Alfred Hitchcock Collectors’ Guide, Part 4

by Brent Reid

American movie collections: Universal Studios

  • Continuing our overview of the Master’s iconic American years
  • Looking at every release from studio owning almost half his works
  • Despite holding worldwide rights, their releases often differ immensely
  • Universal have issued many direct hits and complete misfires of his movies
  • They run the gamut from wholly inept to utterly superb – so choose carefully
  • Too often studio issues altered films far removed from what Hitch intended
  • Vertigo and Psycho have been messed around with more than any others
  • Both flagship titles still only available altered on streaming and DCP

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 | American movie collections Part 3: ABC and Warner Bros. | Part 4: Universal Studios

Rear Window, Vertigo, Psycho, The Birds (dir. Alfred Hitchcock) art by Brad Davis, 2022

Hitchcock’s Universal Horrors: We All Go a Little Mad Sometimes by Brad Davis, 2022; video. Original art and limited edition giclée prints for sale.


Contents


Universal DVD box sets

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

German 14-DVD hardback book limited edition collection

If you’ve landed here directly, first read the previous introduction. Universal released the first DVDs of their 14 Hitchcock titles between 1999 and 2001 with late VHS/LaserDisc-era masters. They’re generally a vast improvement over their previous earlier format outings, especially as many are 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 have incorrect, 1.33:1 tube TV screen-filling transfers, as also afflicts Warner’s American Dial M for Murder DVDs. Lastly, none of the non-North American Vertigo discs have unaltered audio.

Sadly, despite countless reissues and repackages, outside of North America there are only a few upgraded reissues of Universal’s substandard early discs; the main examples are detailed below. Shame on the studio for still flogging the old discs in an age where widescreen 2k and 4k HD is the norm. If collectibles are your thing, several non-North American countries 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 Digibook packaging.

Retrospective

These are the most comprehensive collections of the first Universal DVDs; next best are sets issued in Western Europe, Scandinavia and Japan which split the 14 into two 7-DVD sets, Hitchcock Vol.1 and Vol.2, with Benelux also issuing a third volume, detailed below. Note the 21-disc German set includes every Universal and Warner Hitchcock bar Mr. & Mrs. Smith.

US 100th Anniversary Collection VHS 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 American sets, none of them contain redone or aspect ratio-corrected discs, where applicable.

In France, Benelux and Scandinavia, 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 Scandinavian 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. The Brazilian set has the same but also adds Number Seventeen to the last disc. 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 12 of their 14 Hitchcocks, the exceptions being Shadow of a Doubt and Rope which were deemed already good enough. Vertigo and Psycho are now anamorphic and the former has the added advantage of being the only DVD ever with original, unaltered audio. 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.

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. Most recently, commencing in 2020 with the four main films, all were remastered yet again, culminating in their latest 4k UHD and streaming releases.


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 – most of which first appeared in various permutations of the Masterpiece Collection – 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 North American discs being the only ones to carry original mono audio in addition to its widely 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 artwork is 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 reissued; 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, Western Europe, Scandinavia and Japan also have the 14 split into two 7-BD sets: Hitchcock Vol.1 and Vol.2.

As mentioned before, the most comprehensive Hitchcock BD box set to date is the UK Definitive Collection. It includes all 14 Universal and six Warner BDs available at the time of release; Stage Fright wasn’t released on US BD until three months later. Note that despite its rear claiming otherwise, like all other sets in this section it actually contains the cut Psycho. Close behind it is a similar 18-disc German set; all discs concerned are region free and completely playable worldwide.

Collection trailers: 15-BD Masterpiece | 14-BD Masterpiece Ltd Ed/Japan | 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 this 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.

The Alfred Hitchcock 4K UHD-BD Classics Collection, Vol 2

The second collection arrived in May 2022, unhelpfully with the same name as the first, and as it contains less well known films than its predecessor, has only been released in half as many countries. A third set with the remaining five Universals, again with the same name, arrived in October 2023 and was expectedly released in even fewer countries. But no matter: my advice is to avoid all of them as a complete 4k ‘Masterpiece Collection’, mirroring those for previous formats, will almost inevitably follow hot on their heels. To prove my point, there’s already a 9-disc French set combining their first two.

The Alfred Hitchcock 4K UHD-BD Classics Collection, Vol 3

Part 1: Setting the scene | Part 2: British film restorations and collections | American movie collections Part 3: ABC and Warner Bros. | Part 4: Universal Studios


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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