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DVD Pick: "Alfred Hitchcock — The Masterpiece Collection"


Alfred Hitchcock is one of my favorite directors, and whenever I'm in the mood for a stylish mix of suspense, terror, and perhaps a delicious dash of romance, his films have never failed to entertain and fascinate me. So I wasn't surprised that I was delighted by "Alfred Hitchcock — The Masterpiece Collection," a 15-disc box set that contains 14 movies directed by the legendary Master of Suspense. This is not only an outstanding collection, but it's also a great deal: I've seen some prices for this 15-disc collection that make it one of the best DVD values ever.

Each feature film has been digitally re-mastered and is on a disc with special features carried over from previous DVD editions. The 15th disc in the box set contains bonus materials about Hitchcock, as well as documentaries on two of his most popular films. While the DVD bonus features are an added attraction, for me the movies themselves are the best part of owning the set. In addition to containing many of Hitchcock's films that I've known and loved for years, the set also introduced me to a few films I had never seen before, helping to round out my knowledge and appreciation of Hitch's oeuvre.

I would say that three of the 14 movies in the collection deserve to be called masterpieces, namely "Vertigo," "Rear Window" and "Psycho." The box set also includes "The Birds" and the 1956 version of "The Man Who Knew Too Much," both of which I consider to be outstanding and highly entertaining. Of the remaining nine films, most are very good indeed, and all are worth a look. Ordered by date of theatrical release, here's a brief rundown on the 14 movies:

"Saboteur" (1942)
Robert Cummings plays a man who is falsely accused of sabotage. He must evade the police while he tracks down the real evildoer, ending up at the Statue of Liberty.

"Shadow of a Doubt" (1943)
Hitchcock often cited this film as a personal favorite. When Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotten) comes to visit his family in Santa Rosa, California, his niece is at first delighted, but comes to suspect he may be a serial killer.

"Rope" (1948)
James Stewart stars in this film, whose story is based on the Leopold-Loeb murder case. Hitchcock constructed the movie from only about 10 long takes, each averaging eight minutes.

"Rear Window" (1954)
Ranking 42nd on AFI's Greatest American Films list, this movie stars James Stewart and Grace Kelly, ably supported by Thelma Ritter and Raymond Burr. Confined to his apartment with an injury, a photographer believes a neighbor may have committed a murder. Aided by his girlfriend and his nurse, he tries to get to the bottom of things. My favorite line is when Grace Kelly's character pulls a flimsy nightgown out of her purse and says, "A preview of coming attractions."

"The Trouble With Harry" (1955)
Here Hitchcock combines black comedy with mystery. In a small New England community, the dead body of a man named Harry is discovered, setting off a series of misunderstandings.

"The Man Who Knew Too Much" (1956)
James Stewart and Doris Day play a likable married couple in this entertaining mystery. The couple is vacationing in Morocco when their son is kidnapped, and they end up in London trying to get him back while doing what they can to prevent the assassination of a statesman. Doris Day singing "Que Sera, Sera" in this movie is indelibly etched in my mind.

"Vertigo" (1958)
Ranking as the second greatest film of all time in "Sight & Sound's" 2002 Critics' Poll, this bleak psychological drama stars James Stewart and Kim Novak. A detective falls madly in love with an icy blonde, but she dies. Later, he meets a shopgirl who reminds him of his dead love. "Vertigo" is unsettling, but I admire Hitchcock's exploration of a man's perverse compulsion to transform a woman into what he wants her to be.

"Psycho" (1960)
Based on the Ed Gein murder case, this thriller ranks 18th on AFI's list and 35th in "Sight & Sound's" Critics' Poll. Anthony Perkins portrays the creepy guy who runs the out-of-the-way Bates Motel, and Janet Leigh plays the woman on the lam who checks in there. In my opinion, psychopaths don't get any scarier than Norman Bates. The shower scene has some of the most terrifying footage in movie history. I doubt that I'm the only woman who hesitates to check into a motel alone since seeing the film. My favorite line: "A boy's best friend is his mother."

"The Birds" (1963)
This movie starts out like a romantic comedy when an icy blonde (Tippi Hedren) meets a ruggedly handsome man (Rod Taylor) in a pet shop. But it soon turns into a horror film where a picturesque northern California seaside town comes under attack by aggressive birds. What I find impressive about this film is how something as innocuous as a flock of birds is transformed by Hitchcock into a tour de force of terror.

Continued on the Next Page: "Marnie," "Torn Curtain," "Topaz," "Frenzy," "Family Plot," and more about what's on the DVDs.

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