documentary” which features audio from an archival interview with Peter Bogdanovich and Hitchcock himself, Hitchcock’s daughter, the film’s assistant director, the camera operators and many others about how Rear Window was made, received, and restored.
In addition, the extras also include more than two more hours of bonus features, including documentaries, an excerpt from Hitchcock’s legendary interview with François Truffaut pertaining to this film, a commentary track by film scholar John Fawell, production photographs, the theatrical trailer, and the “Re-release Trailer Narrated by James Stewart.”
The British Film Institute voted Vertigo the best film of all time in 2012 while the American Film Institute named it the best Mystery film of all time. That’s quite a reputation on both sides of the pond.
Another collaboration with Stewart, Vertigo follows a police officer who suffers from the titular condition. After his mental illness causes the death of a fellow officer, Scottie (Stewart) retires from the force, but finds himself wrapped in another mystery. Vertigo is one of Hitchcock’s darkest films, and maybe his best.
For Vertigo, the Blu-Ray includes a hilariously bad alternate ending Hitchcock was forced to film to satisfy foreign censors. It also has several documentaries, the most interesting of which focuses on Hitchcock’s “Partners in Crime”: Saul Bass, Edith Head, Bernard Hermann, and Hitchcock’s “muse” Alma. There’s another clip from Hitchcock’s interview with Truffaut and a commentary track by the director of The Exorcist and other films, William Friedkin.
Psycho is part of a long running debate about what film inspired the slasher genre. Peeping Tom, Bay of Blood, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre are thrown around as well, and it’s likely a combination of all of them. Whether or not it contributed more or less to slashers than the others, Psycho is an excellent film.
With an unheard of second act twist, strong performances from Janet Leigh and Anthony Perkins, Psycho horrified audiences. It’s one of the few times Hitchcock directed an unabashed horror flick. It certainly makes me wish he’d done more.
The film features the story of Marion Crane (Leigh) running off with $40,000 of her boss’s money. Eventually, she meets Norman Bates (Perkins) at his family’s hotel. What follows is one of the best edited murder scenes of all time. It would behoove modern audiences to try to put themselves into a 1960 audience’s shoes when watching this one, because any modern viewer knows the twist going in and has seen a thousand homages and parodies of it. Try to imagine expecting the kind of film Hitchcock most frequently directed and having your expectations skewered.
The Psycho special feature includes the usual suspects: documentaries, original promotional material, excerpts from Hitchcock’s interview with Truffaut, behind-the-scenes photographs, and a commentary track from film writer Stephen Rebello. Most notably, and maybe the best extra in this collection, is the inclusion of two cuts of the film: the version of Psycho frequently shown on television and Hitchcock’s original theatrical cut.
The Birds is a revolutionary film for its special effects, but it’s also mired by Hitchcock’s abuse of the film’s star, Tippi Hedren. You can read more about that here (CW: Sexual Assault).
The film is Hitchcock’s last of three adaptations of the great Daphne Du Maurier’s writing, this one based on her short story “The Birds.” Melanie (Hedren) bumps into Mitch (Rod Taylor) at a pet store, where he teases her about a past indiscretion. He leaves without buying a gift for his sister, and Melanie decides to correct that error. She follows him into the bay, where the birds have been acting very strangely. Soon, they begin to attack humans.
The Birds extras include several documentaries, deleted scenes, storyboards, production photographs, and a number of features about Universal Studio’s 100th anniversary. Notably, it’s the only film in this collection without a commentary track.
The Alfred Hitchcock Classics Collection
In addition to the inclusion of the bonus materials, The Alfred Hitchcock Classics Collection comes in a beautiful book. There’s artwork from the films and quotes from the ever-quotable Hitchcock on the front and back cover. This is a must-have for Hitchcock fans, film buffs, and aspiring filmmakers.
Wicked Rating – 10/10
The Alfred Hitchcock Classics Collection was released by Universal Pictures Home Entertainment on September 8, 2020.