Hitchcock Collection 2 Review
Uncle Charlie, I know a secret about you, you don't think I know
Alfred Hitchcock, or good ole Freddy Hitch, as he was known to those in the biz, was the Master of Suspense. He knew how to manipulate script, place a camera, and pace a narrative to give a palpable sense of dread and a genuine feeling of tension. And all from a simple premise: by informing the audience of a situation that the actors are themselves unaware. As he explains: a group of people sitting around a table discussing baseball is uneventful, show a bomb under the table, with a fuse, and suddenly that same group are now in peril and the audience wants to know why they don’t react or try to save themselves. See? Simple.
Working within the film industry for over 50 years, and honing his craft over all that time, modern scholars have marvelled at how he was able to produce such a body of work, all the while working within the confines of the studio system. But thrive he did, becoming one of the greatest directors of all time and all the while using the same basic premise – suspense.
The UHD set Alfred Hitchcock Classics Collection, which contained Psycho, The Birds, Vertigo and Rear Window, is now joined with a Volume 2; this UHD set contains Saboteur, Shadow of a Doubt, The Trouble with Harry, Marnie and Family Plot. All Hitchcock but, some might say, second tier in terms of his output, no doubt Universal are saving the rest for a Volume 3 and closing out with a bang.
The Alfred Hitchcock Classics Collection Vol 2 Unboxing Video
Filmed and released during WW2, Saboteur was, in many ways a simple contemporary update on many of Hitch’s earlier output, especially the classic 39 Steps (1935) in that it tells the story of a man, wrongly accused of a crime, in this case sabotage, who subsequently goes on the run to prove his innocence, and in doing so exposes a nefarious group trying to undermine decency. Interestingly it climaxes on a famous monument, in this case the Statue of Liberty, a forerunner to the better received but ultimately same story as North by Northwest (1959) which did the same.
Whilst it is undoubtedly still early Hitchcock, and early cinema to boot, i.e. it is quite a talky affair and the acting is of the era, the flourishes of genius are still there: eking out tension from making a speech at a party, close-quarters fighting trying to stop a button press, hiding an uncomfortable secret etc., with the climactic chase and standoff becoming Hitchcock staples. And of course, the whole idea of a secret saboteur ring living within plain sight is simply delicious. It wasn’t a huge success upon its initial release but has gained favour subsequently due to Hitch’s enduring popularity.
Individual Score: 7/10
Shadow of a Doubt (1943)
Although released just a year later, Shadow is absolutely a Hitchcock film through and through, from the very idea to the camera set-ups to the editing; everything about it screams suspense. Telling the story of a serial killer returning to his idyllic country town, quite literally evil at home, and the attempts to catch him, exposing his innocent niece to the underworld of terror, corrupting her forever is utterly enthralling. The whole film is beautifully bookended and throughout there are superb cuts within scenes to show dense complexity, hinting at deeper subtext and meaning – ideas Hitchcock would expound upon in later films.
Cuts such as concentrating on hands (the killer was a strangler), brief cuts of Charlie’s arms to show the trauma she suffered when they were hurt, the train arrival with its bellowing black steam describing impending doom, and, perhaps best of all, the close-up of the ring, then pull back to reveal Charlie walking down the stairs triumphant and in black demonstrating her corruption is complete. The whole is beautifully poetic, yes it still suffers slightly in that it is of its time as it’s still very talky, but somehow it transcends these perceived shortcomings to shine as a beacon of suspense; only Hitchcock could wring tension out of running to get to the library before it closes! It is dark without being explicit and evil through and through.
Individual Score: 9/10
The Trouble with Harry (1955)
Shooting forward in time to 1955, Hitchcock the Great switches things up a bit. His English sense of humour always allowed for the blackest of comedy, and it is in pretty much of all his film, but seldom did the director go for out and out comedies; in fact, there are only really two: Mr & Mrs Smith (1941) and The Trouble with Harry. I use the term ‘comedy’ in a loose sense, perhaps farce might be better, as the ludicrous premise of the film ends up with all the protagonists in one room while everything falls apart around them. And it is that ridiculousness that brings around the humour. But being that Hitch can’t help but add some suspense to it; the creaking open cupboard door, or the feet showing in the bath; if it wasn’t for Bernard Herrmann’s whimsical score or the face on stage direction, the tension might be unbearable rather than comedic!
Indeed, it is those last two facets that give Harry its funny edge; the premise is dark, the actions of those around is dark and the subterfuge is also, quite dark; and keeping the direction light and the score up-beat, we’re essentially told it’s meant to be funny. It’s not really. Whimsy and light, off-beat and twisted, light-hearted and darkly romantic, yes, but funny? No.
Individual Score 6/10
The set now jumps forward nine years. In that time we had the classics from the first set, plus more including North by Northwest (1959) (wonder if that will ever come to UHD?) and marked quite a few ‘lasts’ for the auteur. Not only was it the last time Tippi Hedren worked in the film industry, but Hitch no longer collaborated with cinematographer Robert Burks, composer Bernard Hermann, and editor George Tomasini. Speculation that this break accounts for the lower quality of his last four films, might hold some water, but doesn’t take into account Frenzy (1972) which, coming in the wake of the likes of Witchfinder General (1968), ), The Wild Bunch (1969), The Devils (1971), Straw Dogs (1971, A Clockwork Orange (1971), was Hitch’s answer to the new wave of boundary pushing cinema.
Of course, It could be argued that such boundary pushing was started with Marnie. The very idea of a compulsive thief driven by a childhood trauma (and what a trauma!) and then to actually show that trauma, were unheard of in mid-sixties cinema, but Hitch did not shy; he confronted head on, much like Sean Connery’s character Mark and his pushing of Marni (Tippi Hedren) to uncover the reasons for her destructive behaviour. And what a character for Connery to take; for many at this time he was still James Bond, indeed perhaps his greatest outing, Goldfinger came out in the same year, but with Mark Rutland, he still had that swagger and sex appeal, only this time he had an even darker side.
Although turning a reasonable profit, Marnie, did not gain the critical approval of the recent past and, much like most of the films in the set, has only comparatively recently been looked at more favourably. It certainly deals with some dark impulses and themes, and was not afraid to shock the audience with its climax, but maybe, unlike Psycho which was lean and mean, it is a bit flabby around the middle and it is this aspect that drew the early distain.
Individual Score 7/10
Family Plot (1976)
And so, we come to the final film in the set, and Hitch’s own last film. Not the greatest of swansongs, unfortunately. Whilst the idea is clever, and the narrative of two separate and distinct storylines intertwining and clashing at the climax is sound, the execution, rather sadly, is little more than pedestrian and lacking the wit, charm, and dark humour of his greatest output. Indeed, the set-ups, framing, timing and even the acting comes off as far too much ‘TV movie of the week’, rather than the Master of Suspense. The one truly suspenseful/action scene, that of the runaway car on the mountain road is intercut with fawning, slapstick comedy of the participants which just comes off as weird and robs any tension that might be built up.
Coming off the high of Frenzy and finishing his career on this just feels so sad. Perhaps if the adaptation had gone down the darker ending of the novel, the film might have been more memorable, but as it stands, Family Plot, is easily the weakest film in this set, and maybe even of Hitch’s whole career.
Individual Score 5/10
Hitchcock Collection 2 Video
All of the films in the Alfred Hitchcock Classic Collection Vol. 2 were shot on 35mm film using a variety of cameras and all have been subject to a recent 4K restoration from which the UHDs are sourced. Corroboration of that fact is scarce, but examination of previous releases note that there is markedly different grain structure and damage is significantly less, leading us to believe this is all new.
The discs present native 3840 x 2160p resolution images, in the academy 1.37:1 or widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio, use 10-bit video depth, High Dynamic Range (HDR), a Wide Colour Gamut (WCG) on the colour films, and are encoded using the HEVC (H.265) codec for HRD10.
We reviewed the Region free UK Ultra HD Blu-ray release on a Panasonic TX-65HZ1000B Ultra HD 4K TV with a Panasonic DP-UB450 Dolby Vision HDR10+ 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player.
There is an astonishing amount of detail on show, from skin texture to clothing weaves, from wood grain to grass, from garish wall coverings to intimate paintings and newspaper clippings. Check out Robert Cummings’ round but chiselled features, or Priscilla Lane’s pouting lips or watery eyes. The sheen of leather, of the cut of evening wear, the scenes of crowds or the long shots of dessert all being sharp, keen and defined.
HDR gives the grey scale a boost, blacks are deeper and hold more shadow, while the whites are bright detailed, it is a dynamic and robust image.
There are no compression issues, and the original source is in a superb state with barely a hint at damage, while the grain structure is light and mobile, lifting the filmic nature to something wonderful.
Individual Score: 8/10
Shadow of a Doubt
The standout feature of the transfer is the detail, skin shows real texture, pores, eyelashes, fingernails, while clothing has discernible weaves, the fur given to Emma, Charlie’s shoes, the sheen of dinner suit collars or the drab wrinkles in aprons. Location shooting shows off tremendous depth of field, the arrival of the train, the exterior of the house, the streets of the town. There's slight softness on some of the stock footage, but that’s always been there.
HDR enhances the grey scale beyond that of SD, there is a robustness to the blacks which hold strong shadows, and grade perfectly to the white scale which holds as much detail, never clipping.
There are no compression artefacts, and the original source has scrubbed up perfectly, maintaining an organic sheen of grain the give a wonderful filmic image.
Individual Score: 8/10
The Trouble with Harry
Filmed in Vistavision Harry looks simply incredible; right from the opening establishing shots of the autumn leaves you know this is going to be something quite special. Detail is out of this world, this is especially true of the many landscape establishing shots showcasing, trees, hills, and grassland – take a snap you have a perfect postcard picture! Close-ups fare just as well, skin texture, clothing weaves, brush strokes in paintings, signs and posters in the village shop, mud and soil, tree bark, individual leaves, bobbles on socks, I could go on, but you get the idea.
The WCG and HDR give such a rich intensity to the colouring, again I point to the leaves which are simply delicious enough to eat, but the rolling hillsides in the morning or evening sun drip gorgeousness. Flesh tones are a tad warm, but they are meant to be, and all the primaries are wonderful; greens are lush, reds are bold, and blues are lovely; the autumn trees against the clear skies are beautiful. I cannot stress enough how sumptuous the colouring is.
Black level is rich and intense, giving a deep frame depth, with some good shadows, but the picture seldom goes dark enough to really show off the flavour, save the one or two dusk shots (we can’t count day for night shooting!). white scale is just as clean, with superlative highlights giving a real lift to the image.
The original source has cleaned up pretty well, there are still instances of white specks here and there, especially at the climax, while the film grain, heavy at times, is well maintained and gives a wonderful organic feel to the picture. Digitally there are no compression issues. Did spot one or two instances of bleed (opening vistas over the farmsteads) but this was always on previous releases and is an artefact of the source.
Individual Score 9/10
Right from the very opening scene, this image impresses. Detail is stunning, the creases and scuffmarks of the leather handbag, the weave and fray of the clothing, the individual hair strands, the roughness of the station platform floor, the girders in the roofing, and from here it maintains that consistency; the grasslands, leaves and trees in the forest, horse hair, car instruments, the garish wall covering and paintings all have keen edges throughout. Of course, one cannot defame the softness of the image since it is part of the source, plenty of soft focus in and around Tippi and Sean in interior shots, while being pin sharp on locations.
WCG and HDR give a boost to the colours, bringing out their inherent richness; red, of so much importance to the story, is vivid, bold and dense; flesh tones are natural, blues and greens are intense but natural looking and give a majesty to the image.
Black level is rich and deep, giving tremendous frame depth, holding decent shadow detail and bringing out the natural depth of colour; while the white scale really pushes the image, highlights are bright; sheen, glare and water droplets popping the image.
Digitally there are no compression issues, and the original source has cleaned up well, there are still a few instances of white specks, and the grain structure can be heavy in places but is always organic and filmic.
Individual Score 8/10
What starts off as slightly soft and grainy in the credits (optical effects) soon sharpens up to show a very decent image; skin has good texture, clothing has definable weaves, carpets show their patterns, doilies, knick-knacks and other household paraphernalia are keen, while location shots are beautiful in their clarity – overlooking the mountain road, the crumbling rocks, scruffy fauna on the hillside, and in the distance the city, really, very nice stuff.
HDR and the WCG give strength to the colouring, reds are nicely rich and bold, see the carpets, table clothes and dress in the diner, neon beams, while the blues and greens give a natural hue to the image and flesh tones are natural.
Blacks are deep and inky, driving through the night is almost pitch and looks terrific with the highlights of car headlights and streetlamps piercing the darkness, indeed the whole image is quite dark. White scale gives intensity and permanency to whites, without losing any detail.
Digitally there are no compression issues, and the source despite a few specks here and there has cleaned up well – still looks like a TV movie, even with all this work.
Individual Score 7/10
Hitchcock Collection 2 Audio
The English DTS-HD MA 2.0 track is serviceable for the film. There is fairly decent layering within the mix so that dialogue, which is clear, natural sounding and always audible, is separate and distinct from the score and effects. Bass is limited, and whilst there is not much one could term bass, the sub runs throughout to give a natural feel to the track, even though, by its very nature, the majority of the track sits in the middle to upper range. Thankfully, it is not tinny, neither is there any distortion or hiss, indeed the whole is quite precise and defined and able to reach reference without issue.
Individual Score 7/10
Shadow of a Doubt
The English DTS-HD MA 2.0 track makes good use of layering between the dialogue, effects and score, but is obviously limited by its very nature. Dialogue sounds very natural given a little tickle from the sub, while effects, such as the train arrival, cars, or party guests are well mixed. The score surrounds all, but is never overbearing and bass, while clearly limited by the source, penetrates quite low, even if the majority of the track lives in the middle to high end without sounding tinny. No hiss or distortion either.
Individual Score 7/10
The Trouble with Harry
There were numerous problems recording dialogue during the production, so plenty was ADRed after the fact, and this shows in the final product being (in places) slightly mismatched and (occasionally) thick and set apart from other elements. The English DTS-HD MA 2.0 track replicates this perfectly. Bernard Herrmann’s wonderful score is well layered and rich, while the occasional effect, shovels, wind, cars etc are well mixed. Dialogue is always audible, clear and precise, and bass, though limited by the source, is enough to give some deeper momentum to a predominantly middle to high track.
Individual Score 7/10
The English DTS-HD MA 2.0 track is perfectly serviceable, the dialogue is clean and clear and well layered into the mix, while the effects, especially that of the ‘memory/flashback’ is loud and vibrant, while the score keeps everything in check. There is a reasonable sense of space, while the score and effects such as thunder have a reasonable bass presence. Bass itself is limited, but then so is the source, but the track is neither tinny nor distorted and plays without hum or hiss.
Individual Score 7/10
The English DTS-HD MA 2.0 track plays with presence, making good use of effects such as cars and traffic that are well layered alongside the score and dialogue. Dialogue itself is natural sounding, clear and elegant, while John William’s score is rich and makes good use of aural space. Bass is limited, but effects do make some use of it, with screeching tyres and the car explosion having a little heft, even if the track itself plays more towards the middle. Fairly decent attempt at layering within the mix as well.
Individual Score 7/10
Hitchcock Collection 2 Extras
The set contains 10 discs, 5 UHDs and 5 Blu-rays, all are the same in terms of content, and there is nothing new brought to the set, everything hailing from previous releases. A word about the Blu-rays – they are the exact same discs that were released in the 2012 Universal Box set, right down to the artwork.
A Closer Look – featurette.
Alfred Hitchcock's Sketches
Shadow of A Doubt
Beyond Doubt: The Making of Hitchcock's Favorite Film – Featurette.
Production Drawings By Art Director Robert Boyle
The Trouble With Harry
The Trouble With Harry Isn't Over – Featurette.
The Trouble with Marnie – Featurette.
The Marnie Archives
Plotting Family Plot – Featurette.
Storyboards: The Chase Scene
The Alfred Hitchcock Classic Collection Vol 2 4K Blu-ray Review
There is no denying Alfred Hitchcock’s talent. His technical storytelling, framing, and eking suspense out of the most mundane of tasks is second to none. Even working within the confines of the studio system, he directed some of the best films of cinematic history. Able to sell a film by his name alone, an audience knows what it is in for with a Hitchcock picture – a steely unnerving ride, full of suspense and dark, dark humour; they broke the mould with him.
The five films in the new Hitchcock Classics Collection set, Saboteur, Shadow of A Doubt, The Trouble With Harry, Marnie, and Family Plot, might be considered second tier, but of them Shadow is the clear stand out, and, excepting Family which brings up the rear, the rest are of equal measure depending on your taste.
The UHD set from Universal is pretty good, with 5 films all newly scanned in 4K have good pictures which only vary in quality only due to their respective sources; but all are clean, clear, well detailed and HDR adding much to the dynamic range. The DTS-HD MA 2.0 sound tracks an all are perfunctory, detailed and clear. The extras are good, but all legacy, and you do have to question the validity of including Blu-rays that hail from 2012 in the set…. But on the whole, it’s a second batch of Hitchcock classics, and that is not bad at all.
The Alfred Hitchcock Classics Collection Volume 2 is available on 4K Ultra HD 09 May 2022.
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