Alfred Hitchcock was a one-of-a-kind filmmaker the likes of which we will probably never be graced with ever again. Known as the “Master of Suspense,” Hitchcock presented his keen sense of storytelling to audiences around the world over the course of fifty plus films. From darkly comedic tales to horrific narratives, the prolific director mastered various tones to create some of the most indelible cinematic masterpieces the world has ever seen. Whenever you are viewing one of his films, it is like experiencing a masterclass in filmmaking in which every frame teaches you a new lesson. Some of his most notable successes came near the end of his career, proving that the director only grew in his talents with age. Universal Pictures Home Entertainment has collected four of his most well-known features in a new boxset that gives each feature a breathtaking new 4K presentation. Get our thoughts on each film below.
The story of a recuperating news photographer who believes he has witnessed a murder. Confined to a wheelchair after an accident, he spends his time watching the occupants of neighbouring apartments through a telephoto lens and binoculars and becomes convinced that a murder has taken place. Starring James Stewart, Grace Kelly, Wendell Corey, Thelma Ritter, and Raymond Burr.
Rear Window is a film that has often been copied or parodied since its release, but has never come close to being equaled by any such copycats. Hitchcock takes the audience on a tension-filled journey all within the context of a single Manhattan apartment. The way in which he communicates so many important details through simple storytelling methods such as production design is quite impressive. Hitchcock doles out information throughout the picture in a way that is almost cruel, as the audience only knows as much as Jimmy Stewart’s Jeff has observed. You believe that a crime has been committed, but there is that slight nagging voice in the back of your head that says that there is the slightest possibility that Hitchcock could be taking you on a ride. Jimmy Stewart is as great as ever in the lead role, even if you feel he is a bit mismatched with the impossibly lovely, much younger Grace Kelly. This is a film that really moves along without hitting any false notes, which is really rare for any movie. One of Hitchcock’s best films.
An ex-police officer who suffers from an intense fear of heights is hired to prevent an old friend’s wife from committing suicide, but all is not as it seems. Hitchcock’s haunting, compelling masterpiece is uniquely revelatory about the director’s own predilections and hang-ups and is widely considered to be one of his masterworks. Starring James Stewart, Kim Novak, Barbara Bel Geddes, Tom Helmore, and Henry Jones.
Often hailed as one of the greatest films of all time, Vertigo finds Hitchcock indulging in some of his strangest inclinations. Anchored by an excellent performance from Jimmy Stewart, the film takes many turns that are designed to keep the audience off balance. This is the project that showcases some of the best filmmaking from Hitchcock on a technical level. Some of the shots captured on film could be framed and displayed in a museum. The way in which he ratchets up the tension from a simple shot of one person following another in a car is also something to behold. While Jimmy Stewart does great work here, special attention should be directed to Kim Novak, who must access several different levels to her character without giving away the game. Like Rear Window, the age difference between the two stars is substantial, but it works better here as the latter half of the film leans into the inherent creepiness of their relationship. While not the most popular opinion, there is a minor quibble I have with the conclusion of the film, but that does not ruin the otherwise spectacular piece of filmmaking.
Phoenix secretary Marion Crane (Janet Leigh), on the lam after stealing $40,000 from her employer in order to run away with her boyfriend, Sam Loomis (John Gavin), is overcome by exhaustion during a heavy rainstorm. Traveling on the back roads to avoid the police, she stops for the night at the ramshackle Bates Motel and meets the polite but highly strung proprietor Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), a young man with an interest in taxidermy and a difficult relationship with his mother.
Arguably Hitchcock’s most famous film, Psycho exists in a space that transcends the context of his filmography. The shower scene is an integral piece of pop culture history, but it would be a mistake to forget that there is a whole remaining movie to appreciate. The first time I watched Psycho, I was taken aback by how much went down before even arriving at the Bates Motel. The way in which Hitchcock was able to subvert audience expectations was a level of mastery that is rarely rivaled. While a lower budget affair, the film displays some incredibly slick, nuanced filmmaking that works on pretty much every level. The endearing performance from Janet Leigh as Marion Crane is essential to getting you invested in this story. Marion is not a perfect person, but she is one who evokes sympathy from the audience. Anthony Perkin’s performance as Norman Bates is one of the best marriages of actor and character that I have ever seen. Every line delivery is perfect, and he never overplays the situation at hand. For a movie so shocking, it exercises an amazing amount of restraint. This is a film that has endured over the years for a reason.
Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) meets Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) in a San Francisco pet store and decides to follow him home. She brings with her the gift of two love birds and they strike up a romance. One day birds start attacking children at Mitch’s sister’s party. A huge assault starts on the town by attacking birds.
In a collection filled with some of the best films cinema has to offer, The Birds finds itself ever so narrowly at the back of the pack. Being the slightest film in a collection of titans is nothing to be ashamed of, though. The Birds is an absolute blast with its delicious use of black comedy and terrifying avian villains. The subject matter serves as something of a departure for our auteur, but there is never any doubt that this is a film derived completely from the mind of Hitchcock. There are instances where it feels that Hitchcock has a contempt for humanity, and I do not completely blame him for it. The ending of the film offers a bleak perspective that truly works for this story. The special effects work may seem a little dated by today’s standard, but there is a certain charm that it brings when you sit down and watch it. Star Tippi Hedren reportedly had a hellish experience filming this movie, but hopefully she can find some cold comfort in the fact that she delivers a marvelous performance that sells the film. The Birds is a wild film that will make you wary of venturing outside.
First things first, all four films in The Alfred Hitchcock Classics Collection are given a 2160p 4K UHD HDR upgrade that serve as a significant step up from their Blu-Ray counterparts. The set also includes Blu-Ray versions of each film that recycle old Universal Blu-Ray discs, except for the newly remastered Psycho which features a new Blu-Ray. The previous releases were disappointments to various degrees, but Universal largely knocks the video portion of the disc out of the park this time around. In an effort to not duplicate descriptions, I will largely attempt to group films together while pointing out noticeable differences.
In terms of the color films, Vertigo, Rear Window and The Birds all look wonderful, with the quality ranging from most to least impressive in the order listed. Colors pop off the screen with a vibrancy that make this set rank near the top of classic film presentations. Vertigo, in particular, brings a tear to your eyes with the vibrant interiors or Novak’s various opulent dresses. Look at the red walls of the restaurant and tell me you would disagree. The filmic quality is preserved for all the films in the set with plenty of natural grain that yields spectacular detail. Those who have never seen Vertigo might believe there is some DNR being applied that makes Stewart’s face appear waxy, but that seems to be more of a problem with makeup being caked on in an attempt to make him appear younger. Skin tones look as natural as they were filmed throughout the set. Rear Window provides reveals some previously unseen elements of the production design within the apartment with the added clarity. The Birds is an upgrade, but it fares the worst amongst all the titles with its persistent use of optical special effects that do not hold up as well to scrutiny. There is no hint of compression artifacts or banding to be found.
For the black-and-white Psycho, the results of the 4K upgrade are truly spectacular. The black and white cinematography is simply gorgeous with smooth gradients and subtle textures. This transfer maintains the filmic quality of the picture with fine film grain giving way to rich details. Subtle details that never would have been able to be detected are suddenly on full display with this transfer. Black levels are incredibly deep without any pesky nuisances such as digital noise or compression artifacts. The transfer also eradicates any dust specks or print damage that previously plagued the best surviving elements. This picture showcases an impressive amount of depth to the image which gives way to a pleasing sense of scale within the locale. Casual film fans may not believe that 4K could benefit a black-and-white film, but that could not be further from the truth. Universal has accomplished something truly stupendous with these four transfers.
This 4K UHD Blu-Ray set provides immersive tracks for two of the films, while also providing the original soundtracks for all of the films…almost. Vertigo and Psycho are both given English DTS-X tracks that provide an immersive experience for their worlds. Vertigo provides a nice sonic landscape that enhances some of the city sounds that are featured in the film. Psycho updates its soundtrack somewhat with enhanced sound effects that sound really great, from panning effects of cars going across the screen to the more lifelike shower sounds in the iconic scene. Neither of these tracks are filled with elements that feel gaudy or unnatural; they just open up the world a bit more in a decent way. There was not a real need to enhance either of these tracks except to please those who want to “show off” their home theater system, but the results are largely pleasing.
All four films are said to be provided with “original” mono tracks, which is only actually true for three of the film. Rear Window and The Birds are given English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 tracks, while Vertigo is given a DTS Digital Surround 2.0 track and Psycho is given an “Original Audio” DTS 2.0 track. For audio purists, three of the four tracks will be acceptable as presented here. All have crisp, clear dialogue that is never overwhelmed by any music or sound effects. There are no noticeable age-related issues with the tracks. These tracks are as good, if not better, than they have ever sounded on disc. Where things go awry is the presented mono track for Psycho. While labeled as the “Original Audio” mono track on the disc, the accompanying track is actually a downmix of the remastered DTS-X track with the updated sound effects. That track sounds great, but it is not what Hitchcock intended and film fans deserve a choice of the true original audio. Since the accompanying Blu-Ray is the lone updated disc in the set, it also only has this screwed up mono track. Rear Window has apparently had issues in the past with a maligned audio track, but the correct track that fans approve of is included here. This Psycho audio issue may be a deal breaker for a lot of people, but I can only say the quality of the discs otherwise is beyond reproach.
- Audio Commentary: Author John Fawell (“Hitchcock’s Rear Window: The Well-Made Film”) gives a detailed breakdown of the film in which he discusses the film on a technical and narrative level. This is a dense, entertaining track that is worth a listen.
- Rear Window Ethics – An Original Documentary: A 55-minute look at the film with historians, Hollywood figures and notable fans such as directors Peter Bogdanovich and Curtis Hanson. The participants discuss what makes Rear Window such a notable entry in the Hitchcock canon, expanding the film from the short story, the performances in the film, Hitchcock’s use of production design and more.
- A Conversation with Screenwriter John Michael Hayes: A thirteen-minute interview with Hayes in which he discusses his relationship with Hitchcock, inserting humor into the film, developing the story and more.
- Pure Cinema – Through The Eyes of the Master: A 25-minute look at how film enables creatives to accomplish things in a way that is not possible in other art forms. Subjects such as Joe Carnahan, Martin Scorsese, William Friedkin and more break down some impressive moments within his filmography.
- Breaking Barriers – The Sound of Hitchcock: A 24-minute examination of Hitchcock’s inventive use of sound in film featuring interview subjects discussing sounds from across his entire filmography in great detail. You feel the sense of despair that arises from the film, but this feature helps showcase some of the reasons certain scenes work so well.
- Hitchcock and Truffaut Interview Excerpts: A sixteen-minute audio interview between Hitchcock and French filmmaker Francois Truffaut (The 400 Blows) from 1962 set against clips from the film. Hitchcock breaks down some key moments from the film that reveal what he was trying to say with each choice.
- Masters of Cinema: A 34-minute archival special in which Hitchcock himself gives a sit-down interview where he discusses the process of filmmaking, recurring motifs in his films and more. This is a joy to watch as it is one of the few features that has Hitchcock speaking at length in his own words.
- Production Photographs: A series of stills featuring marketing materials followed by on-set photos of the cast and crew.
- Theatrical Trailer: A nearly-three minute trailer that wisely gives very little away while playing up the goodwill Hitchcock earned from Psycho.
- Re-Release Trailer: A six-minute trailer narrated by Jimmy Stewart that highlights a series of films being brought back to theaters including Vertigo, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Rope, The Trouble With Harry and Rear Window.
- Audio Commentary: Filmmaker William Friedkin (The Exorcist) provides a very entertaining and informative commentary with very few instances of dead air. You get a lot of historical and technical information that enhances your enjoyment of the picture.
- Obsessed with Vertigo – New Life for Hitchcock’s Masterpiece: A 29-minute archival special from AMC featuring interviews with stars Kim Novak and Barbara Bel Geddes, filmmaker Martin Scorsese, Hitchcock’s daughter Pat Hitchcock O’Connell, associate producer Herbert Coleman, and screenwriter Samuel Taylor. The subject discuss the film’s development, location scouting, casting, costumes, legacy and more. Interspersed throughout these stories, we have restorer Robert A. Harris and restoration producer James C. Katz taking us through the process of restoring the film to the glory that it deserves. This is a well-done bit of content.
- Partners In Crime – Hitchcock’s Collaborations: A 55-minute collection of featurettes focusing on Saul Bass’ title designs, Edith Head’s costumes, Bernard Hermann’s music and Hitchcock’s partnership with his wife. These offer of some great insights from some important figures in the industry, including interviews with Martin Scorsese and Guillermo del Toro. Hitchcock had so many amazingly talented people at his disposal to help shape his masterpieces. It’s very interesting to look at the work they did on Vertigo along with clips from other films on which they worked.
- Foreign Censorship Ending: A two-minute look at an ending that Hitchcock was forced to shoot for foreign audiences that softens the darkness of the ending. It’s an interesting piece of history, but it is good that it was not the intended version.
- Hitchcock and Truffaut Interview Excerpts: A fourteen-minute audio interview between Hitchcock and French filmmaker Francois Truffaut (The 400 Blows) from 1962 set against clips from the film. It is fascinating to hear Hitchcock dissect elements of his film with another filmmaker, as you get a greater understanding of what he was trying to accomplish with his choices.
- Theatrical Trailer: The two-and-a-half-minute original trailer for the film which goes over the plot a little too thoroughly, ruining some of the twists and turns the movie has going for it.
- Restoration Trailer: A minute-and-a-half trailer that sells the newly restored presentation of the classic film. This does not ruin the film as spectacularly as the original trailer.
- 100 Years of Universal – The Lew Wasserman Era: A nine-minute look at how agent turned industry powerhouse Lew Wasserman upended the movie business with innovative business practices including giving actors more ways to earn money, purchasing the early Paramount library, building Hitchcock as a brand on television, acquiring Universal and more. It is wild to think how one man altered the history of the film industry in such a profound manner.
- The Vertigo Archives: An hour-and-nine-minutes of production portfolio drawings from Art Director Henry Bumstead. This is available on the Blu-Ray only.
- Uncut Version: For the first time ever, the original version “as seen in theaters” is available with additional footage on this disc. The actual additions are slight, at best, at only about a minute longer with nothing truly untoward added, but it is nice to have the option to watch both cuts.
- Audio Commentary: Author Stephen Rebello (“Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho”) gives an informative and extremely detailed commentary for the film in which he meticulously provides background information and history for the film. There is never a dull moment here, and is very much worth a listen.
- The Making Of Psycho: A one-hour-and-thirty-four-minute documentary on pretty much all the facets of the film from the development to the release. For fans of the film, you could scarcely think of anything that could enhance this, as you get interviews with Janet Leigh and others who worked on the project.
- Psycho Sound: A ten-minute featurette with the sound team in which they discuss remixing the soundtrack from mono to surround sound for a fresh new mix that still respects the original intent. The results sound great, but the disc should have included the original soundtrack, as well, for those who prefer it.
- In the Master’s Shadow – Hitchcock’s Legacy: A 26-minute special that offers a deep dive into the influence Hitchcock has had on cinema featuring interviews with Guillermo del Toro, Eli Roth, John Carpenter and more. This opens up the scope beyond Psycho to his entire filmography.
- Hitchcock and Truffaut Interview Excerpts: A fifteen-minute audio interview between Hitchcock and French filmmaker Francois Truffaut (The 400 Blows) from 1962 set against clips from the film. Truffaut offers up some interesting questions for Hitchcock regarding the likability of certain characters, how Hitchcock plays with the audience and more.
- Newsreel Footage – The Release of Psycho: A nearly eight-minute archival piece in which Hitchcock explains why he would not permit anyone into the theater after the start of the film.
- The Shower Scene – With and Without Music: As the title implies, the shower scene is provided here with and without sound to highlight how important the score is to the scene.
- The Shower Sequence – Storyboards by Saul Bass: Four minutes of storyboards detailing the iconic scene are provided here.
- The Psycho Archives: An eight-minute featurette that showcases photographs from the production of the film.
- Posters & Pyscho Ads: Three minutes of varying posters and ads from around the world.
- Lobby Cards: Lobby cards from the film’s release are included here visually.
- Behind-The-Scenes Photographs: Eight minutes of candid photographs from the set are included here.
- Production Photographs: Publicity shots from the film are included here.
- Psycho Theatrical Trailer: A cheeky six-and-a-half-minute trailer in which Hitchcock gives you a guided tour through the set of the film without spoiling any of the surprises in store for you. If only more trailers could be as creative as this.
- Psycho Re-Release Trailer: Two-minutes of trailers from the re-release of the film which still manages to not spoil anything. The selling point of these ads are that the film is uncut and people will not be admitted after the beginning of the film.
- The Birds: Hitchcock’s Monster Movie: A 14-minute featurette that tackles monster movies on a larger scale and what the birds meant within the context of the film. There is some good information on The Birds, but it almost feels more enjoyable as an exploration into monster movies as a whole.
- All About The Birds: A one-hour-and-twenty-minute documentary that explores the making of the film from development to completion. This is an extremely thorough piece in which Hitchcock’s daughter, cast, and crew members discuss nearly every aspect of the film you would want to know about.
- Tippi Hedren’s Screen Test: A ten-minute look at the screen test for the iconic actress that proves to be a fascinating watch. You get to see Hedren run through scenes, but even more engaging is the banter you hear before and after the acting.
- Deleted Scenes: A collection of script notes and production photographs from a scene that was intended to be in the film, but was ultimately dropped.
- The Original Ending: An alternate ending that was never shot is provided here via production notes and sketches. A fascinating look at what could have been in an alternate universe.
- Hitchcock/Truffaunt: : A fourteen-minute audio interview between Hitchcock and French filmmaker Francois Truffaut (The 400 Blows) from 1962 set against clips from the film. Hitchcock discusses how he shaped the actor’s performances, including how much he enjoyed working with someone who had never acted before. Hitchcock offers up some interesting insights into his process.
- The Birds Is Coming: A minute-long newsreel that focuses on a promotional pigeon race that was organized in conjunction with the film.
- Suspense Story – National Press Club Hears Hitchcock: A two-minute long newsreel in which Hitchcock delivers a sly speech that is very amusing to the press corp.
- Theatrical Trailer: A five-minute long trailer in which Hitchcock delivers a very humorous speech intended to promote the picture. Once again, it is fascinating to see a trailer such as this one that is so far away from what we get in the current day.
- 100 Years of Universal – Restoring The Classics: A nine-minute featurette which goes into the larger preservation efforts that Universal have been undertaking in the past few decades. This is a real treat for film nerds.
- 100 Years of Universal – The Lot: A nine-minute featurette takes a closer look at the Universal backlot that served as the setting for countless classic films. There are some fun appearances from figures such as Steven Spielberg, Paul Rudd and Dan Aykroyd.
The Alfred Hitchcock Classics Collection comes so close to being the perfect presentation that Hitchcock fans have been clamoring for when it comes to his most popular works. The new, stunning 4K transfers are a revelation that inject new life into the films. All of the previously available extras appear to be ported over to this set, as well. The only flaw that I found with this set is the omission of the true original mono track for Psycho. If you can get over that mistake, this is one of the most incredible 4K sets on the market. Those who doubt the benefit of 4K for classic films need to look no further than the eye-popping detail showcased on these discs. Fans of the “Master of Suspense” should not hesitate to pick this one up. Highly Recommended
The Alfred Hitchcock Classics Collection is currently available to purchase on 4K UHD Blu-Ray.
Note: Images presented in this review are not reflective of the image quality of the 4K UHD Blu-Ray.
Disclaimer: Universal Pictures Home Entertainment has supplied a copy of this set free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.
Dillon is most comfortable sitting around in a theatre all day watching both big budget and independent movies.