Universal gave all 14 films in “Alfred Hitchcock: Masterpiece Collection” a digital facelift, and for the most part the effort has paid off. They look good, at times amazingly so. Otherwise, the collection is basically a repackaging of previous releases, with mostly the same extras, plus a couple of choice new ones thrown in. They may not all qualify as his masterpieces — “Family Plot” is middling and “Topaz” surprisingly dull, despite the Cold War espionage plot — but even at his worst, Hitchcock’s style and craftsmanship shines through.
The best things about the collection are the new, anamorphic transfers for “Psycho” and “Vertigo.” These newly enhanced digital transfers are a significant improvement over the studio’s previous, nonanamorphic releases of these titles. Compared with the prior editions, the new ones are sharp, crisp and clean.
The distinction between the old and new editions of “The Birds” is particularly striking, with the latter looking washed and polished vs. the old one, which appears sandpapery by comparison.
There isn’t much difference between the previous edition of “Rear Window” and the new one, which remains grainier than one might care for, though some scenes are better than others. And many scenes in Hitchcock’s 1956 remake of his own “The Man Who Knew Too Much” are too smeared in this incarnation. But these flaws are far from disastrous — those titles remain watchable, and the rest of the transfers are worthy of the master.
The only new features, besides the transfers, are “Masters of Cinema,” comprising interviews with Hitchcock conducted by Pia Lindstrom (frequent Hitchcock star Ingrid Bergman’s daughter) and film scholar William Everson plus the television broadcast (sans movie clips) of the 1979 AFI Lifetime Achievement Award ceremony for the by-then frail but still witty director.
A new batch of documentaries is unnecessary anyway, because one really can’t improve on those Laurent Bouzereau put together the first time around. They’re wonderfully informative, packed with entertaining anecdotes and at times brutally honest. “Rope” scriptwriter Arthur Laurents, for instance, was unhappy that Hitchcock included the murder at the beginning — a move that Laurents called “a failure of nerve.”
One wishes that Hitchcock had been around to put in his two cents into these documentaries. But his appearance in “Masters of Cinema,” in which he discusses his technique, helps balance things out somewhat.
At one point, Everson says that “you can literally build a whole (film school) course around Hitchcock films.” In a sense, this collection could serve as that class’s textbook: It has a bit of everything, from the great (“Vertigo,” “Psycho”) to the middling to the problematic. One can learn from all these titles. Just call this collection “The Portable Hitchcock.”