The Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection [DVD]
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- The Birds - Rated PG-13
- Marnie: Rated PG
- Vertigo: Rated PG
- Rope: Rated PG
- Rear Window: Rated PG
- Psycho: Rated R
- The Man Who Knew Too Much: Rated PG
- Torn Curtain: Rated PG
- Frenzy: Rated R
- Shadow of a Doubt: Rated PG
- The Trouble With Harry: Rated PG
- Topaz: Rated NR
- Saboteur: Rated PG
- Bonus Disc: Rated NR
- Family Plot: Rated PG
- 14 documentaries
- 9 featurettes
- Newsreel footage
- Production photos, sketches and notes
- Theatrical trailers
- Masters of Cinema: Alfred Hitchcock
- AFI Salute to Alfred Hitchcock
- All about the Birds
- The making of Psycho
Filmed on locations ranging from Denmark to the Universal backlot, Alfred Hitchcock's Topaz is based on a novel by Leon Uris. Frederick Stafford, a veteran of European-filmed James Bond rip-offs of the 1960s, is cast as Andre Devereaux, a French secret agent assigned to snoop around Cuba in the months prior to the 1962 missile crisis. Someone is supplying Castro -- and, by extension, Moscow -- with NATO secrets; it is up to Devereaux to liquidate the "mole." Aiding Devereaux is CIA agent Nordstrom (John Forsythe) and aristocratic anti-Castro Cuban Juanita (Karin Dor), who happens to be the girlfriend of pro-Castroite Rico Parra (John Vernon). The director seems to be in awe of the fact-based storyline, and as a result, the film is more cut-and-dried than most Hitchcock efforts. Three different endings were filmed for Topaz; the Laserdisc version carries all three, as does the print available to the American Movie Classics cable service. According to the MPAA, the film was originally rated M but later changed to PG; however, a number of home-video issues of Topaz officially list it as "Not Rated." ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi
Alfred Hitchcock's final film was adapted from Victor Canning's novel The Rainbird Pattern by Ernest Lehman, who previously wrote the screenplay for Hitchcock's North by Northwest. Barbara Harris plays Blanche, a phony psychic, hired by wealthy Julia Rainbird (Cathleen Nesbitt) to trace the whereabouts of her nephew, who'd been given up for adoption years earlier and who is now heir to a fortune. Blanche's cohort is "investigator" Lumley (Bruce Dern), who is fully prepared to milk the last dollar out of Julia before locating the long-lost nephew. Meanwhile, we are introduced to elegant kidnappers Adamson and Fran (William Devane and Karen Black). The fates of the two couples are inextricably intertwined by the search for the missing heir. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi
Condemned as being a "disappointing" and "unworthy" Alfred Hitchcock effort at the time of its release, Marnie has since grown in stature; it is still considered a lesser Hitchcock, but a fascinating one. Tippi Hedren plays Marnie, a compulsive thief who cannot stand to be touched by any man. She also goes bonkers over the sight of the color red. Her new boss, Mark Rutland (Sean Connery) is intrigued by Marnie -- to such an extent that he blackmails her into marriage when he stumbles onto her breaking into his safe. Rutland is in his own way as "sick" as his wife because of his fetishist desire to cohabit with a thief. After innumerable plot twists and turns, Marnie is "cured" by a facile but mesmerizing flashback sequence involving her ex-hooker mother (Louise Latham). Among the critical carps aimed at Marnie was the complaint that the studio-bound sets -- particularly the waterfront locale where the film ends -- were tacky and artificial; curiously, this seeming "carelessness" adds to the queasy, off-setting mood that Hitchcock endeavored to sustain. Even when the direction seems to falter, the film is buoyed by the driving musical score of Bernard Herrmann (his last for Hitchcock). Among the supporting actors in Marnie are Mariette Hartley as a secretary and Bruce Dern as a sailor; twelve years later, Dern would star in Hitchcock's final film, Family Plot. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi
Aircraft plant worker Robert Cummings is accused of sabotaging his factory and causing the death of a co-worker. Actually, Cummings is the fall guy for a clever ring of Nazi spies, headed by above-suspicion American philanthropist Otto Kruger. Our hero goes on a cross-country chase after genuine saboteur Norman Lloyd, all the while pursued himself by the police. Along the way, he acquires a reluctant "travelling companion" in the form of Priscilla Lane, who at first despises Cummings and intends to turn him over to the authorities at the first opportunity, but who gradually comes to realize that the boy is innocent. Alfred Hitchcock intended Saboteur to be the American equivalent to his British The 39 Steps, employing such details as the solid-citizen villain, the handcuffed hero, the unwilling blonde heroine, and any number of stopovers with a variety of offbeat characters (a travelling "freak" show, a compassionate blind man, a grizzled old prospector who turns out to be one of the spies, etc.) ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi
In 1960, Alfred Hitchcock was already famous as the screen's master of suspense (and perhaps the best-known film director in the world) when he released Psycho and forever changed the shape and tone of the screen thriller. From its first scene, in which an unmarried couple balances pleasure and guilt in a lunchtime liaison in a cheap hotel (hardly a common moment in a major studio film in 1960), Psycho announced that it was taking the audience to places it had never been before, and on that score what followed would hardly disappoint. Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) is unhappy in her job at a Phoenix, Arizona real estate office and frustrated in her romance with hardware store manager Sam Loomis (John Gavin). One afternoon, Marion is given $40,000 in cash to be deposited in the bank. Minutes later, impulse has taken over and Marion takes off with the cash, hoping to leave Phoenix for good and start a new life with her purloined nest egg. 36 hours later, paranoia and exhaustion have started to set in, and Marion decides to stop for the night at the Bates Motel, where nervous but personable innkeeper Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) cheerfully mentions that she's the first guest in weeks, before he regales her with curious stories about his mother. There's hardly a film fan alive who doesn't know what happens next, but while the shower scene is justifiably the film's most famous sequence, there are dozens of memorable bits throughout this film. The first of a handful of sequels followed in 1983, while Gus Van Sant's controversial remake, starring Vince Vaughn and Anne Heche, appeared in 1998. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi
The Trouble with Harry
The trouble with Harry is that he's dead. The scene is a autumnal Vermont village, where a pre-Leave It to Beaver Jerry Mathers stumbles upon Harry's corpse in the woods. Mathers alerts his mother Shirley MacLaine (making her film debut), who recognizes Harry as her ex-husband. Later on, retired sea captain Edmund Gwenn likewise comes across the moribund Harry. Both MacLaine and Gwenn have reason to believe that they're responsible for Harry's demise; MacLaine thinks that she killed Harry by clobbering him with a bottle, while Gwenn is certain that he shot the poor fellow while hunting. As the day draws to a close, seemingly every person in town is convinced that he or she has had some hand in Harry's death, thus they conspire to hide the body from the authorities. Visiting artist John Forsythe, dumbfounded at the calm, collected reactions of the villagers regarding Harry (whose ubiquitous body pops up at the most inopportune moments), solves the "mystery." Though not his most successful film, The Trouble with Harry was one of director Alfred Hitchcock's favorites. The story's whimsical black-comedy elements are perfectly complemented by Bernard Herrmann's playful music score. Best bit: Mildred Natwick, coming upon Gwenn as the latter is strenuously dragging away Harry's corpse, asking offhandedly "What seems to be the trouble, Captain?" The Trouble with Harry was adapted by John Michael Hayes from the novel by John Trevor. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi
Laid up with a broken leg, photojournalist L.B. Jeffries (James Stewart) is confined to his tiny, sweltering courtyard apartment. To pass the time between visits from his nurse (Thelma Ritter) and his fashion model girlfriend Lisa (Grace Kelly), the binocular-wielding Jeffries stares through the rear window of his apartment at the goings-on in the other apartments around his courtyard. As he watches his neighbors, he assigns them such roles and character names as "Miss Torso" (Georgine Darcy), a professional dancer with a healthy social life or "Miss Lonelyhearts" (Judith Evelyn), a middle-aged woman who entertains nonexistent gentlemen callers. Of particular interest is seemingly mild-mannered travelling salesman Lars Thorwald (Raymond Burr), who is saddled with a nagging, invalid wife. One afternoon, Thorwald pulls down his window shade, and his wife's incessant bray comes to a sudden halt. Out of boredom, Jeffries casually concocts a scenario in which Thorwald has murdered his wife and disposed of the body in gruesome fashion. Trouble is, Jeffries' musings just might happen to be the truth. One of Alfred Hitchcock's very best efforts, Rear Window is a crackling suspense film that also ranks with Michael Powell's Peeping Tom (1960) as one of the movies' most trenchant dissections of voyeurism. As in most Hitchcock films, the protagonist is a seemingly ordinary man who gets himself in trouble for his secret desires. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi
Dismissed when first released, later heralded as one of director Alfred Hitchcock's finest films (and, according to Hitchcock, his most personal one), this adaptation of the French novel D'entre les morts weaves an intricate web of obsession and deceit. It opens as Scottie Ferguson (James Stewart) realizes he has vertigo, a condition resulting in a fear of heights, when a police officer is killed trying to rescue him from falling off a building. Scottie then retires from his position as a private investigator, only to be lured into another case by his old college friend, Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore). Elster's wife, Madeleine (Kim Novak), has been possessed by a spirit, and Elster wants Scottie to follow her. He hesitantly agrees, and thus begins the film's wordless montage as Scottie follows the beautiful yet enigmatic Madeleine through 1950s San Francisco (accompanied by Bernard Herrmann's hypnotic score). After saving her from suicide, Scottie begins to fall in love with her, and she appears to feel the same way. Here tragedy strikes, and each twist in the movie's second half changes our preconceptions about the characters and events. In 1996 a new print of Vertigo was released, restoring the original grandeur of the colors and the San Francisco backdrop, as well as digitally enhancing the soundtrack. ~ Dylan Wilcox, Rovi
The story begins as an innocuous romantic triangle involving wealthy, spoiled Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren), handsome Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor), and schoolteacher Annie Hayworth (Suzanne Pleshette). The human story begins in a San Francisco pet shop and culminates at the home of Mitch's mother (Jessica Tandy) at Bodega Bay, where the characters' sense of security is slowly eroded by the curious behavior of the birds in the area. At first, it's no more than a sea gull swooping down and pecking at Melanie's head. Things take a truly ugly turn when hundreds of birds converge on a children's party. There is never an explanation as to why the birds have run amok, but once the onslaught begins, there's virtually no letup. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi
Rope, Alfred Hitchcock's first color film, was adapted from Patrick Hamilton's stage play Rope's End by no less than Hume Cronyn. Loosely inspired by the Leopold-Loeb case, the plot concerns two implicitly homosexual college chums, played by Farley Granger and John Dall. Their heads filled with Nietzschean philosophy by their kindly professor James Stewart, Granger and Dall kill a third friend just for the thrill of it. The boys hide the body in an antique chest in the middle of their posh apartment, then perversely arrange to hold a dinner party around the chest, inviting the victim's family, friends and fiancee (Joan Chandler), as well as their intellectual role-model Stewart. As the guests wander obliviously around the sealed chest, the killers make snippy, veiled comments about their deed--never going so far as to reveal the existence of the body nor their involvement in the murder. As all the guests file out, however, professor Stewart begins to suspect that something is amiss. In Rope, Hitchcock attempted the daunting technical challenge of filming the entire picture in one long, seemingly uninterrupted take. Actually, there are several edits in the movie: since a reel of film was divided into two ten-minute minireels back in 1948, the internal reel-breaks are "fudged" by having a dark object briefly obscure the camera lens, sustaining the illusion that no editing has taken place. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi
The Man Who Knew Too Much
The first film version of The Man Who Knew too Much proved to be the international "breakthrough" film for British director Alfred Hitchcock, transforming him from merely a talented domestic filmmaker to a worldwide household name. While vacationing in Switzerland, Britons Leslie Banks and Edna Best befriend jovial Frenchman Pierre Fresnay. Not long afterward, Fresnay is murdered. He whispers a secret in Banks' ear before expiring. This is witnessed by several sinister foreign agents, who kidnap Banks' daughter Nova Pilbeam to keep him from revealing what he knows: That a diplomat will be assassinated during a concert at London's Albert Hall. Unable to turn to the police, Banks desperately attempts to rescue his child himself, still hoping to prevent the assassination. The film's now-famous setpieces include the "Siege of Sidney Street" re-creation and the climactic clash of cymbals at Albert Hall, followed by the crucial scream of Edna Best. German film star Peter Lorre made his English-speaking debut in The Man Who Knew Too Much, though he was still monolingual in 1934 and had to learn his lines phonetically. Written by A. R. Rawlinson, Charles Bennett, D.B. Wyndham Lewis, Emlyn Williams and Edwin Greenwood (an impressive lineup for a 75-minute film!), Man Who Knew Too Much was remade by Hitchcock himself in 1956. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi
Shadow of a Doubt
Teresa Wright plays Charlie, a small-town high-schooler who enjoys a symbiotic relationship with her favorite uncle, also named Charlie (Joseph Cotten). When young Charlie "wills" that old Charlie pay a visit to her family, her wish comes true. Uncle Charlie is his usual charming self, but he seems a bit secretive and reserved at times. Too, his manner of speaking is curiously unsettling, especially when he brings up the subject of rich widows, whom he characterizes as "swine." When a pair of detectives (MacDonald Carey and Wallace Ford), posing as magazine writers, arrive in town and begin asking questions about Uncle Charlie, young Charlie's curiosity is aroused. Why, for example, has Uncle Charlie torn an article out of the evening newspaper? Rushing to the library, Young Charlie locates the missing item: the headline screams WHO IS THE MERRY WIDOW MURDERER? As the horrified Charlie reads on, the conclusion is inescapable: her beloved Uncle Charlie is a mass murderer, preying upon wealthy old women. And what happens next? Thornton Wilder, Sally Benson, and Alma Reville (Mrs. Hitchcock) based their screenplay on a story by Gordon McDowell, who in turn was inspired by real-life "Merry Widow Murderer" Earle Leonard Nelson. The casting, from stars to bit players, is impeccable; the best of the batch is Hume Cronyn, making his film debut as a wimpy murder-mystery aficionado. Lensed on location in Santa Rosa, California, The Shadow of a Doubt wasAlfred Hitchcock's favorite film. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi
A double agent has to contend with enemies on both sides of the political fence as well as the woman he loves in this thriller directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Prof. Michael Armstrong (Paul Newman) is an gifted American physicist who, at the height of the Cold War, decides to defect to East Germany. To his surprise, his fiancée, fellow scientist Sarah Sherman (Julie Andrews) follows him, and she soon discovers Armstrong is no traitor, but acting as a secret undercover agent. As Armstrong attempts to ingratiate himself with political and scientific factions in East Germany, Gromek (Wolfgang Kieling) becomes his guide, though Armstrong is aware he's a government agent assigned to trail him, and as he tries to shake Gromek, Armstrong realizes his new "friend" knows what his real agenda happens to be. Torn Curtain was one of the rare Hitchcock films from his "classic" era which did not feature a score by Bernard Herrman; due to objections from his studio, Hitchcock removed Herrman from the project, though excerpts from the score he had begun were included as a bonus on the film's DVD release in 2002. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi
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