Alfred Hitchcock Collectors’ Guide, Part 3

by Brent Reid

American movie collections

  • The Master’s higher profile later movies are the works cementing his towering legend
  • However, his artistry cannot be fully appreciated via seriously substandard transfers
  • Despite the seemingly endless choices, most releases are exactly the same originals
  • On all three latest disc formats, they’re simply repackaged and reissued endlessly
  • There’s much variation between countries: some are good but many are very bad
  • The same applies to many streaming copies with altered, inauthentic versions
  • Physical media’s still the best way to be sure of experiencing true Hitch genius
  • Best box sets ideal way to collect big chunks of his oeuvre in one fell swoop

Note: this is part of an ongoing series of 150-odd Hitchcock articles; any dead links are to those not yet published. Subscribe to the email list to be notified when new ones appear.

Part 1: Setting the scene | Part 2: British film restorations and collections | Part 3: American movie collections

The Films of Alfred Hitchcock caricature by Justin Reed

The Films of Alfred Hitchcock by Justin Reed (archive)

Contents


Introduction

You’d be forgiven for thinking things become much simpler when it comes to collecting Alfred Hitchcock’s 30 American works, as opposed to those from his generally lesser known British years. After all, they were big-budget bonanzas made for major stateside studios and have always been well looked-after, right? Well, no: one of those is not true. Most of them are now owned or distributed by just three companies: Universal Studios (14), Warner Bros. (8) and Disney (5). The exceptions are Foreign Correspondent (owned by Shout! Factory via Westchester Films), Under Capricorn (CBS Television Distribution) and To Catch a Thief (Paramount). All of those, especially the latter, occasionally pop up in some countries’ box sets; see their individual listings.

All of Hitch’s American movies have been regularly remastered, restored and repackaged over the years but believe it or not, all but six of them have releases with common issues severely compromising his artistry. These include problematic visuals, re-edited versions, drastically altered soundtracks and even transfers in completely the wrong aspect ratio. How can you begin to appreciate Hitch’s craft if his films don’t even look or sound the way he originally envisioned and created them? But many releases do the job just fine, providing you know which ones to pick. For in-depth details on the very best – and worst! – of each of them, see the individual guides.

From Dial M for Murder onwards, Hitch’s films were all shot for widescreen projection but on VHS and LaserDisc, every one of them were most often transferred incorrectly. To fill tube TV screens, they were either open matte (too much picture top and bottom – visible boom mikes!) or panned and scanned (sides cropped). As detailed below, a handful of them are still afflicted thus on DVD. Not all their soundtracks escaped unharmed either; as explained previously, six American Hitchcocks have revisionist surround-remixed audio by default though at least some – but not all – releases have the original as an option. It’s completely disappeared on others or, rather, been suppressed; the most notable example being North by Northwest, whose original soundtrack has never been issued on DVD or any more recent format.

Although most titles from Warner Bros. and Universal Studios have the exact same Blu-rays and DVDs issued worldwide, apart from regional sub and dub options, there are some notable exceptions. Where the DVDs match, not only do the PAL discs look every bit as good as their NTSC counterparts but most are actually marginally better, due to PAL’s greater horizontal resolution of 720 x 576 pixels versus NTSC’s 720 x 480. Of course, the PAL discs do have 4% speed-up but most viewers are not not sensitive to it and those that are have the option of slowing it down again.

The first Universal DVDs, released between 1999 and 2001, had late video-era transfers and, outside of North America, the original discs have only in a few cases been remastered or improved. However, in the US and Canada, they were followed by 2005 remasters for most of them and a few years later, three of the four Universal mainstays – Rear WindowVertigo and Psycho, excepting The Birds – were issued a third time on DVD in the US two-disc Legacy Series. All four were also released in like fashion in France and the Netherlands; the sole non-American DVD outings for any of the remasters. Apart from Vertigo, which had a rescan of the original negative, those 2005-remastered transfers ended up on Blu-ray and streaming services, and most are still in use today. Most recently, in 2020 the four main films were remastered yet again, culminating in their latest 4K UHD and streaming releases. The remaining 10 Universals are coming to 4K later in 2022, in two sets of five.

In addition to home-made DVD-Rs from eBay, iOffer, etc, obscure, non-western releases being bootlegs is almost a given, especially from Eastern Asia. Though far fewer than the countless rip-offs of Hitch’s British films, there are numerous pressed discs from known western bootleg labels, particularly in Spain, Italy and Germany, which I’ve indicated in the individual entries.


ABC Television box sets

 Alfred Hitchcock: Les Années Selznick French Carlotta Blu-ray box set

Carlotta’s lavish French Blu-ray and DVD set of all four ABC TV-owned films comes with an exclusive 300-page hardback book

During his 1940–1947 contract to über-producer David O. Selznick, Hitch made seven features on loan-out to other studios, five of which now reside with Warner and Universal. In the event, his union with Selznick yielded only three titles: Rebecca, Spellbound and The Paradine Case. Following Selznick’s 1965 death all three, along with Selznick-owned, RKO loan-out Notorious, were sold to ABC Television and the quartet have been regularly packaged together under license to various labels throughout the home video era. In 1995, ABC was bought by Disney who, via their 2019 acquisition of 20th Century Fox, now also own Lifeboat. However, there have been no new releases of that film since and it’s only appeared in two sets, one of which should be avoided.

The situation regarding the Selznick four’s different versions and transfers is quite complicated, so their sets are all detailed individually. The bottom line is their distribution rights, like those of Foreign Correspondent, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Suspicion and Under Capricorn, are split between different labels overseas. On DVD, they’ve mostly issued lesser quality transfers struck from local theatrical prints, as opposed to the original, superior pre-print materials held in the States and used for domestic releases. Thankfully, all Blu-rays correct these deficiencies by consistently featuring only the best transfers available at the time of release.


Warner Bros. DVD box sets

US 10-DVD Alfred Hitchcock Signature Collection

US 10-DVD Signature Collection

Warner own eight of Hitch’s American films and for the most part they’re self-distributed worldwide. They also had stateside distribution of Foreign Correspondent for several decades, releasing it there on VHS, LD and DVD. Throughout DVD’s peak years, Warner consistently had the best quality releases of any major studio with excellent transfers, copious extras and many acclaimed box sets of their classic titles. They issued their Hitchcocks in many complete and near-complete collections which, largely depending on their release date, often contain one or both discs of Strangers on a Train’s remastered reissue (2004), as opposed to its single flipper original (1997). Likewise with North by Northwest: later sets have disc one of its two-disc remastered reissue (2009), as opposed to the prior single disc edition (2000). Across the board, Warner only made one technical boo-boo but it’s a biggie: the North American DVDs of Dial M for Murder, like several Universals, were transferred in the wrong aspect ratio – ‘fullscreen’ instead of widescreen – and have never been corrected. These are the most comprehensive collections, all with four films or more.


Warner Bros. Blu-ray box sets

Alfred Hitchcock Definitive Collection UK HMV 20-BD box set

Warner are expectedly meticulous about the quality of their BD transfers and many of them, including their Hitchcocks, are among the best looking and sounding classic films available. An additional bonus is that unlike their classic DVDs, they always issue the exact same region free disc worldwide with a host of sub/dub options. Unfortunately, due to extensive restructuring of their deep catalogue home video division, Warner haven’t carried the DVD policy of complete Hitch collections through to BD and mostly issue them individually. But just about everywhere outside of the Americas, Strangers on a TrainDial M for Murder and North by Northwest are regularly packaged as a trio; those sets can be found in their individual listings. There are also just two sets of four films apiece from the US and Spain, with the latter being a limited edition that’s now as rare as hen’s teeth.

Oct 21, 2020 update: The most comprehensive box set yet, the UK HMV/Zaavi-exclusive, limited edition Definitive Collection/alt includes all 14 Universal and six Warner BDs available at the time of release (Stage Fright was released on US BD in January 2022). All discs are region free and completely playable worldwide.

US: 4-BD Alfred Hitchcock: Archive Collection


Universal DVD box sets

German 14-DVD Alfred Hitchcock Collection, hardback book limited edition (Universal)

German 14-DVD hardback book limited edition collection

Universal Studios released the first DVDs of their 14 Hitchcock titles between 1998 and 2001. They were generally a vast improvement over their previous outings on VHS, Betamax and LaserDisc, especially as many were now correctly in widescreen for the first time. However, there are some issues among them: The North American Vertigo and Psycho discs are non-anamorphic, so have reduced resolution, and only the American DVDs are all in widescreen where appropriate. Everywhere else, The Birds, Marnie, Torn Curtain and Topaz all have incorrect, 1.33:1 tube TV screen-filling transfers, as also afflicts Warner’s American Dial M for Murder DVD. Sadly, despite countless reissues and repackages, outside of the US and Canada there is only a literal handful of upgraded issues of Universal’s early discs. Shame on the studio for still flogging them in an age where widescreen 2K and 4K HD is the norm. If collectibles are your thing, several countries outside of North America have released very attractive, limited edition VHS and DVD sets of Hitch’s later films. These largely consist of the Universals and most often come with extensive illustrated booklets or in Digibook packaging.

These are the most comprehensive general sets of the Universals; next are many non-American sets which have split the 14 into two 7-DVD sets, Hitchcock Vol.1 and Vol.2., with Benelux also issuing a third volume, detailed below.

US 100th Anniversary Collection trailer


Universal France DVD box sets

22-DVD/25-film Alfred Hitchcock Collection (Universal France, 2015).

22-DVD/25-film (Universal France collection, 2015). Despite this and many other non-US DVD sets having similar sleeve designs to remastered US sets, none of them contain remastered or aspect ratio-corrected discs, where applicable.

In France. Benelux and Sweden, Universal issued several humongous box sets even broader in scope than those above. They’re particularly notable for including many of his British films alongside the later American ones, whereas other Universal sets above just have the latter. If you’re building a complete Hitchcock DVD collection from scratch, they’re easily the best place to start: you can pick up around half his entire output in one fell swoop. As with most Hitch discs issued in Europe, all are English-friendly and have copious extras. They’re also region 2 PAL and feature a host of sub and dub options. In the French sets, Hitch’s British years are represented by three 2on1 DVDs, also available separately:

The Benelux and Swedish sets add Foreign Correspondent/To Catch a Thief and Correspondent respectively, and a different selection of eight British films. Those are eight of the 12 Studiocanals on four 2on1 DVDs: Champagne/The Ring, The Manxman/The Farmer’s Wife, Blackmail/Murder and Skin Game/Rich and Strange. Although not available separately, in Benelux the four discs were initially issued with Correspondent in the AH Collection 3 (2007). Volumes 1 and 2 consist of the split 14 Universals, as explained above.

Note: when I first compiled and published this info elsewhere, these sets were all reasonably cheap and widely available but the latter is no longer the case. However, it’s still worth keeping an eye out for used copies on sites like Rakuten and eBay in France, Marktplaats and eBay in the Netherlands, Tradera in Sweden, etc.


Universal remastered DVD box sets

US 17-DVD Alfred Hitchcock Ultimate Collection (Universal)

In 2005, the US Masterpiece Collection débuted remastered transfers for Saboteur, Rear Window, The Trouble with Harry, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Vertigo, Psycho, The Birds, Marnie, Torn Curtain, Topaz, Frenzy and Family Plot. Every film in fact, except Shadow of a Doubt and Rope, which already looked fine. Later issued individually, all have essentially been the de facto versions in the US and Canada ever since. These three are by far the most comprehensive sets; they all have the 2-disc Psycho and the latest two have a couple of extra DVDs of Alfred Hitchcock Presents episodes.


Universal Blu-ray box sets

The House of Hitchcock US Blu-ray box set

In terms of their transfers, extras, etc, Universal’s 14 Hitch BDs are almost exactly the same everywhere: they’re all region free and in English  by default with some regional variations in sub/dub options. The main exceptions are Topaz, which has two different cuts split between English and non-English-speaking countries, and Vertigo’s US disc being the only one to have the original mono audio in addition to its heavily criticised  5.1 remix. Lastly, Psycho’s original mono is lossy DTS on the US/Canadian discs and lossless DTS-HD Master Audio on all others. But the difference is negligible and as these all contain the slightly cut version that’s mistakenly been in circulation ever since the film’s first release, the uncut 60th anniversary editions are really the ones to get anyway. With those caveats, although there is still room for improvement in certain of the transfers, Universal’s BDs are uniformly an A/V leap over the DVDs and finally iron out the aspect ratio anomalies plaguing the aforementioned titles. The non-US sleeve designs are by Oink Creative, London; here’s a slideshow.

The uncut Psycho BD (2020) is the only one of Universal’s 14 Hitchcocks to be remastered and re-released; other than that, the original discs have all been endlessly repackaged and reissued everywhere. Occasionally, as with some DVD sets above, the 14 are bolstered by inclusion of some non-Universal titles; most commonly pared-down reissues of To Catch a Thief and North by Northwest, along with two Alfred Hitchcock Presents DVDs. These box sets are the most comprehensive to date in the West and Japan. Note that as with the DVD sets, many non-US countries have also split the 14 into two 7-BD sets, Hitchcock Vol.1 and Vol.2.

Oct 21 update: As mentioned above, the best box set to date is the UK HMV/Zaavi-exclusive, limited edition Definitive Collection. It includes all 14 Universal and six Warner BDs available at the time of release (Stage Fright was released on US BD in January 2022). Note that despite its rear claiming otherwise, like all other sets in this section it actually contains the cut Psycho. All discs are region free and playable worldwide.

Collection trailers: 15-BD Masterpiece | 14-BD Masterpiece Ltd Ed | 16-BD Ultimate Filmmaker, animated unboxing | House of Hitchcock


Universal 4K UHD-BD box sets

The Alfred Hitchcock 4K UHD-BD Classics Collection

Finally, here they are: in 2020, the four mainstays of Universal’s Hitch features arrived freshly remastered in 4K ultra high definition, looking and sounding the best they ever have on home video – but there are still some issues to be found. Well, it is inept Universal, so there are always going to be some cock-ups and caveats. Primarily, initial copies of the set mistakenly replaced Psycho’s original mono audio with a folded-down version of its much derided remix; more here. Secondly, concerning the iteration of the set sold in Germany, Italy, Portugal and Spain, Vertigo has playback issues on some players; again, more here. Lastly, note that in the dual format sets only the Psycho BD has been remastered; the other three BDs are the exact same previously released discs. Thankfully, at least this time all releases of Vertigo’s 4K discs include the original mono option but obviously only the US and Canadian dual format sets have BDs with mono. With the latest disc format, the tyranny of region coding has finally ended: all UHD-BDs are always region free, which is handy if you already own one of the BD collections above and would rather buy one of the four-disc sets, minus the others’ BDs.

May 2022: the second collection, unhelpfully with the exact same name as the first, has been released and contains Saboteur, Shadow of a Doubt, The Trouble with Harry, Marnie and Family Plot. A third with the remaining five Universals is due before the end of the year but my advice is to avoid all of them, as a complete 4K ‘Masterpiece Collection’ will almost inevitably follow.

Part 1: Setting the scene | Part 2: British film restorations and collections | Part 3: American movie collections


For more detailed specifications of official releases mentioned, check out the ever-useful DVDCompare. This article is regularly updated, so please leave a comment if you have any questions or suggestions.

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Bill Blodger
Bill Blodger
1st October 2021 10:40

Hi Brent,
Your enthusiasm for AH seemingly knows no bounds. I have collected 51 of Hitch’s films, and inevitably they vary in quality. Have you compiled a definitive list of the best quality transfers for each film? It would be a great help in improving my collection.

Pattison
1st October 2021 14:38

Alarmingly thorough.

olivernutherwun
olivernutherwun
4th October 2021 22:50

Great – and very informative article. It’s gonna cost me money! Just a note that many of the links to other BF Hitchcock pieces aren’t working – I keep seeing Lon Chaney.

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