4K UHD Blu-ray Review: The Alfred Hitchcock Classics Collection

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Release Date: September 08, 2020

Region —

4K UHD: Region Free

BLU-RAY: Region A

Length —

Rear Window: 01:52:27

Vertigo: 02:08:27

Psycho (Original Theatrical Version): 01:49:04

Psycho (Censored Re-release Version): 01:48:51

The Birds: 01:59:31

Video —

4K UHD: 2160P (HEVC, H.265)

BLU-RAY (Rear Window + Psycho + The Birds): 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

BLU-RAY (Vertigo): 1080P (VC-1)

Audio (4K UHD) —

Rear Window:

2.0 Mono English DTS-HD Master Audio

2.0 Mono Spanish (Latin American) DTS Digital Audio

2.0 Mono French European DTS Digital Audio

Vertigo:

English DTS X

2.0 Mono English Digital Audio

2.0 Mono Spanish (Latin American) DTS Digital Audio

2.0 Mono French (European) DTS Digital Audio

Psycho:

English DTS X

2.0 Mono English DTS Digital Audio

2.0 Mono French (European) DTS Digital Audio

2.0 Mono Spanish (Latin American) DTS Digital Audio

The Birds:

2.0 Mono English DTS-HD Master Audio

2.0 Mono Spanish (Latin American) DTS Digital Audio

2.0 Mono French (European) DTS Digital Audio

2.0 Mono Japanese DTS Digital Audio

2.0 Mono Portuguese (Brazilian) DTS Digital Audio

Audio (BLU-RAY) —

Rear Window:

2.0 Mono English DTS-HD Master Audio

2.0 Mono Spanish DTS Audio

2.0 Mono French DTS Audio

Vertigo:

5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio

2.0 Mono English DTS Audio

2.0 Spanish DTS Audio

2.0 French DTS Audio

Psycho:

English DTS X

7.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio

2.0 Mono Spanish DTS Audio

2.0 Mono French DTS Audio

The Birds:

2.0 Mono English DTS-HD Master Audio

2.0 Mono Spanish DTS Audio

2.0 Mono French DTS Audio

Subtitles —

Rear Window: English SDH, Spanish, French

Vertigo: English SDH, Spanish, French

Psycho: English SDH, Spanish, French

The Birds: English SDH, Spanish, French (The 4K UHD also includes Japanese and Portuguese subtitles.)

Ratio —

Rear Window: 1.66:1

Vertigo: 1.85:1

Psycho: 1.85:1

The Birds: 1.85:1

Bitrate —

Rear Window (4K UHD): 97.00 Mbps

Rear Window (BLU-RAY): 31.99 Mbps

Vertigo (4K UHD): 90.00 Mbps

Vertigo (BLU-RAY): 29.90 Mbps

Psycho (4K UHD): 60.00 Mbps

Psycho (BLU-RAY): 24.43 Mbps

The Birds (4K UHD): 68.00 Mbps

The Birds (BLU-RAY): 29.37 Mbps

Notes: This is the 4K UHD debut for these four titles. The included Blu-ray discs for Rear Window, Vertigo, and The Birds are the same discs that have been available both individually and in previous boxed sets since 2012. These titles do not include new transfers. However, the included Blu-ray edition of Psycho is a new transfer and includes the original theatrical cut of the film. The package also includes digital copies of all four titles.

Alfred Hitchcock Master is pleased to present four exclusive new guest articles in celebration of Universal’s The Alfred Hitchcock Classics Collection. Each of these articles discuss one of the four films included in this new 4K UHD collection:

Rear Window: In the Heat of the Night

Exclusive Guest Article By: Robert Jones

Another Life for Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo

Exclusive Guest Article By: Dan Auiler

Psycho Consideration

Exclusive Guest Article By: Ken Mogg

Hitchcock’s The Birds Is Our Modern Day Pandemic

Exclusive Guest Article By: Tony Lee Moral

The Presentation:

3 of 5 MacGuffins

Universal’s eight-disc set is given a rather attractive (but undeniably kitschy) book-style presentation with a pair of pages for each film that includes folders for the 4K UHD and Blu-ray discs. Those who own one of the many other Hitchcock Blu-ray sets that Universal has released throughout the years will know what to expect here.

Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if the packaging becomes a deal breaker for some people. This is a design that seems special on the surface but actually provides the consumer with less value than if each film had been provided with a sturdy 2-disc 4K UHD case. Such an approach would offer adequate protection for each of the discs. The folder-style compartments in these Hitchcock sets don’t protect the discs at all. In fact, they very often cause scratches. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that the compartments are extremely tight. It is a serious struggle to remove the discs without damaging either the packaging or the disc itself. Fans will have to spend an inordinate amount of time trying to remove a disc without scratching it every single time they wish to watch one of these films. What good is attractive packaging if isn’t user friendly?

Fans might wish to invest in individual disc envelopes or plastic disc sleeves. This would allow them to place the eight discs into the sleeves and simply pull the sleeves out of the book’s folder-compartments with less risk of scratching or smudging them.

It is time for Universal to stop packaging their discs in this manner. This is a major issue with what would have otherwise been a near-perfect release.

Rear Window

Picture Quality:

4K UHD: 4 of 5 MacGuffins

Rear Window wasn’t the first of Alfred Hitchcock’s films to be projected in the ‘widescreen’ format, but it was his first film to be projected wide in every theatre. The recommended ratio was 1.66:1, and Universal has retained this theatrical ratio for this 4K UHD release. (The same can be said about their Blu-ray transfer of the film.)

This 2160p transfer of Rear Window doesn’t merely offer an improvement in resolution. It seems to be a more accurate rendering of the film’s source elements. The Blu-ray was a fine transfer for that particular format, but there were moments that seemed as if the image had been brightened. This new UHD image prefers to allow the film’s darker scenes to remain dark. Shadows appear to be deeper and contrast is richer here. Colors also seem healthier here, much more stable, and more realistic than they appeared on the Blu-ray disc. HDR really seems to add subtle improvements in this area. The disc encode hasn’t introduced any noticeable anomalies either. Of course, it is important to remember that all of these areas have been judged with the film’s age in mind. It would be ridiculous to expect the film to look like a recent blockbuster (and this is a good thing in certain respects). However, none of the age related blemishes become problematic or at all distracting.

BLU-RAY: 4 of 5 MacGuffins

Universal has recycled their old 2014 Blu-ray disc for this release, and our opinions about the transfer remain the same:

Clarity and detail are both vastly improved over the DVD releases of the film. Audiences can now spy on the neighbors across the courtyard and see details that they have never previously seen. The transfer showcases a layer of grain that would have been evident in the source materials, and DNR seems to have been used more responsibly here than might have been the case. Instances of dirt and film damage are rare and never distracting. While a few shots appear less clear than the majority of the film, one assumes that this is an issue with the source and not the transfer. Color is well rendered for the most part (although there are a few moments of inconsistency). This is one of the better Blu-ray transfers of a Hitchcock film offered by Universal.

Sound Quality:

4K UHD: 4.5 of 5 MacGuffins

Universal seems to recycle their old 2.0 Mono DTS-HD Master Audio that featured on the earlier Blu-ray, but that was always a lovely mix and needs no upgrade here. Alfred Hitchcock used sound dramatically and with particular creative flair in Rear Window, and it seems more important that they include a faithful lossless reproduction of the film’s original mix than to offer a ham-fisted 5.1 re-mix. Sometimes those re-mixes are merely bumbled counterfeits of a soundtrack that wasn’t broken in the first place.

BLU-RAY: 4.5 of 5 MacGuffins

The same two-channel Mono DTS-HD Master Audio mix appears on the included Blu-ray disc, and this should satisfy even the most discriminating listeners. Dialogue is clear and intelligible throughout, and the amazing ambiance of the neighborhood has never sounded better on a home video format. This was a terrific sound transfer in 2014, and it remains a solid track today.

Special Features:

4.5 of 5 MacGuffins

Feature Length Commentary with John Fawell

John Fawell is the author of a wonderful book entitled “Hitchcock’s Rear Window: The Well-Made Film.” While some may complain that his commentary track is a bit dry, he does offer a significant amount of interesting analysis that is peppered with production details. Most fans of the film will enjoy the commentary a great deal, and it is certainly a welcome addition to the disc.

Rear Window Ethics – (55:10)

Laurent Bouzereau’s documentary about the making of Rear Window examines the production of this wonderful classic before discussing the film’s restoration. It is one of the best supplements on a disc that is full of wonderful supplements.

A Conversation with Screenwriter John Michael Hayes – (13:10)

John Michael Hayes discusses how he came to work on the screenplay for Rear Window and shares his memories of working with Alfred Hitchcock. This is a rather detailed program that offers a lot more information than one might expect from a thirteen minute featurette. One may want to watch this featurette before watching Rear Window Ethics.

Breaking Barriers: The Sound of Hitchcock – (23:31)

Hitchcock was such a visual genius that his brilliant use of sound often goes unnoticed. This short documentary discusses the director’s use of sound. This is perhaps not as comprehensive as one might like, but it is an interesting and thoughtful look at an element of Hitchcock’s work that is too often ignored.

Pure Cinema: Through the Eyes of the Master – (25:12)

Alfred Hitchcock’s work has influenced many filmmakers. In this featurette, several of these filmmakers discuss Alfred Hitchcock’s films and his technique. While this isn’t the disc’s best supplement, it is certainly nice to have it included here.

Masters of Cinema – (33:39)

This 1972 program is an incredible addition to an already wonderful disc. We are given two interesting interviews with the master himself (one featuring Pia Lindstrom and another featuring William Everson). Certain sections of the program (including introductions and film clips) are omitted. A more complete version of this program is included on Criterion’s edition of The Man Who Knew Too Much. The picture quality on the Criterion release is also slightly superior.

Excerpts from François Truffaut’s Interview with Alfred Hitchcock – (16:15)

These interview clips may sound familiar to those who have read Truffaut’s book length interview with Hitchcock, but these interview excerpts should remain interesting regardless. It is always a treat to hear Hitchcock discuss his films. The interview is illustrated by film clips, promotional photos, and artwork from the film.

Theatrical Trailer

James Stewart addresses the audience and discusses his neighbors. This is different than many vintage trailers, but it does include quite a bit of footage from the actual film. Fans of Rear Window should be delighted to have it included here.

Re-Release Trailer (Narrated by James Stewart)

This re-release trailer features narration from James Stewart about the re-release of VertigoThe Man Who Knew Too MuchThe Trouble with HarryRope, and Rear Window. It is surprisingly interesting but also rather dated.

Production Photographs – (SD)

This is a gallery of production stills, advertisements, and posters that were used to promote Rear Window.

Vertigo

Picture Quality:

4K UHD: 5 of 5 MacGuffins

Universal’s new 2160p transfer of Vertigo is without question this set’s most beautiful transfer in this set. It really stands apart from the other titles away in many regards. This is probably because of the 70mm restoration source used for this particular transfer. The film was shot in Vistavision, and this gave the film a significant increase in resolution from a typical 35mm image. The image is so overwhelmingly impressive to these eyes that it is difficult to know where to start. Robert Burks’s brilliant color cinematography is brought to dazzling life here as they show an amazing amount of vibrancy that never feels artificial. Blacks are deeper with richer shadow depth. The Blu-ray seems to have been brightened in comparison with this darker transfer, but this seems more accurate when one watches the film in motion. Fans will also notice an obvious increase in sharpness, clarity, and fine detail throughout the duration of the movie. Of course, grain is handled remarkably here as it is very fine but always looks filmic.

BLU-RAY: 4.5 of 5 MacGuffins

Again, this Blu-ray disc is the same one that has been available for years. The 1080p transfer is impressive but not perfect. Detail is wonderful and reveals textures and lines that weren’t as clearly defined on previous home video release formats. Clarity is wonderful with only occasional digressions into slight softness. There is a fine layer of film grain, but this is a good thing. There aren’t any digital anomalies to annoy the viewer. Colors are quite wonderfully rendered (with only a few minor exceptions), and the picture exhibits appropriate contrast. There are moments when blacks feel slightly faded, but this never becomes a distraction. Any complaints one might have tend to be overwhelmed by the transfer’s more positive attributes.

Sound Quality:

4K UHD: 4.5 of 5 MacGuffins

It was interesting to discover that the soundtrack has been given an upgrade here as Universal offers fans a DTS X Master Audio mix instead of the lossless 5.1 presentation that graced the 2014 Blu-ray edition of this film. The differences are especially evident in Bernard Herrmann’s terrific score, and one must admit that the differences are quite welcome. It is certainly an immersive mix that seems to have been created with loving care as each element is well prioritized.

BLU-RAY: 4.5 of 5 MacGuffins

Their 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is also a winner on every level. This track was certainly the highlight of Universals Blu-ray catalogue of Hitchcock films. This mix was rather controversial upon the release of the film’s wonderful restoration in 1996. Robert A. Harris and James C. Katz were forced to redo much of the soundtrack (based upon Alfred Hitchcock’s meticulous notes). Purists were quite upset, but this is a marvelous job. Purists should be pleased to find that Universal has also included the film’s original mono track. The complaint here might be that it is not lossless. I suppose that one cannot have everything. It is certainly wonderful to see it included here in some form.

Special Features:

4 of 5 MacGuffins

If Universal had included the wonderful restoration commentary with Robert A. Harris and James C. Katz, this would be a near-perfect collection of supplements.

Feature Length Commentary by William Friedkin

One would probably rather have the Robert A. Harris and James C. Katz commentary included on the disc instead of this one. The track included various Vertigo participants (including Samuel Taylor) and was quite interesting. Friedkin offers an interesting enough track, but it is mostly a blow-by-blow of what is happening onscreen. One wonders why they asked him to provide a track for the film in the first place. He has made a few wonderful films, but he isn’t an expert on Vertigo. This reviewer would have preferred a commentary by Dan Auiler (who quite literally wrote the book on the subject).

Obsessed with Vertigo: New Life for Alfred Hitchcock’s Masterpiece – (29:19)

This ‘original’ American Movie Classic documentary (produced when AMC actually aired classic movies) is narrated by Roddy McDowall and features a number of interviews with Vertigo participants (including Kim Novak, Barbara Bel Geddes, Herbert Coleman, and Patricia Hitchcock, and others). A significant portion of the documentary is dedicated to the wonderful 1996 restoration. Robert A. Harris and James C. Katz discuss (in reasonably comprehensive detail) what was involved in restoring this great classic.

It is a wonderful documentary that is somewhat different to the documentaries on most of Universal’s Hitchcock releases (which were directed by Laurent Bouzereau). Some of the other documentaries were slightly more comprehensive while others weren’t. It is very nice to see this documentary included here. It is one of the two best supplements on this disc.

Partners in Crime: Hitchcock’s Collaborators – (54:49)

This documentary has four chapters:

Saul Bass: Title Champ

Edith Head: Dressing the Master’s Movies

Bernard Herrmann: Hitchcock’s Maestro

Alma: The Master’s Muse

Each of these chapters is informative and entertaining, and they are all likely to increase the viewer’s appreciation of Vertigo and the rest of Hitchcock’s filmography.

Foreign Censorship Ending – (02:09)

This ending that was tagged on to the film for its foreign release and was probably never intended to be the film’s proper ending (though it was included in the shooting script). It is incredibly interesting and one of the most welcome additions to the disc.

Excerpts from François Truffaut’s Interview with Alfred Hitchcock – (14:17)

It is unacceptable at this point not to include pertinent excerpts from Hitchcock’s legendary book length interview with François Truffaut. It is always a treat to hear Hitchcock discuss his films, and this portion of their interview isn’t an exception.

100 Years of Universal Lew Wasserman Era – (09:00)

This featurette about Universal Studios during Lew Wasserman’s reign is an appropriate extra for a Hitchcock film (and even includes a clip of Alfred Hitchcock promoting the Universal tour). It certainly isn’t the best supplement here, but it is entertaining and informative enough to earn its place in this collection of supplements.

Original Theatrical Trailer – (02:30)

This ‘original’ theatrical trailer was created with the intention of making the audience understand the meaning of the film’s title while also exploiting the more sensational aspects of the film. It is an interesting artifact and fans should be grateful to have it included here.

Restoration Theatrical Trailer – (01:23)

The 1996 restoration re-release trailer marks an important moment in the film’s history as few classic films are given such a well-publicized re-release (or such a meticulous and painstaking restoration).

The Vertigo Archives

The Vertigo Archives is essentially am extensive photo gallery that includes production photographs, stills, posters, advertisements, and production design drawings. Many of these are quite interesting.

Psycho

Picture Quality:

4K UHD: 4.5 of 5 MacGuffins

The original 2010 Blu-ray transfer of Psycho (and all of Universal’s subsequent Blu-ray releases up until now) included a transfer that has been criticized for being an overly processed representation of the film. There was an obvious overuse of DNR applied to the image in an effort to “manage” the film’s grain, contrast was pushed a bit too far, and it appears that artificial digital sharpening had also been applied. Having said this, the film still managed to look outstanding.

It is wonderful to report that this new transfer corrects those issues and looks considerably more filmic. In fact, any issues that one might find with this particular transfer seem to represent the source. The improvements here go beyond the perimeters of the added resolution that this format allows. Revelatory improvements in fine detail are certainly evident, gradients see a significant if subtle improvement due to the HDR capabilities of the format, textures aren’t as waxy here, blacks are healthier here (it appears that the 2010 transfer had been brightened to “enhance” the image), and clarity is also greatly improved. Universal’s impeccable encoding has ensured that fans can enjoy this remarkable new upgrade without ant distracting artifacts, although sensitive viewers man notice some aliasing during certain scenes. Age related film damage is also occasionally evident but never blatant or distracting.

The “uncut” theatrical version and the re-release cut of the film are seamlessly branched, so there isn’t any different in the quality of the two included versions if the film.

BLU-RAY: 4.5 of 5 MacGuffins

This disc includes a 1080p transfer of the same master used for the 4K UHD disc, so much of what was written about that disc also applies to this one. However, we might add that some fans may fault this disc for not being as sharp as the earlier Blu-ray release, but it is worth repeating that the reason for this is that it hasn’t been artificially sharpened and the contrast hasn’t been pushed nearly as far here. This is a much more organic representation of the film’s source.

Sound Quality:

4K UHD: 4 of 5 MacGuffins

Psycho has been given yet another soundtrack upgrade for this release, but the DTS X transfer isn’t an overwhelming overhaul of the 5.1 TrueHD mix that appeared on the original Blu-ray edition. Bernard Herrmann’s iconic score is allowed to really come to life here, and the mix is truly immersive when his music takes the stage. Other elements are also nicely handled, and this extends to the sounds that breathe life into the quieter moments of the famous shower sequence. Dialogue is always clear and well prioritized throughout the film, so there won’t be any complaints regarding this particular element.

Unfortunately, we feel that Universal has erroneously touted that the disc includes the film’s original mono mix in the DTS Digital Audio format. We were initially disappointed that this track wasn’t included in lossless form, but it wouldn’t have mattered anyway since the track isn’t even the film’s original mono but the DTS X track folded down into a mono track.

I’ll admit that the surround mix isn’t a bad one, but it isn’t perfectly faithful to the original soundtrack either. New sounds have been added to the mix, and this might have been more acceptable if it was offered as an option in addition to the original mix in high definition.

BLU-RAY: 4 of 5 MacGuffins

The included Blu-ray features the same DTS X audio and a 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio reworking of that mix. Our above review applies to this disc as well, but the fake mono option isn’t included here.

Special Features:

4.5 of 5 MacGuffins

Universal has included all of the excellent supplements that graced their earlier Blu-ray releases of Psycho. Some might complain that the disc lacks any new supplements, and we will agree that a commentary or featurette about the original theatrical cut would have added value and interest to this important release. However, this is still an incredibly rich supplemental package.

Audio Commentary with Stephen Rebello

Stephen Rebello is known for writing the book, “Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho.” His commentary is informative and focuses on the film’s production. He manages to relay a wealth of information in an engaging and entertaining manner. There is a lot to love about this commentary.

Alfred Hitchcock Master had a brief exchange with Rebello about this particular release, and he seemed slightly disappointed that Universal didn’t commission a new track that addresses the “uncut” theatrical version of Psycho:

“I spoke at length with Universal reps when they contacted me several times about the original print version of Psycho. They’re recycling my old recorded commentary on the new 4K (when they should have asked me to do a new recording specifically on the hows-and-whys of the original version and subsequent cuts).”Stephen Rebello

The Making of Psycho– (01:34:06)

Laurent Bouzereau’s documentary is probably one of the most comprehensive and well-made documentaries on the making of a single Hitchcock film that I have ever seen. It covers every aspect of production in great detail. It might have been better if archival footage of Alfred Hitchcock, Anthony Perkins, and Vera Miles were included. I know that relevant footage is available. Oddly, the documentary is so enthralling that the absence of these key contributors goes unnoticed until it is over. They are certainly discussed at great length. The documentary is far from a mere fluff piece. It is the best supplemental feature in this package.

Newsreel Footage: The Release of ‘Psycho– (07:45)

This is a vintage promotional newsreel revealing Hitchcock’s unique policies surrounding the film’s release. It is surprisingly entertaining. Hitchcock fans will love it.

In the Master’s Shadow – Hitchcock’s Legacy – (25:27)

Contemporary filmmakers discuss Hitchcock’s influence and why his movies continue to thrill audiences. This is actually much better than it sounds because we see clips from contemporary films that illustrate the director’s profound influence on contemporary cinema.

Psycho Sound – (09:58)

This brief featurette is new to the Blu-ray disc and looks at the re-mastering process used to create a surround mix from the original mono elements. It is interesting but this is of less interest than the supplements about the film’s production. It is also worth noting that it is not discussing the mix that is included on this disc.

Theatrical Trailer – (06:36)

Theatrical trailers are rarely this entertaining. Instead of featuring footage from the actual film, Alfred Hitchcock gives a fabulously witty tour of the iconic set. He cryptically teases the audience with plot details but reveals only enough information to make the audience curious. It is really quite delightful.

Re-Release Trailers – (01:51)

These re-release trailers are less interesting than the original theatrical trailer, but they are certainly worth seeing.

The Shower Scene (with and without music) – (02:31)

This feature gives viewers the opportunity to view the famous shower scene with and without Bernard Herrmann’s iconic score. It is actually surprising how differently the scene plays. It actually works quite well without music, but the effect is completely different. The scene is less startling and more devastating without the music. The sounds of the knife tearing through flesh combine with the Marion’s screams and whimpers to make the moment more intimate and tragic when they are played against silence. The horror becomes more personal. There is no doubt that the score contributed to the scene’s success, but for reasons that I would have never guessed. One understands Hitchcock’s reasoning for suggesting that the scene not have music. I realize that this isn’t the line that critics and scholars have sold us. Other people will probably have different reactions than mine, but this supplement will remain interesting for almost everyone.

Excerpts from François Truffaut’s Interview with Alfred Hitchcock (15:21)

These interview clips may sound familiar to those who have read Truffaut’s book length interview with Hitchcock, but these excerpts remain interesting regardless. The audio clips are presented over clips from the film, which increases one’s enjoyment.

The Psycho Archives:

This is merely a collection of photo galleries related to the production and marketing of Psycho. The way that it is listed on the disc is rather misleading as it implies that this is a separate feature.

The Shower Scene Storyboards

Posters & Psycho Ads

Lobby Cards

Behind-The-Scenes Photographs

It is worth mentioning that all of these images are presented in standard definition.

The Birds

Picture Quality:

4K UHD: 4 of 5 MacGuffins

This was always going to be the weakest image transfer in this set. The Birds has always been a troublesome title to judge in terms of picture quality. The source materials are inevitably marred to some extent by the special effects. Some shots are naturally second, third, and even fourth generation images. Hedren’s close-ups are filtered so that they present her in the best possible light (a practice that was not at all uncommon in those days). Obviously, these images will not be as immaculate as one expects from most 4K UHD transfers. One really shouldn’t hold this against the transfer as it does offer an obvious upgrade. We see that the HDR has resulted in better color intensity and clarity. Depth sees a notable improvement over the Blu-ray. The image is noticeably more textured, and the film’s natural layer of grain is well managed here.

BLU-RAY: 3 of 5 MacGuffins

Here we have another repurposed 2014 Blu-ray disc, and the transfer is marred by the same production realities that held the new 4K UHD transfer back. The image is a bit softer than one expects in high definition due to the production photography. Colors seem to be accurately rendered, and black levels are often deep and lovely. Some shots do exhibit a bit of unattractive noise, but these incidents do not represent the presentation in its entirety. There has also been a bit of digital tampering, and there is an occasional artifact. This is never distracting, but it is somewhat unfortunate. This transfer might not be great, but it is certainly a vast improvement over previous DVD editions.

Sound Quality:

4K UHD: 4.5 of 5 MacGuffins

Universal also recycles their old 2.0 Mono DTS-HD Master Audio that featured on the 2014 Blu-ray, but that mix was always a solid representation of the film’s original sound mix. Alfred Hitchcock’s soundtrack for The Birds was designed with meticulous care, and it is especially important to represent that original mix. All elements are well prioritized, dialogue is intelligible, and bird effects are full and have an aggression that one might expect in a more recent film (even if they aren’t presented in a contemporary surround mix).

BLU-RAY: 4.5 of 5 MacGuffins

The Blu-ray disc utilizes the same DTS-HD Master Audio that is featured on the 4K UHD disc.

Special Features:

5 of 5 MacGuffins

All About The Birds – (01:19:49)

Laurent Bouzereau’s feature-length documentary about the making of The Birds is incredibly comprehensive. It covers every aspect of production in explicit detail. Patricia Hitchcock, ‘Tippi’ Hedren, Rod Taylor, Veronica Cartwright, Evan Hunter, Ray Berwick, Robert Boyle, Hilton Green, Syd Dutton, Bill Taylor, Harold Michelson, Howard Smit, Steven C. Smith, and Robin Wood all share memories and provide their expertise about the film. The viewer will also hear Alfred Hitchcock discuss the film’s ending with Peter Bogdanovich. This documentary is second only to Bouzereau’s similar program about Psycho (and it is a very close second).

The Birds: Hitchcock’s Monster Movie – (14:23)

This featurette is exclusive to the Blu-ray of The Birds, and is essentially an analysis of the film’s place in Hitchcock’s oeuvre. The piece makes the argument that The Birds is the master’s “monster movie.” It is nice to have it included here, but it isn’t one of the discs better supplements.

‘Tippi’ Hedren’s Screen Test – (09:57)

This footage from ‘Tippi’ Hedren’s screen test (featuring Martin Balsam) is an absolute gem. Alfred Hitchcock fans should find this footage to be absolutely essential and will be thrilled to have it in their collection.

Suspense Story: National Press Club Hears Hitchcock (Universal International Newsreel) – (01:54)

This newsreel includes a humorous speech that Alfred Hitchcock gave for the National Press Club. It is both interesting and enjoyable.

The Birds is Coming (Universal International Newsreel) – (01:17)

This newsreel features footage that highlights pigeon races that publicized The Birds. Alfred Hitchcock and ‘Tippi’ Hedren witness the event.

Excerpts from François Truffaut’s Interview with Alfred Hitchcock – (13:58)

These excerpts from Truffaut’s famous interview with Hitchcock allow fans to hear the director discuss The Birds.

100 Years of Universal: Restoring the Classics – (09:13)

This featurette is essentially a commercial for the Universal catalog and discusses the restoration of a few Universal titles (including The Birds). The few nuggets of information that are related to the viewer concern the restoration process.

100 Years of Universal: The Lot – (HD) – (09:26)

This featurette is essentially a fluff piece about the Universal lot, but it does include a few brief moments of interesting footage.

Theatrical Trailer – (05:11)

The theatrical trailer for The Birds is an incredibly creative promotional film featuring Alfred Hitchcock addressing the viewer about the history of man’s relationship with the birds. It is of course done with his tongue planted firmly in his cheek. It is truly excellent, and this disc would be incomplete without it.

Deleted Scene

This deleted scene featuring Melanie and Mitch was shot but no longer exists (at least not to anyone’s current knowledge). Therefore, the scene is presented as a sort of slide show with excerpts from the script and images from the scene.

 Original Ending

Since the original ending was never shot, we are given a slide show presentation of script pages and conceptual sketches that illustrate what the ending would have been like.

Storyboards

Audiences are given a slide show comparing various storyboards with images from the film.

Production Photographs

Another slide show of production photos, stills, advertisements, posters, and other images is also included.

Final Words:

The Alfred Hitchcock Classics Collection includes four of the director’s most beloved titles on the 4K UHD format, and the set would receive an enthusiastic recommendation if it were not for the problematic packaging. Fans who can stand the suspense may wish to wait for these films to be released individually, but some will want to check out these excellent new transfers as soon as possible.

Rear Window: In the Heat of the Night

Exclusive Guest Article

By: Robert Jones

This article is the first in a series of four guest articles to appear on this page in celebration of Universal’s release ofThe Alfred Hitchcock Classics Collection.’

 “How do you know what the world is like? Do you know the world is a foul sty? Do you know, if you rip off the fronts of houses, you’d find swine?” —Uncle Charlie Oakley (Shadow of a Doubt, 1943)

In what is arguably the grimmest character portrayal in any Alfred Hitchcock film, Joseph Cotten gives voice to the darkest worldview of any of the director’s legendary villains. In Shadow, con man Uncle Charlie’s darkness is alien to the sunny outlook of his extended family in Santa Rosa, California. But, in his 1954 Paramount release Rear Window, the audience gets to witness Uncle Charlie’s malignant philosophy as legendary director Alfred Hitchcock rips open the backs of a block of apartments in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village.

Hitchcock personally regarded Shadow of a Doubt as his best film, a view he maintained even after he produced and directed what is widely regarded as the triad of his greatest films: Vertigo (1958), North by Northwest (1959), and Psycho (1960). This is quite telling: Hitch called his method of moviemaking “subjective.” From the construction of his screenplays, to the camerawork and editing that tell the movie’s story from the points-of-view of the characters that people his films, to the audience identifying with their heroes, heroines, and heavies, Hitchcock conjured films that were deeply personal.

Rear Window is Alfred Hitchcock’s ultimate projection of this philosophy of filmmaking. The movie’s theme is confinement. This is the third time Hitchcock explored this theme, by putting all the action in a single setting. His first experiment with single-set motion pictures, Lifeboat (1944), takes place in a rescue vessel as its eight occupants try to survive being stranded at sea. It was filmed in a tank built on a 20th Century Fox soundstage.

Hitch’s next entry in this genre he helped to create, Rope (1948), took place in an elaborate Manhattan penthouse apartment set, from which we can see New York City’s majestic skyline; the entire movie was filmed in a “single take,” that is, in eight sequential takes of ten minutes apiece, that flowed one to the next. Rope was Hitchcock’s most ambitious project to date, although it did poorly at the box office.

With Rear Window, however, Hitchcock ratcheted the ambition to eleven: A set of thirty-one apartments (a dozen of which were fully furnished) was built on one of Paramount’s sound stages. The floorboards were removed in sections to extend the set’s courtyard down into what had been the basement.

Motion pictures employ the art of illusion-making, and Rear Window is no exception. What you see is not what you see, but what you think you see. When I attended film school at Manhattan’s Hunter College, one of my professors mentioned how adventurous movie buffs would find their way to 125 West 9th Street, only to eventually find out that not a single second of footage was ever shot in New York! (However, Hitchcock’s insistence on verisimilitude can still be found in the rear window courtyard found at 125 Christopher Street, which was the source inspiration for Rear Window.)

The movie’s titles open up in a dolly-forward shot before cutting to a long panning shot of the self-encased courtyard, apartment buildings, and their denizens. After panning across the backyard flats of a Greenwich Village neighborhood, the camera returns home to find the movie’s protagonist, photojournalist L.B. Jefferies (James Stewart appearing in his second Hitchcock film). Hitchcock is giving us Jefferies’s backstory in a masterpiece of mise-en-scène and exposition. In one traveling pan, Hitch and cinematographer Robert Burks let the reader intuit what they need to know about Jefferies, to set up the movie’s premise:

  1. Stewart is asleep, sweat beading on his brow, in a wheelchair.
  2. He’s wearing a full leg cast that reads, “Here lie the broken bones of L.B. Jefferies.”
  3. A thermometer at an open window reads ninety-four degrees Fahrenheit. (These were in the days before most people had home air conditioning.)
  4. Next, the camera stops at a smashed up press camera, then resumes its motion.
  5. A photograph on the wall shows two race cars colliding, with a dislodged wheel flying right at you.
  6. An assortment of framed photographs, cameras, press plates, and a stack of magazines.

In forty-two seconds, Hitchcock has given us everything we need to know about who L.B. Jefferies is, what he does for a living, and how he got in this predicament. It would have taken a more conventional director of the same era at least ten minutes to explain all this through dialogue—and even then, the tale would have come off as so far-fetched and convoluted as to defy belief.

The story of Rear Window is quite simple: Jefferies (known to friends and co-workers as “Jeff”), confined to a wheelchair in a cramped Manhattan apartment, whiles away his time by observing the daily dramas of a cast of colorful characters out his back window. Jeff doesn’t even know his neighbors who populate the stage of apartment windows, doorways, and fire escapes of their own daily dramas. The characters all are named by their physical features or occupations: “Miss Torso,” the ballet dancer (Georgine Darcy), “Miss. Hearing Aid,” the over the hill sculptress (Jesslyn Fax), “The Songwriter,” constantly composing at his piano (Ross Bagdasarian), “The Newlywed Couple,” who just moved into a small apartment next to Jeff (Rand Harper and Havis Davenport), “Miss Lonelyhearts,” the frustrated middle-aged single (Judith Evelyn), and “The Childless Couple” who sleep with their dog on the fire escape to escape the heat (Sara Berner and Frank Cady). And, so on.

When I introduced my kids to Alfred Hitchcock’s movies, I chose Rear Window. Everything is so elemental, even more than a stage play. It’s as though each apartment Jimmy Stewart is peering at through his window is a comic strip panel, where stories unfold, step-by-step. Hitch and screenwriter John Michael Hayes give starkly definable roles and tasks to their inhabitants. Their behaviors, with their ups and downs, follow predictable routines. They become stand-ins for how Hitchcock casts his pictures, as Stewart stands in for Hitchcock, a giant master of puppets with a doll’s house view of his Lilliputian neighbors.

While the world outside Jeff’s window is two-dimensional, inside, not so much. Everyone who enters complicates his life, from his editor (the voice of Gig Young, via telephone), the insurance company nurse, Stella (the irascible, wisecracking Thelma Ritter), and his fashion model girlfriend, Lisa (played with a spring in her step and a lilt in her voice by a young Grace Kelly) all come and parry with the temporary inconvenienced invalid.

Jeff is cranky, bristling to everyone he speaks—often contradicting himself. He tries to one-up everyone. “Oh, stop sounding stuffy!” to editor who wants him to stay put and heal. To the working class Stella, he switches gears and comes off as stuffy to Ritter’s bluntness, in riposte to her story about how she predicted the 1929 stock market crash: “Uh, Stella, in economics, a kidney ailment has no relationship to the stock market. None, whatsoever.” He’s contentious with Lisa, who wants to turn him into a corporate man, desperately trying to domesticate him and shed his Jeep and pith helmet world traveler life, in exchange for a buttoned-down corporate persona. He’s become a man uncomfortable in his own skin, because his skin is encased in a “plaster cocoon.”

And, every day and night, he peers out the window, and slowly realizes how powerless he really is on the stage of his own recurring dramas. Until, on yet another sweltering night, there is a change. The drabbest of his neighbors, a costume jewelry salesman across the way, becomes the object of his focus: Jeff hears a woman’s scream in the dark, and suddenly becomes curious about the seeming disappearance of the salesman’s wife.

Raymond Burr’s portrayal of door-to-door salesman, Lars Thorwald, is a study in the evil of banality. He lays bare the ugly truth of Uncle Charlie’s dictum of ripping the fronts off houses and finding porcine inhabitants. But, unlike Charlie’s lady-killing charmer, Thorwald is uninspired, humorless, and drab—there is nothing dashing or cunning about him. Jeff nonetheless becomes obsessed with him, spying on him with binoculars and a telephoto lens mounted on his SLR camera. Stewart wields the camera like an M-1 carbine, lining up Thorwald in his sights.

He finds himself in his element again, and convinces Lisa that something sinister is afoot. Enter Jeff’s Army buddy and now police detective Lt. Tom Doyle (Wendell Corey), who has a rational explanation to explain everything Jeff has witnessed:

Doyle: You didn’t see the killing or the body. How do you know there was a murder?

Jeff: Because everything this fellow’s done has been suspicious. Trips at night in the rain. Knives, saws, trunks with rope, and now a wife that isn’t there anymore.

Doyle: I admit it does have a mysterious sound. But it could be any number of things for the wife disappearing. Murder is the least likely.

Could Jeff be mistaken? Is he letting his imagination get the better of him, as Joan Fontaine did in Suspicion (1941)? In the most subtle use of subjective storytelling, Jeff’s asleep in his wheelchair while missing the most crucial piece of evidence in his murder theory: Lars Thorwald leaves his apartment with a woman who’s obviously his wife, en route to the train station. By disclosing to the viewer what he’s pointedly failed to reveal to Jeff, Hitchcock always leaves the viewer thinking, and staying one step ahead of the picture’s hero. The director’s conceit pays off big-time by movie’s end.

In trying to relate his disappointment over Lisa, Stewart confides to Stella, “She’s too perfect, she’s too talented, she’s too beautiful, she’s too sophisticated, she’s too everything but what I want.” When we first see Grace Kelly, she’s exquisitely tailored in an “A steal at $1,100!” ($11,000 in today’s money) imported silk Italian dress, right off the modeling runway.

Lisa and Jeff are constantly at loggerheads. She wants to turn him into Gregory Peck in The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, and he wants to make a homebody and travel companion of her. And, over the course of the motion picture, Kelly’s wardrobe gradually becomes plainer and less extravagant: by movie’s end, she’s wearing floral print house dresses, and simple red cotton blouses and blue jeans. Expertly tailored, of course, but much more accessible to the audience’s expectations of 1950s middle class womanhood.

In other words, without a word uttered, Grace Kelly transformed herself from Madeleine into Judy!

Rear Window is a tour de force of filmmaking. In the sixty-six years since its release, it has been one of Hitchcock’s most beloved motion pictures. Yet, a schism still exists between its partisans, and those who prefer Vertigo, which was voted atop Sight and Sound’s poll in 2012.

Most of Alfred Hitchcock’s output is constantly judged against his ultimate triad of masterpieces: Vertigo (1958), North by Northwest (1959), and Psycho (1960). He set such a high standard, his “lesser” films are constantly found wanting when juxtaposed with these three iconic movies. I can’t even count how many times otherwise objective critics and movie historians have complained that solid movies like Family Plot (his last picture, in 1976), The Wrong Man (1956), and Secret Agent (1936) fall far short of the standard Hitchcock set with Vertigo. I think they’re missing the point: only Vertigo is Vertigo; finding Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony falling far short of his Ninth Symphony is missing the point entirely. A great work of art must first be judged on its own standards.

For those armchair critics who find Rear Window lacking in subtlety of visual sophistication, I submit it is upon Rear Window’s shoulders which Alfred Hitchcock’s later masterpieces stand.

* * *

Robert Jones is a former Army photojournalist and the author and photographer of Hitchcock’s California: Vista Visions from the Camera Eye (along with Dan Auiler and Aimee Sinclair). The book is currently available for purchase at amazon.com.

Blu-ray Review: The House of Hitchcock – Limited Edition Collection

HOHC - Blu-ray Set.jpg

Distributor: Universal Studios

Release Date: October 01, 2019

Region: Region A

Notes: These films are also available individually with standard Blu-ray packaging, as part of The Masterpiece Collection, and as part of The Ultimate Collection.

Banner.jpg

Universal owns the rights to more Alfred Hitchcock titles than any other studio, and they certainly milk these properties for every penny that they are able to squeeze out of his admirers. However, one really shouldn’t complain since this gives fans an opportunity to own these films with plenty of choice as to how these discs are packaged. Each of the films available in this collection have been available on Blu-ray for quite some time (as individually packaged titles, as a part of The Masterpiece Collection, and as part of The Ultimate Collection), and these image and sound transfers are the same ones utilized for those earlier releases. What’s more, these discs include the same supplemental material. Interested parties can read more detailed information about each of the discs included in this set by clicking on the links below:

Saboteur

Shadow of a Doubt

Rope

Rear Window

The Trouble with Harry

The Man Who Knew Too Much

Vertigo

North by Northwest

Psycho

The Birds

Marnie

Torn Curtain

Topaz

Frenzy

Family Plot

The House of Hitchcock also includes the two standard definition DVDs that focus on Hitchcock’s television work that originally appeared in The Ultimate Collection:

The Best of ‘Alfred Hitchcock Presents

This new disc showcases a single Alfred Hitchcock directed episode from all seven seasons of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. The following episodes are included:

Revenge (Season 1, Episode 1)

The series premiere of Alfred Hitchcock Presents is one of the show’s best episodes. It first aired on October 02, 1955 and starred Vera Miles and Ralph Meeker. Those who admire The Andy Griffith Show will also notice Frances Bavier in a supporting role. The story by Samuel Blas follows Carl and Elsa Spann, a newlywed couple just starting their life. Elsa has recently suffered a nervous breakdown but seems to be on her way to recovery. Unfortunately, Carl returns home from work one evening to find that his wife has been attacked. When the police prove to be unhelpful, Carl decides to get justice on his own.

Vera Miles gives a great performance here—a performance that looks forward to her portrayal of Rose Balestrero in Alfred Hitchcock’s under-appreciated docudrama, The Wrong Man.

Mr. Blanchard’s Secret (Season 2, Episode 13)

Mr. Blanchard’s Secret pales in comparison. The episode first aired on December 23, 1956 and starred Mary Scott, Robert Horton, Dayton Lummis, and Meg Mundy. The story by Emily Neff revisits some of the themes better explored in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window. Babs Fenton, a housewife with an overactive imagination who fancies herself a writer, believes that Mr. Blanchard has murdered his wife. However, her suspicions are called into serious question when Mrs. Blanchard shows up at their door looking to be very much alive. Babs alters her theory as to the reason behind Mr. Blanchard’s suspicious behavior only to be proven wrong once again.

Lamb to the Slaughter (Season 3, Episode 28)

Lamb to the Slaughter is rightly mentioned amongst the series best episodes. It aired on April 13, 1958 and stars Barbara Bel Geddes (who portrayed Midge in Vertigo that same year). The story by Roald Dahl follows a devoted housewife named Mary Maloney who decides to kill her cheating husband with a frozen leg of lamb rather than let him leave her. What follows is classic Hitchcock.

Poison (Season 4, Episode 1)

Poison—which was based upon another tale by Dahl—first aired on October 05, 1958 and stars Hitchcock alumnus Wendell Corey and James Donald. Harry Pope (Donald) wakes up with a poisonous snake in his bed. Worse, it finds a comfortable place to rest right on his chest. The entire episode is devoted to solving this tense predicament.

Arthur (Season 5, Episode 1)

Arthur first aired on September 27, 1959 and stars Laurence Harvey in the title role. Unusually for an Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode, the story begins with Arthur standing amongst a large number of chickens as he addresses the audience directly. After this opening monologue, we flash back in time as he tells the viewer how he killed his gold-digging girlfriend and was able to get away with it. The story itself is rather amusing, but the framing device at the beginning and end doesn’t work very well (possibly because there is already an introduction and epilogue performed by Hitchcock).

Mrs. Bixby and the Colonel’s Coat (Season 6, Episode 1)

Mrs. Bixby and the Colonel’s Coat is more benign than many episodes, but it has a very similar sense of irony. It originally aired on September 27, 1960 and stars Audrey Meadows, Les Tremayne, and Stephen Chase. The story by Roald Dahl follows Mrs. Bixby as she visits her secret lover “the Colonel,” who ends their affair but offers her a mink coat as a parting gift. She isn’t sure how to explain the coat to her husband, so she pawns the item without putting a description on the ticket. She then tells her husband that she has found the ticket and instructs him to turn it in for the pawned item. Obviously, things aren’t going to work out in quite the way that she expects.

Bang! You’re Dead! (Season 7, Episode 2)

Bang! You’re Dead! originally aired on October 17, 1961 and is the final episode that Alfred Hitchcock directed for the original half-hour series. It was based on a story by Margery Vosper and stars Billy Mumy as a young Jackie Chester—a spoiled six-year-old who mistakes a loaded gun for a gift from his uncle. The child then proceeds to pretend he is an outlaw and points it at the random people he meets throughout the day. It is only a matter of time before he actually pulls the trigger. Meanwhile, his family has discovered the mistake and tries frantically to locate him. Hitchcock’s gift for building suspense is evident throughout the duration.

Special Features:

This disc also includes a single special feature entitled Alfred Hitchcock Presents: A Look Back. Gary Leva’s 15 minute featurette is far from a comprehensive examination of the series, but the retrospective interviews with Norman Lloyd, Hilton A. Green, and Patricia Hitchcock do reveal some general information about how the show was produced and those responsible for its success.

The Best of ‘The Alfred Hitchcock Hour

The second new disc showcases a single episode from all three seasons of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. Unlike the first disc, only the first of these episodes is actually directed by Alfred Hitchcock since he only directed a single episode of this series. The following episodes are included:

I Saw the Whole Thing (Season 1, Episode 4)

I Saw the Whole Thing is the only episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour that was actually directed by Alfred Hitchcock. It originally aired on October 11, 1962 and is based on a short story by Henry Cecil. Hitchcock alumnus John Forsythe portrays Michael Barnes in this Rashomon-like courtroom drama with an interesting twist. Barnes has been accused of causing a fatal car accident, but he insists that he is completely innocent and acts as his own attorney at his trial. In court, he proves that the various eyewitnesses called by the prosecution are unreliable.

Three Wives Too Many (Season 2, Episode 12)

Three Wives Too Many was directed by Joseph M. Newman and was based on a short story by Kenneth Fearing. It aired on January 03, 1964 and stars Hitchcock alumnus Teresa Wright, Linda Lawson, Jean Hale, and Dan Duryea. The story follows a bigamist who is suspected of murdering his various wives.

Death Scene (Season 3, Episode 20)

Death Scene was directed by Harvey Hart and was based on a story by Helen Nielsen. The episode aired on March 08, 1965 and features Hitchcock alumnus Vera Miles as Nicky Revere, the daughter of a movie director named Gavin Revere (John Carradine). It is best that viewers see this particular episode knowing as little as is possible about the actual story, but it is certainly one of the most memorable of the hour-long episodes.

Special Features:

This disc includes a single featurette entitled Fasten Your Seatbelt: The Thrilling Art of Alfred Hitchcock. This six minute fluff piece includes interviews with Martin Scorsese, Guillermo del Toro, William Friedkin, John Carpenter, Eli Roth, and Joe Carnahan, but none of these filmmakers say anything particularly enlightening. It is almost like an EPK created to sell the idea of Hitchcock’s brilliance without ever revealing anything that isn’t immediately obvious.

Promotional photograph for 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents' from 1955. .jpg

This photograph was used to promote ‘Alfred Hitchcock Presents‘ in 1955.

It’s nice to have both of these new standard definition discs included here, but it is impossible not to wonder why Universal didn’t choose to release discs with each of the seventeen Hitchcock-directed episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and his single episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour instead. Such a collection would have been a much more appropriate and satisfying addition to the package. What’s more, this approach would’ve only required one more disc (three instead of the two). Actually, it is ridiculous that Universal hasn’t already released these episodes together in a single collection.

In addition, one cannot help but lament some of the choices made by Universal as to which episodes to include. Some of these episodes are inferior to other Hitchcock-directed episodes from that respective season. For example, season two’s One More Mile to Go is vastly superior to Mr. Blanchard’s Secret. In fact, it is one of the best of the entire series. Of course, this particular issue wouldn’t be a problem if all of the Hitchcock directed episodes had been included.

The Presentation:

4.5 of 5 MacGuffins

HOH Contents

Universal’s ‘The House of Hitchcock’ packaging is a significant improvement over their previous Blu-ray sets. Both of those releases offered book-style packaging. This means that the various discs were housed in folder-like sleeves, and this particular approach leaves discs vulnerable to scratching and other types of damage. Since disc protection should always be a priority, it is nice to see that this collection protects the discs in actual cases. Unfortunately, three or four discs are housed together in only four cases instead of giving each film its own case and artwork. Those who believe that this is a space-saving technique are naïve. This keeps production costs down for Universal, and gives the consumer significantly less bang for the buck. Luckily, they do a fairly good job on the multi-film artwork.

A small book is also included. Those who have purchased one of the earlier sets will know exactly what to expect here. It adds quite a bit of value to the package even if there isn’t much in the way of information here (and some of it borders on being erroneous). It’s really just a fun bit of swag… and swag is what this release contains that the earlier two releases didn’t. There are fifteen art cards that feature the one sheet designs for each of the films included in the set. There are set blueprints for the infamous Psycho house, replicas of letters and memos, stationery with ‘Bates Motel’ printed on it (in case you want to make your friends back home feel envious), and a Psycho-themed “Please, Do Not Disturb” sign.

The theme and design of the package is a bit kitschy, and it is slightly bothersome that it is so Psycho-centric since there are fifteen films included here (and only one of those films is Psycho).

HOHC - Back Information.jpg

Final Words:

The House of Hitchcock obviously contains a wealth of essential Hitchcock classics, but the discs included here are the same ones that have been available for quite some time. Those who already own these films on Blu-ray (either individually or as part of The Masterpiece Collection or The Ultimate Collection) can save their pennies.

Those who own The Ultimate Collection will already have the two ‘Alfred Hitchcock Presents’ and ‘The Alfred Hitchcock Hour’ discs, and those who only own the films individually or as part of The Masterpiece Collection probably won’t feel that these two discs are worth the price of the set (especially considering the fact that they are in standard definition). What’s more, the swag contained in this new release can be filed under “less than meets the eye.” They certainly don’t warrant an upgrade on their own.

Review by: Devon Powell

Blu-ray Review: Alfred Hitchcock – The Ultimate Collection

Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Universal Studios

Release Date: October 17, 2017

Region: Region A

Notes: These films are also available individually with standard Blu-ray packaging and as a part of The Masterpiece Collection.

Universal owns the rights to more Alfred Hitchcock titles than any other studio, and they certainly milk these properties for every penny that they are able to squeeze out of his admirers. However, one really shouldn’t complain since this gives fans an opportunity to own these films with plenty of choice as to how the discs are packaged. Each of the films available in this collection have been available on Blu-ray for quite some time (both as individually packaged titles and as a part of The Masterpiece Collection), and these image and sound transfers are the same ones utilized for those earlier releases. What’s more, these discs include the same supplemental material. Interested parties can read more detailed information about each of the discs included in this set by clicking on the individual links below:

Saboteur

Shadow of a Doubt

Rope

Rear Window

The Trouble with Harry

The Man Who Knew Too Much

Vertigo

North by Northwest

Psycho

The Birds

Marnie

Torn Curtain

Topaz

Frenzy

Family Plot

What really sets this release apart from the previous releases is that it includes two new standard definition DVDs that focus on his television work:

The Best of ‘Alfred Hitchcock Presents’

This new disc showcases a single Alfred Hitchcock directed episode from all seven seasons of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. The following episodes are included:

Revenge (Season 1, Episode 1)

The series premiere of Alfred Hitchcock Presents is one of the show’s best episodes. It first aired on October 02, 1955 and starred Vera Miles and Ralph Meeker. Those who admire The Andy Griffith Show will also notice Frances Bavier in a supporting role. The story by Samuel Blas follows Carl and Elsa Spann, a newlywed couple just starting their life. Elsa has recently suffered a nervous breakdown but seems to be on her way to recovery. Unfortunately, Carl returns home from work one evening to find that his wife has been attacked. When the police prove to be unhelpful, Carl decides to get justice on his own.

Vera Miles gives a great performance here—a performance that looks forward to her portrayal of Rose Balestrero in Alfred Hitchcock’s under-appreciated docudrama, The Wrong Man.

Mr. Blanchard’s Secret (Season 2, Episode 13)

Mr. Blanchard’s Secret pales in comparison. The episode first aired on December 23, 1956 and starred Mary Scott, Robert Horton, Dayton Lummis, and Meg Mundy. The story by Emily Neff revisits some of the themes better explored in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window. Babs Fenton, a housewife with an overactive imagination who fancies herself a writer, believes that Mr. Blanchard has murdered his wife. However, her suspicions are called into serious question when Mrs. Blanchard shows up at their door looking to be very much alive. Babs alters her theory as to the reason behind Mr. Blanchard’s suspicious behavior only to be proven wrong once again.

Lamb to the Slaughter (Season 3, Episode 28)

Lamb to the Slaughter is rightly mentioned amongst the series best episodes. It aired on April 13, 1958 and stars Barbara Bel Geddes (who portrayed Midge in Vertigo that same year). The story by Roald Dahl follows a devoted housewife named Mary Maloney who decides to kill her cheating husband with a frozen leg of lamb rather than let him leave her. What follows is classic Hitchcock.

Poison (Season 4, Episode 1)

Poison—which was based upon another tale by Dahl—first aired on October 05, 1958 and stars Hitchcock alumnus Wendell Corey and James Donald. Harry Pope (Donald) wakes up with a poisonous snake in his bed. Worse, it finds a comfortable place to rest right on his chest. The entire episode is devoted to solving this tense predicament.

Arthur (Season 5, Episode 1)

Arthur first aired on September 27, 1959 and stars Laurence Harvey in the title role. Unusually for an Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode, the story begins with Arthur standing amongst a large number of chickens as he addresses the audience directly. After this opening monologue, we flash back in time as he tells the viewer how he killed his gold-digging girlfriend and was able to get away with it. The story itself is rather amusing, but the framing device at the beginning and end doesn’t work very well (possibly because there is already an introduction and epilogue performed by Hitchcock).

Mrs. Bixby and the Colonel’s Coat (Season 6, Episode 1)

Mrs. Bixby and the Colonel’s Coat is more benign than many episodes, but it has a very similar sense of irony. It originally aired on September 27, 1960 and stars Audrey Meadows, Les Tremayne, and Stephen Chase. The story by Roald Dahl follows Mrs. Bixby as she visits her secret lover “the Colonel,” who ends their affair but offers her a mink coat as a parting gift. She isn’t sure how to explain the coat to her husband, so she pawns the item without putting a description on the ticket. She then tells her husband that she has found the ticket and instructs him to turn it in for the pawned item. Obviously, things aren’t going to work out in quite the way that she expects.

Bang! You’re Dead! (Season 7, Episode 2)

Bang! You’re Dead! originally aired on October 17, 1961 and is the final episode that Alfred Hitchcock directed for the original half-hour series. It was based on a story by Margery Vosper and stars Billy Mumy as a young Jackie Chester—a spoiled six-year-old who mistakes a loaded gun for a gift from his uncle. The child then proceeds to pretend he is an outlaw and points it at the random people he meets throughout the day. It is only a matter of time before he actually pulls the trigger. Meanwhile, his family has discovered the mistake and tries frantically to locate him. Hitchcock’s gift for building suspense is evident throughout the duration.

Special Features:

This disc also includes a single special feature entitled Alfred Hitchcock Presents: A Look Back. Gary Leva’s 15 minute featurette is far from a comprehensive examination of the series, but the retrospective interviews with Norman Lloyd, Hilton A. Green, and Patricia Hitchcock do reveal some general information about how the show was produced and those responsible for its success.

The Best of ‘The Alfred Hitchcock Hour’

The second new disc showcases a single episode from all three seasons of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. Unlike the first disc, only the first of these episodes is actually directed by Alfred Hitchcock since he only directed a single episode of this series. The following episodes are included:

I Saw the Whole Thing (Season 1, Episode 4)

I Saw the Whole Thing is the only episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour that was actually directed by Alfred Hitchcock. It originally aired on October 11, 1962 and is based on a short story by Henry Cecil. Hitchcock alumnus John Forsythe portrays Michael Barnes in this Rashomon-like courtroom drama with an interesting twist. Barnes has been accused of causing a fatal car accident, but he insists that he is completely innocent and acts as his own attorney at his trial. In court, he proves that the various eyewitnesses called by the prosecution are unreliable.

Three Wives Too Many (Season 2, Episode 12)

Three Wives Too Many was directed by Joseph M. Newman and was based on a short story by Kenneth Fearing. It aired on January 03, 1964 and stars Hitchcock alumnus Teresa Wright, Linda Lawson, Jean Hale, and Dan Duryea. The story follows a bigamist who is suspected of murdering his various wives.

Death Scene (Season 3, Episode 20)

Death Scene was directed by Harvey Hart and was based on a story by Helen Nielsen. The episode aired on March 08, 1965 and features Hitchcock alumnus Vera Miles as Nicky Revere, the daughter of a movie director named Gavin Revere (John Carradine). It is best that viewers see this particular episode knowing as little as is possible about the actual story, but it is certainly one of the most memorable of the hour-long episodes.

Special Features:

This disc includes a single featurette entitled Fasten Your Seatbelt: The Thrilling Art of Alfred Hitchcock. This six minute fluff piece includes interviews with Martin Scorsese, Guillermo del Toro, William Friedkin, John Carpenter, Eli Roth, and Joe Carnahan, but none of these filmmakers say anything particularly enlightening. It is almost like an EPK created to sell the idea of Hitchcock’s greatness without ever revealing anything that isn’t immediately obvious.

Promotional photograph for 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents' from 1962, taken by Gabor 'Gabi' Rona

This is a promotional photograph for ‘Alfred Hitchcock Presents’ that was taken in 1962 by Gabor ‘Gabi’ Rona.

It’s nice to have both of these new standard definition discs included here, but it is impossible not to wonder why Universal didn’t choose to release discs with each of the seventeen Hitchcock-directed episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and his single episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour instead. Such a collection would have been a much more appropriate and satisfying addition to the package. What’s more, this approach would’ve only required one more disc (three instead of the two). Actually, it is ridiculous that Universal hasn’t already released these episodes together in a single collection.

In addition, one cannot help but lament some of the choices made by Universal as to which episodes to include. Some of these episodes are inferior to other Hitchcock-directed episodes from that respective season. For example, season two’s One More Mile to Go is vastly superior to Mr. Blanchard’s Secret. In fact, it is one of the best of the entire series. Of course, this particular issue wouldn’t be a problem if all of the Hitchcock directed episodes had been included.

The Presentation:

4 of 5 MacGuffins

The packaging is very similar to Universal’s Masterpiece Collection, but the artwork is somewhat different. It is of course a matter of taste as to which is better, but most should agree that the design is just as pleasing as the one utilized for that earlier release. From an aesthetic standpoint, this collection is beyond reproach. Unfortunately, it is the sort of design that seems special on the surface but actually provides the consumer with less value than if each film had been provided with a sturdy individual Blu-ray case.

It is time for studios to do away with these book-style sets that house the discs in folder-like sleeves. This leaves the discs vulnerable to scratching and other types of damage, and disc protection should always be the first priority when designing these collections. What’s more, it doesn’t allow the collector to arrange their collections in the manner that they might wish. (This reviewer prefers chronological arrangement).

The Ultimate Collection

This particular book-style release devotes two pages to each of the films included therein. The first of the two pages features the film’s one sheet while the second includes a quote, a brief description of the film, and a list of bonus features. A promotional still from the film is also utilized. Since this is the same information that one might find on the slip sleeve of any regular release, it only gives one the appearance of additional value when in actuality it is probably much cheaper than including individual cases for each title.

A small softbound book entitled “The Master of Suspense” is also included. There are around 58-60 pages worth of material here (depending on how one chooses to count them), and it does add a bit of value to the package. It includes some extremely general biographical information about Hitchcock and his career, a few paragraphs about his leading men, a page that focuses on “The Hitchcock Blondes,” two pages that focus on Edith Head (including a handful of costume sketches), two pages that showcase Saul Bass (with a series of screenshots from the title sequences for Vertigo and Psycho), a page about Bernard Herrmann, a half page about “The MacGuffin,” and another half page about the director’s cameo appearances. After these subjects, the book focuses on each of the films included in this set. Film trivia, artwork, storyboards, photographs, letters, and memorandum have been included throughout these pages in Universal’s effort to create an attractive keepsake. There isn’t much in the way of information here (and some of it borders on being erroneous), but it does make for a fun reading experience.

Final Words:

The back sleeve of this release screams “The Best of Alfred Hitchcock,” and one must admit that the set does include a number of the master’s best films. However, it is ridiculous to claim that the set represents Hitchcock’s best work because some of his best films aren’t included here while some of his worst films are present. For example, few would rank Topaz above Notorious or Strangers on a Train. This set is simply a complete collection of the films that Universal actually owns (with North by Northwest included as a healthy bonus due to a licensing trade).

It is certainly an impressive collection of films and those that don’t mind the folder-book packaging might wish to grab this set while supplies last—that is if they do not already own these films individually or as part of The Masterpiece Collection. The two new DVDs might not be worth an upgrade (especially since they weren’t given a new 1080P transfer for this release).

Review by: Devon Powell

Blu-ray Review: Rear Window

cover

Distributor: Universal Studios

Release Date: May 06, 2014

Region: Region Free

Length: 1:52:32

Video: 1080P (VC-1)

Main Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio Mono (48kHz, 24-bit)

Alternate Audio: DTS French Mono, DTS Spanish Mono

Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish

Ratio: 1.66:1

Bitrate: 31.99 Mbps

Notes: This title has had a number of DVD releases and is also available on Blu-ray as part of a boxed set entitled The Masterpiece Collection. The transfer used for the boxed set is the same one that is included here and the disc includes the same special features. This same Blu-ray disc has also been released in a 5-disc set entitled The Essentials Collection.

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“…all I can say about it is; it’s one of the most cinematic films I’ve ever made. You see, people – especially technicians – are mistaken as to what is cinematic. First of all, the photography of people in dialogue is definitely nothing to do with the cinema whatsoever – it’s purely an extension of the theatre. I’ve done it myself, I know, it doesn’t relate. Photographing of westerns, galloping horses, it what it is – it’s photography, but not necessarily cinematic.

 Whereas, in a picture like Rear Window, you have a man sitting at a window looking: the first piece of film a close-up, the second piece of film is what he sees, the third piece of film is his reaction. Now here, in rapid succession, are three piece of film put together, which is really what “pure cinema” is – the relative position of the pieces of film which creates an idea, like words in a sentence. Out of these three pieces of film an idea is born and an audience [will] react to that idea, from the pieces of film that they’ve seen…You are putting the audience in the place of Stewart. They are verifying what he sees.” –Alfred Hitchcock (Speculation, Channel 28, 1969)

Rear Window is indeed a work of cinematic art. Alfred Hitchcock had first come across Cornell Woolrich’s ‘It Had to Be Murder’ (which was later given the better title, ‘Rear Window’) in 1951 and decided to make it his first film for Paramount in 1953.

The opening paragraphs of “It Had To Be Murder” would not lead anyone to believe that the film has diverged in any significant way from the source text.

“I didn’t know their names. I’d never heard their voices. I didn’t even know them by sight, strictly speaking, for their faces were too small to fill in with identifiable features at that distance. Yet I could have constructed a timetable of their comings and goings, their daily habits and activities. They were the rear-window dwellers around me.

 Sure, I suppose it was a little bit like prying, could even have been mistaken for the fevered concentration of a Peeping Tom. That wasn’t my fault, that wasn’t the idea. The idea was, my movements were strictly limited just around this time. I could get from the window to the bed and from the bed to the window, and that was all. The bay window was about the best feature my rear bedroom had in the warm weather. It was unscreened, so I had to sit with the light out or I would have had every insect in the vicinity in on me. I couldn’t sleep, because I was used to getting plenty of exercise. I’d never acquired the habit of reading books to ward off boredom, so I hadn’t that to turn to. Well, what should I do, sit there with my eyes tightly shuttered?” –Cornell Woolrich (It Had to Be Murder)

However, as one continues to read, it becomes clear that there were numerous changes made during the adaptation process. The most immediately obvious of these changes concern the characters. There was no love interest in the original story, there was no insurance company nurse, and the occupants of the various windows across the courtyard were not in Woolrich’s short story.

“Well, we added a woman to the innumerable characters in the various rooms. All created. None of which was in the book. We engaged a woman masseur who was played by Thelma Ritter. She was an additional character. I made the leading man a photographer…” –Alfred Hitchcock (Court Transcript, May 1974)

Woolrich’s story does allude to other occupants across the way early in the story, but these occupants are only mentioned twice early on, and are different from those in the film.

“…Just to pick a few at random: Straight over, and the windows square, there was a young jitter-couple, kids in their teens, only just married. It would have killed them to stay home one night. They were always in such a hurry to go, wherever it was they went, they never remembered to turn out the lights. I don’t think it missed once in all the time I was watching. But they never forgot altogether, either. I was to learn to call this delayed action, as you will see. He’d always come skittering madly back in about five minutes, probably from all the way down in the street, and rush around killing the switches. Then fall over something in the dark on his way out. They gave me an inward chuckle, those two.

 The next house down, the windows already narrowed a little with perspective. There was a certain light in that one that always went out each night too. Something about it, it used to make me a little sad. There was a woman living there with her child, a young widow I suppose. I’d see her put the child to bed, and then bend over and kiss her in a wistful sort of way. She’d shade the light off her and sit there painting her eyes and mouth. Then she’d go out. She’d never come back till the night was nearly spent. – Once I was still up, and I looked and she was sitting there motionless with her head buried in her arms. Something about it, it used to make me a little sad…” –Cornell Woolrich (It Had to Be Murder)

The second of these examples begins to resemble the character of ‘Miss Lonely-hearts’ in the film. However, one can only speculate whether or not the idea was derived from the original story. The short story failed to utilize these characters, and they were only mentioned once more (and only in passing) a few paragraphs later. Hitchcock’s film manages to use the occupants across the courtyard as a comment on Jeff and Lisa’s dilemma. They are not simply there to fill the screen.

“It shows every kind of human behavior – a real index of individual behavior. The picture would have been very dull if we hadn’t done that. What you see across the way is a group of little stories that, as you say, mirror a small universe.” –Alfred Hitchcock (Hitchcock/Truffaut)

Instead of an insurance company nurse and a love interest, Woolrich’s protagonist has a houseboy named Sam. It is Sam who goes to Thorwald’s apartment in the book (to mess up his apartment and not to look for evidence). The murderer’s method of body disposal was also more satisfying in the film. Woolrich’s protagonist buried his wife under the floor of a vacant apartment and cemented over her.

Even the story’s climax was changed from the source.

“There wasn’t a weapon in the place with me. There were books there on the wall, in the dark, within reach. Me, who never read. The former owner’s books. There was a bust of Rousseau or Montesquieu, I’d never been able to decide which, one of those gents with flowing manes, topping them. It was a monstrosity, bisque clay, but it too dated from before my occupancy.

 I arched my middle upward from the chair seat and clawed desperately up at it. Twice my fingertips slipped off it, then at the third raking I got it to teeter, and the fourth brought it down into my lap, pushing me down into the chair. There was a steamer rug under me. I
didn’t need it around me in this weather, I’d been using it to soften the seat of the chair. I tugged it out from under and mantled it around me like an Indian brave’s blanket. Then I squirmed far down in the chair, let my head and one shoulder dangle out over the arm, on the side next to the wall. I hoisted the bust to my other, upward shoulder, balanced it there precariously for a second head, blanket tucked around its ears…

 …He was good with knobs and hinges and things. I never heard the door open, and this one, unlike the one downstairs, was right behind me. A little eddy of air puffed through the dark at me. I could feel it because my scalp, the real one, was all wet at the roots of the hair right then…

 …The flash of the shot lit up the room for a second, it was so dark. Or at least the corners of it, like flickering, weak lightning. The bust bounced on my shoulder and disintegrated into chunks.” –Cornell Woolrich (It Had to Be Murder)

After this, Jeff is rescued by Boyne (the police detective named Doyle in the film) and a chase ensues ending in Thorwald’s death.

Hitchcock would turn this enjoyable crime story into brilliant cinema with the help of John Michael Hayes (who would continue to work with the director on his next three films).

“I engaged a writer… John Michael Hayes; and the writing was done in my office – with his typewriter – in my office, and there are many witnesses if you need them. In other words, I dictate the picture. I did not hand that book to the writer and say, ‘Make a screenplay of this,’ which is a custom of the business. But it doesn’t apply to me, because I make a specific type of film, and I dictate to him what I want to go into the story – and just as a matter of interest – the reason that is done is because I want it done my way, in my style, and I would say in that process there is twenty percent Cornell Woolrich and eighty percent Hitchcock.” –Alfred Hitchcock (Court Transcript, May 1974)

The original treatment was much different than the final script. Much of the suspenseful action occurs off-screen in the Hayes treatment. This action is related to Jeff in dialogue (breaking one of Hitchcock’s very strict rules about cinematic storytelling). In the treatment, Lisa follows Thorwald when he leaves his apartment. While Jeff waits for Lisa to return, he notices that Thorwald’s zinnias have grown shorter when compared to a slide that he had taken previously. Jeff is filled in on all of the suspenseful action upon Lisa’s return.

“What did he do? Where did he go? Jeff wanted to know. No place that made much sense to her. He walked to a huge excavation on Martine Street where workers were pouring cement for the foundation of a new insurance company building. He stayed there, watching the work, until the cement was poured and smoothed. Then he went to a nearby bar for a couple of quick drinks. The drinks seemed to relax him, for once he came out of the bar his nervousness was gone and he no longer looked behind himself. Then he stopped in a drugstore for some cigarettes. While waiting for change, he noticed some crime magazines on a stand. Then his face went white. He seemed shaken. He picked out one of the magazines, which one she couldn’t see, paid for it, and hurried back to his apartment.” –John Michael Hayes (Treatment for ‘Rear Window’ – as it appears in Writing for Hitchcock by Steven DeRosa)

Another major difference from the finished film is established here. All references to burying body parts on an excavation site that would be paved over are omitted in the finished film. (This is obviously suggested by the renovated apartment building burial in Cornell Woolrich’s short story.) In this early treatment, Lisa crosses the courtyard and enters his apartment to retrieve the crime magazine Thorwald purchased in the drugstore. As in the film, this is the moment that Jeff realizes his immense love for Lisa.

“‘Oh Lisa darling,’ Jeff says aloud. ‘He’s already killed one woman. I don’t want him to kill you – of all women.’ And Jeff is shocked to learn how much he loves her. He loves you Lisa. Get out of there, and get back to him. You’ve made him understand.” –John Michael Hayes (Treatment for ‘Rear Window’ – as it appears in Writing for Hitchcock by Steven DeRosa)

Hayes drew upon his own experiences for Jeff’s realization.

“That came out of my life. Before my wife and I were married, we decided to delay our marriage until I was more successful. We got into an automobile accident and she was thrown out of the car onto the highway amongst the broken glass and metal and everything. But in the brief moment when I saw her rolling down the highway before I was knocked unconscious against the windshield, I said, ‘Oh my God. If anything happened to her, my life won’t be worth anything.’ And I decided I was not going to wait another minute if we ever lived through this thing… So when I came to figure out how we were going to write that scene, I said, ‘That automobile accident.’ He saw her and thought maybe it’s the last he’d ever see of her, because this man is capable of killing and cutting her up.” -John Michael Hayes (as quoted in Writing for Hitchcock by Steven DeRosa)

Another difference in the treatment is an altered ending. After forcing Jeff onto the window ledge Boyne (the detective, later re-named Doyle) fires three shots into Thorwald’s chest. It is too late. Jeff falls and breaks his other leg. They are told that Mrs. Thorwald’s head was buried in the flower bed, and Lisa and Jeff come together once and for all.

“Jeff and Lisa come together in love. He tells her what he thought when he was in danger. The experience, she said, awakened her also. But the thing that impressed her most was that melody the songwriter was playing in her moment of greatest horror. It was utterly beautiful and she was determined Thorwald wouldn’t kill her until the song was finished.” –John Michael Hayes (Treatment for ‘Rear Window’ – as it appears in Writing for Hitchcock by Steven DeRosa)

Alfred Hitchcock had many ideas for changes to the treatment. As an avid reader of true-crime, the director referred Hayes to two very famous cases.

“…I also included the essence of two famous English cases. One was the case of Dr. Crippen, the first man ever to be arrested by radio at sea. He was uncovered because he gave his wife’s jewelry to his secretary and that was his uncovering. A wife doesn’t go away and leave her jewelry behind. That was inserted into the story. There was also the case of Patrick Mahon. …Patrick Mahon murdered a woman, cut the body up into pieces and threw them out. Carried them in a suitcase and threw them out of the window of a train between Eastbourne and London, but he had a problem with the head. He put the head into the fire and burned it, and the heat of the fire caused the eyes to open, that indicated to me, that whatever this murder may be, the murderer would have a problem with the head. Therefore, I put that incident in and buried the head in the garden. And it was through the dog scratching on the garden where the head was that caused the murderer to kill the dog. That was taken from an actual case.” –Alfred Hitchcock (Court Transcript, May 1974)

While Lisa searches Thorwald’s apartment for a crime magazine in the treatment, the script had Lisa searching for Mrs. Thorwald’s wedding ring (suggested by the Crippen case). This allowed Hitchcock to make visual and thematic allusions to Jeff and Lisa’s problem in the story.

Once the story had evolved into a satisfactory script, Hitchcock ‘dictated’ each and every shot as seen in the film and it was made into a shooting script.

“We sat down in his office and [Hitchcock] broke up all the scenes into individual shots, and made sketches of them, and laid out the picture, which he said is now done. ‘All we have to do is go on the set and make sure they do what we’ve given them.’” –John Michael Hayes (as quoted in Writing for Hitchcock by Steven DeRosa)

Hitchcock’s method of shooting a film was different from the standard method. Since he often designed the film in a very particular way, he rarely shot coverage. He shot only those shots needed to cut the film together, and he usually knew exactly where his cuts would be.

“…when this film, Rear Window, was finished somebody went into the cutting room and said, ‘Where are the out-takes? Where is the unused film?’ And there was a small roll of a hundred feet. That was all that was left over.” –Alfred Hitchcock (Take One, 1968)

These hundred feet of film would be made up of several seconds at the beginning and ending of each shot, and any unusable takes taken during the production. In the case of Rear Window, the film was very specifically shot in order to adhere to Alfred Hitchcock’s pre-designed structure.

“The rhythm of the cutting in Rear Window speeds up as the film goes on. This is because of the nature of the structure of the film. At the beginning, life is going on quite normally. The tempo is leisurely. There’s a bit of a conflict between the man and the girl. And then gradually the first suspicion grows and it increases. And naturally as you reach the last third of your picture the events have to pile on top of each other. If you didn’t, and if you slowed the tempo down, it would show up considerably.” –Alfred Hitchcock (Take One, 1968)

Color was also an important element of Hitchcock’s design.

“When you come down to the question of color, again it’s the same as the orchestration with cutting. If you noticed in Rear Window, Miss Lonely Hearts always dressed in emerald green. To make sure that that came off, there was no other green in the picture, because we had to follow her very closely when she went across the street into the cafe. So I reserved that color for her.” –Alfred Hitchcock (Take One, 1968)

Hitchcock’s eye for detail extended to the sets built for the film. He wanted it to look truly authentic in every detail.Doc Erickson was sent to New York to take photos of several Greenwich Village courtyards. Joseph MacMillan would then use these photographs to design the film’s wonderful set.

“In the film, the courtyard was modeled after Christopher and West Tenth Streets, between Bleeker and Hudson Streets. The immense set – the largest built at Paramount to that date – was constructed on Stage 18. According to a Paramount press release, the set consisted of structures rising up to six stories, which contained thirty-one apartments, fire escapes, an alley, a street, and a skyline. It took six weeks to build.” –Steven DeRosa (Writing with Hitchcock)

Lighting the set would prove to be a herculean chore, but it was all prepared ahead of time. Robert Burks supervised the lighting and photographed test footage ahead of time.

“I went on the soundstage about ten days prior to the starting date. Using a skeleton crew, we pre-lit every one of the thirty-one apartments for both day and night, as well as lit the exterior of the courtyard for the dual-type illumination required. A remote switch controlled the lights in each apartment. On the stage, we had a switching set-up that looked like the console of the biggest organ ever made.” – Robert Burks (as quoted in Writing for Hitchcock by Steven DeRosa)

This lighting set-up coupled with Hitchcock’s unusual shooting methods made for an extremely efficient shoot. Production # 10331 started principal photography on November 27 at 9:00 a.m. By all accounts, the shoot went quite smoothly with only a few exceptions. One of these exceptions had to do with unacceptable image definition and detail in certain scenes. Since a lot of the action takes place from across a courtyard, it was sometimes difficult to achieve the level of detail necessary for audience comprehension.

“We had one shot in the picture that was a key shot in the plot… the salesman-murderer is observed by Stewart… going through his wife’s effects during her absence. He takes her wedding ring out of her purse and looks at it. The first time we attempted the shot, we made it with a 10-inch lens. On the screen, it wasn’t clear that the object was a wedding ring. It was obvious that it was a ring, but that was all.” – Robert Burks (as quoted in Writing for Hitchcock by Steven DeRosa)

Burks and Hitchcock finally compromised and used a 6-inch lens and moved the camera onto a boom (outside of the apartment window). There were also a few in-camera effects that ate some of the film’s production time. One of these effects was Jeff’s fall from his apartment window.

“The scene showing James Stewart falling from the window was achieved by creating a ‘traveling matte’ shot, which combined live-action with a pre-photographed background. The portion of the shot in which Stewart appears to be falling was photographed on Stage 3 by seating the actor against a black velvet background with a camera overhead. Then while Stewart acted as if he was falling, the camera in fact moved in an upward direction away from him. This image was later superimposed against a stationary shot taken on the actual courtyard set, creating the illusion of Stewart falling into the courtyard.” –Steven DeRosa (Writing with Hitchcock)

Hitchcock was wise enough to delete one scene from the film. Following the opening shots of the courtyard and Jeff’s apartment, there was to be a rather pointless scene inside the office of Ivar Gunnison (Jefferies’ editor). In the scene, Gunnison talks to his assistant (Jack Bryce) about a job in Indochina. They both agree that our crippled protagonist is the best man for the job. The scene was not only unnecessary; it would have ruined the brilliant structure of the film. Hitchcock decided against using the scene before principal photography was even complete. One wonders if he ever really intended to use the footage. Frank Cady played Ivar Gunnison in the scene and the husband on the fire escape. It seems unlikely that Cady would be cast in both parts if Hitchcock actually planned on using the scene.

One of the most overlooked elements of Rear Window is the soundtrack. Hitchcock was capable of creating soundtracks that were simultaneously dramatic and realistic.

“Hitchcock insisted that Rear Window be authentic in every way, dictating in a November 5 memo that actual Greenwich Village ambient sound be recorded so that the soundtrack would be as true to life as possible.” –Steven DeRosa (Writing with Hitchcock)

The director would also dictate precise sounds for various moments in the film in an astonishing amount of detail. The results are truly incredible. Of course, the same amount of detail went into the film’s music. With the exception of the music played over the opening credits, all of the music heard in the film was diegetic (meaning that it came from a source within the film’s setting). Most of the music heard in the film is played from quite a distance and by someone within Hitchcock’s Rear Window universe.

Franz Waxman had worked as the composer on three earlier Hitchcock films (Rebecca, Suspicion, and The Paradine Case), and would work on this film as well. However, the job called for a much different approach. Source music was used throughout most of the film (including such popular songs as “Mona Lisa,” “That’s Amore,” “To See You,” “Waiting for My True Love to Appear,” and “Lover”). With the exception of the opening credit music, Waxman’s task was to write the music being composed by the songwriter in one of the apartments. The song being composed was entitled “Lisa” and the finished composition included lyrics by Harold Rome. (Rome submitted alternate lyrics called “To Love You,” but these obviously weren’t used.)

Hitchcock was never satisfied with the final result of this element of the movie and would always refer to it in interviews.

“There’s no score in Rear Window. I was a little disappointed at the lack of a structure in the title song. I had a motion-picture songwriter when I should have chosen a popular songwriter. I was rather hoping to use the genesis, just the idea of a song which would then gradually grow and grow until it was used by a full orchestra. But I don’t think that came out as strongly as I would have liked it to have done.” –Alfred Hitchcock (Take One, 1968)

Principal Photography wrapped on January 13, 1954 with only a few simple re-shoots left to complete this part of the production. These were shot on February 26. After this, the main obstacle wouldn’t be the editing (since this was all worked out). Instead, Hitchcock would have to wrestle with the Production Code Administration. He had already been warned before principal photography began that certain aspects of the script were “unsavory.”

Joseph Breen would elaborate about his objections to the screenplay’s content. Many of the problems had to do with the character of Miss Torso.

“It is apparent that she is nude above the waist and it is only by the most judicious selection of camera angles that her nudity is concealed… We feel that this gives the entire action the flavor of a peep show.” –Joseph Breen (Memo – as it is quoted in Writing for Hitchcock by Steven DeRosa)

It was clear that there could be no implication of a topless ‘Miss Torso.’ However, this was not the Breen’s only objection. The character of Stella also caused complications. He disliked the dialogue, “When General Motors has to go to the bathroom ten times a day, the whole country’s ready to let go.” Breen referred to the line as “potty humor.” 

In addition to these things, the PCA did not care for the sequence where Lisa spends the night in Jeff’s apartment.

“We think the same story point can be carried if considerably less emphasis were placed on the action and display of her underwear, pajamas and other paraphernalia… and it were indicated that she is going to stay there simply because the mystery that has risen at this point in the story.” –Joseph Breen (Memo – as it is quoted in Writing for Hitchcock by Steven DeRosa)

In order to distract the production code, Hitchcock shot two different versions of certain Miss Torso shots. One version is as we see it in the film (and how Hitchcock always intended to present her), while the alternate shots obviously implied nudity. When the PCA saw the film with these alternate shots, they forgot about Stella’s dialogue and the sequence where Lisa shows off her nightdress.

“It was common practice that you gave censors bait, which they focused on, and therefore the things that you really wanted to keep didn’t appear as harmful. This was done all the time, not just by Hitchcock. So we threw them some bait with Miss Torso, and they got all in a froth about that.” –John Michael Hayes (as quoted in Writing for Hitchcock by Steven DeRosa)

When Rear Window premiered on August 4, 1954, it was met with overwhelming commercial and critical success. The critical opinion of the era is encapsulated by William Brogdon’s review for Variety.

“A tight suspense show is offered in Rear Window, one of Alfred Hitchcock’s better thrillers. James Stewart’s established star value, plus the newer potentiality of Grace Kelly, currently getting a big buildup, and strong word-of-mouth possibilities indicate sturdy grossing chances in the keys and elsewhere.

Hitchcock combines technical and artistic skills in a manner that makes this an unusually good piece of murder mystery entertainment. A sound story by Cornell Woolrich and a cleverly dialoged screenplay by John Michael Hayes provide the producer-director with a solid basis for thrill-making. Of equal importance in delivering tense melodrama are the Technicolor camera work by Robert Burks and the apartment-courtyard setting executed by Hal Pereira and Joseph MacMillan Johnson.

Hitchcock confines all of the action to this single setting and draws the nerves to the snapping point in developing the thriller phases of the plot. He is just as skilled in making use of lighter touches in either dialog or situation to relieve the tension when it nears the unbearable. Interest never wavers during the 112 minutes of footage…

…The production makes clever use of natural sounds and noises throughout, with not even the good score by Franz Waxman being permitted to intrude unnaturally into the drama.” – William Brogdon (Variety, July 14, 1954)

There were critics who complained about the film’s subject matter. C.A. Lejeune is probably the most famous example. As a matter of fact, Alfred Hitchcock rarely discussed the film without talking about her review.

“…Miss Lejeune, the critic from the London ‘Observer’ complained about that. She made some comment to the effect that Rear Window was a horrible film because the hero spent all of his time peeping out of a window. What’s so horrible about that? Sure, he’s a snooper, but aren’t we all?” –Alfred Hitchcock (Hitchcock/Truffaut)

François Truffaut would write one of the more interesting reviews on the film upon its release in 1954.

“…I see when I sum it up in this way that the plot seems more slick than profound, and yet I am convinced that this film is one of the most important of all the seventeen Hitchcock has made in Hollywood, one of those rare films without imperfection or weakness, which concedes nothing. For example, it is clear that the entire film revolves around the idea of marriage. When Kelly goes into the suspect’s apartment, the proof she is looking for is the murdered woman’s wedding ring; Kelly puts it on her own finger as Stewart follows her movements through his binoculars from the other side of the courtyard. But there is nothing at the end that indicates that they will marry. Rear Window goes beyond pessimism; it is really a cruel film. Stewart fixes his glasses on his neighbors only to catch them in moments of failure, in ridiculous postures, when they appear grotesque or even hateful.

The film’s construction is very like a musical composition: several themes are intermingled and are in perfect counterpoint to each other — marriage, suicide, degradation, and death — and they are all bathed in a refined eroticism (the sound recording of lovemaking is extraordinarily precise and realistic). Hitchcock’s impassiveness and “objectivity” are more apparent than real…

Rear Window is a film about indiscretion, about intimacy violated and taken by surprise at its most wretched moments; a film about the impossibility of happiness, about dirty linen that gets washed in the courtyard; a film about moral solitude, an extraordinary symphony of daily life and ruined dreams…

…Hitchcock has acquired such expertise at cinematographic recital that he has, in thirty years, become much more than a good storyteller. As he loves his craft passionately, never stops making movies, and has long since resolved any production problems, he must invent difficulties and create new disciplines for himself to avoid boredom and repetition. His recent films are filled with fascinating constraints that he always overcomes brilliantly.

In this case, the challenge was to shoot a whole film in one single place, and solely from Stewart’s point of view. We see only what he sees, and from his vantage point, at the exact moment he sees it. What could have been a dry and academic gamble, an exercise in cold virtuosity, turns out to be a fascinating spectacle because of a sustained inventiveness which nails us to our seats as firmly as James Stewart is immobilized by his plaster cast.

In the face of such a film, so odd and so novel, we are liable to forget somewhat the stunning virtuosity; each scene by itself is a gamble that has been won. The effort to achieve freshness and novelty affects the camera’s movements, the special effects, decor, color. (Recall the murderer’s gold-framed eyeglasses lit in the dark only by the intermittent glow of a cigarette!)

Anyone who has perfectly understood Rear Window (which is not possible in one viewing) can, if he so wishes, dislike it and refuse to be involved in a game where blackness of character is the rule. But it is so rare to find such a precise idea of the world in a film that one must bow to its success, which is unarguable.

To clarify Rear Window, I’d suggest this parable: The courtyard is the world, the reporter/photographer is the filmmaker, the binoculars stand for the camera and its lenses. And Hitchcock? He is the man we love to be hated by.” –François Truffaut (1954)

One sign of a great film is the ability to see it differently upon multiple viewings. Truffaut would later change his mind about the film’s pessimistic qualities.

“I was still working as a critic the first time I saw Rear Window, and I remember writing that the picture was very gloomy, rather pessimistic, and quite cruel. But now I don’t see it in that light at all; in fact, I feel it has a rather compassionate approach. What Stewart sees through his window is not horrible, but simply a display of human weaknesses and people in pursuit of happiness.” –François Truffaut (Hitchcock/Truffaut)

The Academy honored the film with 4 Oscar nominations (Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Color Cinematography, and Best Sound Recording). However, the film failed to win in any of these categories. Perhaps a better sign of a film’s merit is its ability to impress audiences many years later.

In 1983 Vincent Canby wrote an overwhelmingly positive review of the film after seeing a retrospective screening at the New York Film Festival (it would soon be re-released to theaters).

“…Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 chef d’oeuvre , Rear Window, has reopened in New York to become, quite simply, the most elegantly entertaining American film now in first run in New York or, possibly, in second- , third- or even fourth-run. Its appeal, which goes beyond that of other, equally masterly Hitchcock works, remains undiminished.

Rear Window, which has been out of circulation for a number of years, is the first of five Hitchcock films that will be coming back to theaters in the next several months – the others being Vertigo(1958), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1955), The Trouble With Harry (1956) and Rope(1948).

As much as I admire all of these, especially Vertigo,I can’t imagine that any one of them will top the feelings of exhilaration that are prompted byRear Window, this most bittersweet of Hitchcockian suspense-romances. Make no mistake about it:Rear Windowis as much of a romance as it is a brilliant exercise in suspense…

… Ever since I saw Rear Window when it was initially released, I’ve had fond memories of it, but, as rarely happens, those memories turned out not to do full justice to the film I went back to see last Sunday morning at the Cinema Studio. Everything about it is a joy, even the new print, the color quality of which is far superior to that of the 1963 Leopard, also in reissue now…

…However, nothing Hayes did before or after Rear Window quite equals the explosive concision of this possible mainstream masterpiece. In no other Hitchcock film, perhaps, not even in Notorious, do the events of the adventure play such an integral part in the development of the love story…

… All of the film’s production elements are superior, especially the huge set… It represents the best of studio artifice, being a unit that includes the rear of Jeff’s apartment as well as his view of the garden court and buildings that enclose the court. There is one comparatively large, comparatively new apartment building, which is flanked by what appear to be brownstones, one Federal house and other buildings that have been remodeled out of all associations to the past. As lighted and photographed by Robert Burks, this set is as much a character as any of the actors in the film…

… At the time Rear Window was first released, there was a certain amount of self-righteous outrage directed at the film’s seemingly casual attitude toward voyeurism, sometimes called ‘Peeping Tomism.’ I was mystified by those criticisms, then and now, and not necessarily because all of us probably tend to peep at one point or another, given the opportunity…” -Vincent Canby (New York Times, October 9, 1983)

Roger Ebert’s review for the Chicago Sun-Times was no less enthusiastic.

“Now this is a movie. Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window develops such a clean, uncluttered line from beginning to end that we’re drawn through it (and into it) effortlessly. The experience is not so much like watching a movie, as like … well, like spying on your neighbors. Hitchcock traps us right from the first…

…What’s interesting is the way Hitchcock spreads the guilt around. Although the man across the way (Raymond Burr) seems to be the ‘worst’ person in this movie, we don’t get to know him well and we never identify with him. Instead, we identify with James Stewart. And because he is doing something he’s not supposed to do, because he is essentially amoral and takes liberties with other people’s privacy, somehow he’s guilty, too…

…Now Sir Alfred has passed away, the estate has been settled, and the movie is back in theaters…

…That’s the best place for it, not only because the screen is bigger, etc., but also because seeing this movie with an audience adds a whole additional dimension to it. We are all asked to join Stewart in his voyeurism, and we cheerfully agree…” –Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times, October 7, 1983)

Almost 20 years after this review, Roger Ebert would include the film on his list of 4-star “Great Movies.

“The hero of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window is trapped in a wheelchair, and we’re trapped, too–trapped inside his point of view, inside his lack of freedom and his limited options. When he passes his long days and nights by shamelessly maintaining a secret watch on his neighbors, we share his obsession. It’s wrong, we know, to spy on others, but after all, aren’t we always voyeurs when we go to the movies? Here’s a film about a man who does on the screen what we do in the audience–look through a lens at the private lives of strangers…

…Rarely has any film so boldly presented its methods in plain view. Jeff sits in his wheelchair, holding a camera with a telephoto lens, and looks first here and then there, like a movie camera would. What he sees, we see. What conclusions he draws, we draw–all without words, because the pictures add up to a montage of suspicion…

… The remote-control suspense scenes in Rear Window are Hitchcock at his most diabolical, creating dangerous situations and then letting Lisa and Stella linger in them through Jeff’s carelessness or inaction. He stays in his wheelchair. They venture out into danger – Kelly even entering the apartment of the suspected wife killer. He watches. We see danger approaching. We, and he, cannot move, cannot sound the alarm.

This level of danger and suspense is so far elevated above the cheap thrills of the modern slasher films that Rear Window, intended as entertainment in 1954, is now revealed as art…” –Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times, February 20, 2000)

Even today, Rear Window stands out as an amazing work of cinematic art. It isn’t merely one of the best films in Alfred Hitchcock’s canon. It stands amongst the best American films ever made.

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The Presentation:

4 of 5 MacGuffins

This disc is available as part of The Masterpiece Collection boxed set and as an individual disc.

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The Masterpiece Collection is given a tasteful book-style presentation with a page for each film that includes a folder for each disc. Some might prefer that each disc come in its own standard Blu-ray case. These folder style compartments do not always protect the discs and very often cause scratches. Those who opt to purchase the disc individually will not miss out on anything substantial.

The individual release presents the disc in a standard Blu-ray case with film related artwork.

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The menu on the disc contains footage from the film accompanied by music in the same style as other Universal Blu-rays.

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Picture Quality:

4 of 5 MacGuffins

The design of Rear Window craves the added resolution of a Blu-ray disc, so it is nice to see that Universal has finally given the film an individual Blu-ray release. Rear Window was the first of Alfred Hitchcock’s films to be projected in ‘widescreen’ format. (Rather, it was the first film of Hitchcock’s to be shown in widescreen in every theatre. Some sources claim that Dial ‘M’ For Murder was projected in widescreen in certain theaters.) The aspect ratio is an important element of this production, because the aspect ratio was chosen to resemble the ratio of some of the apartment windows in the film. The recommended ratio was 1.66:1. This transfer retains this preferred theatrical ratio.

Clarity and detail are both vastly improved over the DVD releases of the film. Audiences can now spy on the neighbors across the courtyard and see details that they have never previously seen. The transfer carries slight grain that would have been evident in the source materials. One does notice a slight amount of DNR in a few scenes, but this seems to have been used sparingly. Instances of dirt and film damage are rare and never distracting. While a few shots appear less clear than the majority of the film, one assumes that this is an issue with the source and not the transfer. Color is well rendered for the most part (although there are a few moments of inconsistency). This is one of the better transfers of a Hitchcock film offered by Universal.

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Sound Quality:

4.5 of 5 MacGuffins

This two-channel DTS-HD Master Audio Mono mix should satisfy even the most discriminating listeners. Dialogue is clear and intelligible throughout, and the amazing ambiance of the neighborhood has never sounded better on a home video format.

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Special Features:

4.5 of 5 MacGuffins

Feature Length Commentary with John Fawell (Author of Hitchcock’s Rear Window: The Well-Made Film)

John Fawell’s commentary is perhaps a bit dry, but it does offer interesting analysis peppered with a few interesting production details. Most fans of the film will enjoy the commentary a great deal, and it is certainly a welcome addition to the disc.

Rear Window Ethics – (SD) – (55:10)

Laurent Bouzereau’s documentary about the making of Rear Window discusses the production of this wonderful classic, as well as the film’s restoration. It is one of the best supplements on a disc full of wonderful supplements.

A Conversation with Screenwriter John Michael Hayes – (SD) – (13:10)

John Michael Hayes discusses how he came to work on the screenplay for Rear Window, as well as what it was like working with Alfred Hitchcock. This is a rather detailed program that offers a lot more information than one might expect from a thirteen minute featurette. One may want to watch this featurette before watching Rear Window Ethics.

Breaking Barriers: The Sound of Hitchcock – (SD) – (23:31)

Hitchcock was such a visual genius that his brilliant use of sound often goes unnoticed. This short documentary discusses the master’s use of sound. This is perhaps not as comprehensive as one might like, but it is an interesting and thoughtful look at an element of Hitchcock’s work that is too often ignored.

Pure Cinema: Through the Eyes of the Master – (SD) – (25:12)

Alfred Hitchcock’s work has influenced many filmmakers. In this featurette, several of these filmmakers discuss Alfred Hitchcock’s films and his technique. While this isn’t the disc’s best supplement, it is certainly nice to have it included here.

Masters of Cinema – (SD) – (33:39)

This 1972 program is an incredible addition to an already wonderful disc. We are given two interesting interviews with the master himself (one featuring Pia Lindstrom and another featuring William Everson). Certain sections of the program (including introductions and film clips) are omitted. The feature is available in a more complete form on Criterion’s The Man Who Knew Too Much disc. The picture quality on the Criterion release is also slightly superior.

Excerpts from François Truffaut’s Interview with Alfred Hitchcock – (SD) – (16:15)

These interview clips may sound familiar to those who have read Truffaut’s book length interview with Hitchcock, but it should remain interesting regardless. It is always a treat to hear Hitchcock discuss his films. The interview is illustrated by film clips and promotional photos and artwork from the film, which makes the experience all the more enjoyable.

Theatrical Trailer – (HD) –

In this trailer, James Stewart addresses the audience and discusses his neighbors. It is different than many vintage trailers, but does include quite a bit of footage from the actual film. Fans of the film should be delighted to have it included here.

Re-Release Trailer (Narrated by James Stewart) – (HD) –

This re-release trailer features narration from James Stewart about the re-release of Vertigo, The Man Who Knew Too Much, The Trouble with Harry, Rope, and Rear Window. It is surprisingly interesting, but also incredibly dated.

Production Photographs – (SD) –

This is a gallery of production stills, advertisements, and posters that were used to promote Rear Window. It is nice to see them included here.

Final Words:

Rear Window deserves multiple viewings, and Universal’s excellent transfer offers the best way to achieve this (unless you are lucky enough to see a screening in theaters).

Review by: Devon Powell

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Source Material:

Cornell Woolrich (It Had To Be Murder)

Review by William Brogdon (Variety, July 14, 1954)

Review by François Truffaut (1954)

Hitchcock/Truffaut (1966)

Alfred Hitchcock (Take One, 1968)

Alfred Hitchcock (Speculation, Channel 28, 1969)

Alfred Hitchcock (Court Transcript, May 1974)

Review by Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times, October 7, 1983)

Review by Vincent Canby (New York Times, October 9, 1983)

Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times, February 20, 2000)

Steven DeRosa (Writing with Hitchcock)