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DVD Review: 'Alfred Hitchcock: The Essentials Collection'

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DVD Review: 'Alfred Hitchcock: The Essentials Collection'
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Five of Hitch's Best, Together for the First Time

For the first time, five of Alfred Hitchcock's greatest films are available packaged together in a DVD set: Rear Window (1954), Vertigo (1958), North by Northwest (1959), Psycho (1960) and The Birds (1963). This five-disc set, available from Universal Studios Home Entertainment, is called Alfred Hitchcock: The Essentials Collection. Supplementary materials include documentaries on Rear Window and Vertigo, as well as audio commentaries for Vertigo and North by Northwest.  Packaged with the DVDs are five postcard-sized replicas of the original movie posters.

All five films were made during Hitch's glory years, when he was at the peak of his popularity and one of the most widely recognized people in the world. Among the stars appearing in these movies are James Stewart, Cary Grant, Grace Kelly, Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Tippi Hedren, Eva Marie Saint and Kim Novak.

All five films in The Essentials Collection made my own personal list of Top 10 Hitchcock Movies. Vertigo, Rear Window, North by Northwest and Psycho — in that order — were my picks for his four best films, and The Birds came in at number 8 on my list.

Just to be clear, all five of the movies and all the supplementary materials contained in this set have been on DVD before — it's just that they haven't previously been packaged together. But Alfred Hitchcock: The Essentials Collection is the best available single package of DVDs for someone who wants to acquire only the greatest films made by the Master of Suspense.

The Five Feature Films

Vertigo, starring James Stewart and Kim Novak, is a masterpiece, but it's too unsettling to be regarded as entertaining. In the 2002 Sight & Sound critics' poll, it ranks as the second greatest film ever made, while in AFI's 2006 list of 100 top movies, it comes in ninth. It's a twisted love story that involves deception and murder.

Rear Window, starring James Stewart and Grace Kelly, is a suspenseful murder mystery that's also a witty rumination on the relationship between men and women. Memorable supporting performances are given by Thelma Ritter and Raymond Burr. Rear Window ranks 42nd on AFI's Greatest American films list.

North by Northwest, starring Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint, is a lighthearted, big-budget, entertaining thriller that reflects old Hollywood at its best. The most famous scene is where Grant's character is in a field in the middle of nowhere and is suddenly chased by a low-flying airplane.

Psycho, starring Anthony Perkins and Janet Leigh, is Hitch's greatest psychological thriller, though it was shot on a low budget. The scene where Leigh's character is knifed to death while showering is one of cinema's most iconic. Psycho ranks 18th on AFI's list and 35th in Sight & Sound's poll.

The Birds, starring Tippi Hedren and Rod Taylor, is Hitchcock's only nature-gone-berserk horror movie, and the viewer comes away shaken. But the film starts out looking like a romantic comedy set in a picturesque coastal town. Then huge flocks of birds begin inexplicably viciously attacking the town's residents, even the children.

Supplementary Materials

Alfred Hitchcock: The Essentials Collection provides some supplementary materials, but they are skimpy and workaday. All the bonus materials have been available on older DVD editions. However, the main extras will be discussed here.

Arguably the most interesting bonus material is the 10-minute "Tippi Hedren's Screen Test" for The Birds. In it, Hitchcock's voice can be heard coming from off camera. Hedren puts on something of a fashion show as she and Martin Balsam are shown doing scenes apparently based on earlier Hitchcock movies.

There's a serviceable 55-minute making-of titled "Rear Window Ethics," and it has observations by directors Peter Bogdanovich and Curtis Hanson. Old-timers who worked on the film reminisce about shooting the entire movie on a single large set at Paramount.

Another making-of is the mildly interesting 29-minute "Obsessed With Vertigo," which has appearances by actresses Kim Novak and Barbara Bel Geddes. Vertigo also comes with a sometimes-worthwhile audio commentary track, in which about 10 different people are heard, including producer Herbert Coleman, who recalls many production details.

Another extra is the tedious, but sometimes informative, audio commentary for North by Northwest by screenwriter Ernest Lehman. He talks about his process in writing the script, claiming he set out to construct a story that began with a murder at the United Nations and climaxed with a chase on the face of Mount Rushmore. His terrific screenplay earned him an Oscar nomination, but he lost to Pillow Talk.

Conclusion

The DVD set described here is probably not a good choice for the Hitchcock fanatic, who would likely be better off buying individual titles or purchasing both Alfred Hitchcock — The Masterpiece Collection and The Alfred Hitchcock Signature Collection. However, for someone who wants only the best of the Master of Suspense in a single package, Alfred Hitchcock: The Essentials Collection fits the bill quite well.

Below are some details for Alfred Hitchcock: The Essentials Collection.

DVD Release Date: October 4, 2011
Number of DVDs: 5
Vertigo Runtime: 2 hours 10 minutes
Vertigo MPAA Rating: PG
Rear Window Runtime: 1 hour 54 minutes
Rear Window MPAA Rating: PG
North by Northwest Runtime: 2 hours 16 minutes
North by Northwest MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Psycho Runtime: 1 hour 50 minutes
Psycho MPAA Rating: R
The Birds Runtime: 1 hour 59 minutes
The Birds MPAA Rating: PG-13

A pre-release review copy of the DVD was provided by Universal Studios Home Entertainment. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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