Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection is the second enormous, remastered collection to come from Universal in the last month or so (the first being the Universal Monsters Collection.) The 15-disc set includes some of Alfred Hitchcock’s most well-known films - and some lesser-knowns: Saboteur, Shadow of a Doubt, Rope, (one of my favorites of the lesser-known films, along with Lifeboat which, sadly, is not in this set) Rear Window, The Trouble with Harry, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Vertigo, North by Northwest, Psycho, The Birds, Marnie, Torn Curtain, Topaz, Frenzy, and Family Plot.
With so many films, and so many old films, it is tough to do a bevy of special features for every film. As such, only the bigger, more popular films have the better goodies. All the films include theatrical trailers, and stills, lobby cards, storyboards, and other art from the archives. Most have a featurette or two; films like Psycho and North by Northwest have several featurettes. A couple of the films are equipped for something called D-Box, which apparently is a motion ride-like feature that I assume most people won’t have in their homes. Vertigo and The Birds both are D-Box-equipped.
One of my favorite parts of this set is the book of “liner notes.” In addition to brief profiles of Hitchcock, his collaborators, (costumer Edith Head; musician Bernard Hermann) and his motifs, (Hitchcock blondes; the MacGuffin) the book lays out Hitchcock’s cameo in each film, and includes some truly interesting facts and trivia about the films (for example, Shadow of a Doubt was only supposed to be a working title for the film; no one ever got around to picking a new one.)
Here are a few of my favorite extras from across the set:
Psycho is undoubtedly Alfred Hitchcock’s most famous film, as well as being one of the most influential films ever made, so naturally, it is jammed with the most goodies, including a feature-length documentary on the making of Psycho. Other stand-out extras on this disc include a comparison of the shower scene both with and without score (Hitch originally wanted it to play without score until he heard Bernard Hermann’s score) and original newsreel footage. The shower scene storyboards are included here, but they are just static images that flash slowly across the scene. No interactivity, no music, not even the ability to flip through them.
My favorite Psycho fun-fact is one that doesn’t get much attention - even in the documentary, it is a mere footnote at the end, but it is a landmark in motion picture history. Psycho was the first feature film to command scheduled start times. Before Psycho, films would play in theaters throughout the day, essentially on a loop. For your admission price, you could go in whenever you wanted, and stay as long as you wanted. Hitchcock was worried that audiences would be waiting for Janet Leigh to appear, or the ending wouldn’t be as impactful, so he would only allow it to screen in theaters with advertised showtimes and theater managers were under strict orders not to let anyone in after the show started. As such, Psycho created massive lines as audiences waited for their chance to see the picture. This garnered great interest in the picture, and great publicity, and was the turning point for theaters. It wasn’t long before every film had a schedule.
Rear Window is one of several films that feature audio excerpts from the Hitchcock / Truffaut interviews. For those that don’t know, filmmaker and critic Francois Truffaut interviewed Hitchcock over a number of days and compiled the interview into a novel-length book, Hitchcock/Truffaut. It is one of the most important books on Hitchcock’s films and is used in many university classes (it was used in my Hitchcock class.) So for those who don’t want to read, you can listen.
Don’t be fooled; the “deleted scene” on the extras for The Birds, while it was shot, has long since been lost. Now, is just a couple pages of script and some production stills. Likewise, an alternative ending was scripted and sketched, but never shot. This is all included, but the choice pick for me on this disc is Tippi Hedren’s screen test and more newsreel footage.
In order to play in many foreign markets, Hitch had to tack on an extended ending. It is included here, along with the warning that, had it not been for censor boards, Hitch would have never shot this short, dialogue-less ending.