Alfred Hitchcock Presents Collectors’ Guide

by Brent Reid
  • One of the longest running and most critically acclaimed TV series ever made
  • Its enduring popularity has done much to define the Master’s image in pop culture
  • Murder most delicious: thrilling, often gruesome tales almost let the baddie triumph
  • Strict production code forced him to explain at end how wicked were punished after all
  • Horror masterpiece Psycho was made with his own Shamley Productions television crew
  • Low budget shocker one of 1960’s biggest hits, helping kick down the doors of censorship
  • Iconic TV series with different international versions; unpicking their home video releases
  • Dial Eminem for Murder: first of two novelty tie-in LPs inspired the rapper’s latest opus
  • Numerous other media tie-ins and spin-offs; many are essential for the keen collector

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.

Suzanne Noël and the Master of Suspense in The Alfred Hitchcock Hour" episode Don't Look Behind You" (1962)

Suzanne Noël and the Master of Suspense in The Alfred Hitchcock Hour episode “Don’t Look Behind You” (1962)


Contents


Production

Deadpanning a witty intro to Alfred Hitchcock Presents

Deadpanning in the dead letter office: another witty intro to Alfred Hitchcock Presents (original)

Presents rose to become the foremost and best remembered of the many popular thriller-suspense TV and radio series of its time – perhaps of all time: only Rod Serling’s similarly auteur-helmed The Twilight Zone can be claimed as a serious competitor. But the roots of Hitch’s long-gestating series go all the way back to his arrival in America and involvement with The Lodger’s 1940 radio play.

Good Evening: AH on Radio – Charles Huck and Martin Grams, Jr.

Alfred Hitchcock’s long-term scriptwriter Joan Harrison may well be the master’s most frequently credited onscreen collaborator but an honourable mention must go to comedy writer James B. Allardice. He penned every one of Hitch’s pitch-perfect opening, middle and closing segments for the half-hour Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1955–1962) and its lengthier successor The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (1962–1965) during their 10-year run. But he did so without an official credit, as was also the case with Hitch’s witty, self-presented film trailers in the same period, and an unknown number of gags and speeches authored for the director’s many public appearances. However, their working relationship was brought to a premature end by Allardice’s tragic death from a heart attack at the age of only 46, a mere nine months after what was to be the final episode of Presents aired. Hitch’s lifelong friend Norman Lloyd, who was second only to Harrison with his tally of 255 shared screen credits, claimed that after Allardice’s death, Hitch felt the voice of Presents died too and didn’t want to continue without him.

Creators speak: Television Academy video interviews with 28 cast and crew members of Presents and Hour

Presents YouTube channel | monologues, Cat, Ketchup | S.1 best openings | cellphone shorts

Ken Mogg episode reviews: “Back for Christmas” (1956), “Banquo’s Chair” (1959).


Home video releases

There are repeated calls for both of Hitch’s iconic original TV series to be released on Blu-ray but though they were both shot on 35mm film, there are simply no HD masters in existence. To make them would involve scanning the original negatives or earliest extant materials, and possibly reconstructing each episode from scratch; don’t forget, there are well over 200 hours of programming. This has happened for various popular TV programmes of the era, perhaps most notably The Twilight Zone (1959–1964) and Star Trek: The Original Series (1966–1969). But it’s an extremely laborious, expensive process that’s only viable for shows capable of repaying the massive investment via physical and streaming releases, broadcast syndication rights, etc. I believe Presents/Hour is up to the task but then I’m not the one holding the purse strings.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents graveyard intro

Digging your scene: Hitch was always happy to send himself up in any way that was suggested – all in the service of art, of course.

The US only has seasons 1-6 of the original Presents on DVD (NTSC, region 1) so far and none of Hour; note that the former’s first season was issued on double-sided ‘flipper’ discs, an experiment in the early years of the format. However, they’re prone to high player failure rates, so in this case were abandoned by season two and the afflicted set was eventually reissued as more reliable dual-layer, single-sided discs. Various sites such as US eBay, iOffer, etc, are awash with Presents season 7 and Hour sets but they’re all ropy DVD-R bootlegs. Caveat emptor. The official US sets also have other minor flaws; for instance, Hitch’s intro is missing from S1 episode “The Baby Sitter”. Around the same time, Universal also released the first three seasons (PAL, region 2) in the UK and Spain, and the first two in France, Italy and Germany (via Koch) but that was as far as they got.

This Distracted Globe: Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Season One

Here’s a roundup of Universal’s US releases; Season…

The easiest legitimate way to watch both complete series is via streaming on US-only Hulu and Universal-owned Peacock, or Roku (US, Canada, UK), which can also be had anywhere with a decent VPN. But the perfect DVD solution has finally arrived with Australia’s latest re-releases from Via Vision; their sets are all confirmed as NTSC and region 0, so will play in any machine worldwide.

Note that Hitch usually shot two similar but distinct English-language intros and outros, as his US sponsor plugs would be neither allowed nor understood on British BBC TV. Further, his frequent jibes at said sponsors would also be lost on overseas audiences, so were replaced with jokes about Americans instead.

For most outside of the Americas, the best way to obtain the entire, unadulterated 1955–1965 run on disc is via Fabulous Films’ UK box sets (PAL, region 2), also available separately.

Madman Entertainment in Australia originally released both series complete and unedited but in 10 separate-season sets (2009–2013, PAL, region 4), clearly distinguishable by their large yellow ratings logo. They’re long deleted and quite pricey, and Oz eBay’s your best bet for them: Presents and Hour.

France also has both series boxed complete and separate, courtesy of Elephant Films. But, along with Universal’s incomplete foreign-language DVDs, episodes frequently have localised titles and insert shots, and Hitch’s specially-shot French-language intros on many of the later episodes (and German, on the above).

More trailers

One other desirable release from Madman is Alfred Hitchcock Directs, a rare compilation of all 18 self-directed episodes of his series (17 AHP, one AHH), naturally featuring some of the best of their run. For good measure, the set also contains the superb “Incident at a Corner”, a standout episode from Startime, a 1959–1960 colour anthology series also produced by Harrison and Hitch.

Even more comprehensive is Universal France’s Alfred Hitchcock présente set, which adds “Four O’Clock”, the Harrison-produced opening episode of Suspicion (1957–1958), to round up every TV programme Hitch directed. The set has optional French subtitles and dubs for eight of the episodes but as before, several are altered from their original versions.

Docu-series: Hitch20 | Hitch20 Extra

Still missing from official releases is “The Jail” (1962, 52min) originally made for Presents and produced by Hitch, Harrison and Lloyd. However, in the event it was broadcast as part of Alcoa Premiere (1961–1963), a more thematically varied anthology series presented by and occasionally starring Fred Astaire.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents remake ad on US TV Guide magazine, 1985

US TV Guide magazine, 1985

Alfred Hitchcock Presentswas revived from 1985 to 1989 for a four-season, 76-episode run which consisted of recycled original Hitch bookends, newly colorized, and a mixture of new stories and remakes from the original series. Unfortunately, there’s no sign of it on any home video format as yet, though it does enjoy periodic broadcast re-runs.

The 2008 featurette above first appeared an extra in the US and Oz season four DVD sets and is now included in many of the latest Universal Hitch film box sets, which contain an extra DVD or two with a selection of Presents episodes. Oddly though, not all of them are directed by the Master and of those that aren’t, they’re not necessarily even among the better entries in the series! A real pity, as it would have been the perfect opportunity to include an unaltered version of the French Hitch-directed set, and a way to boost sales of the already endlessly reissued features discs. Chalk it up to yet another Hitchcock-up, as displayed repeatedly in Universal’s inept handling of their Hitch catalogue, especially with regard to Vertigo, Psycho, The Birds, Marnie, Torn Curtain and Topaz.


Soundtrack releases

Hitch’s choice of French composer Charles Gounod’s whimsical 1872 piece “Funeral March of a Marionette” (“Marche funèbre d’une marionnette”) for his programme’s theme tune made an already well known work world famous. The director was, of course, again demonstrating his lifelong love of counterpoint – in his case, lighthearted moods, music and humour juxtaposing suspense, thrills and horror. According to renowned critic-historian and all-round good egg Professor Sir Christopher Frayling, Hitch was inspired by its effective use in F. W. Murnau’s Sunrise (1927). He even made it one of his picks when he appeared as a guest on BBC Radio’s Desert Island Discs in 1959. For the TV series, it was arranged five times between 1955 and 1964, the last of which was by Bernard Herrmann. However, the version above is an arrangement by Jeff Alexander which introduces the show launch tie-in novelty album AHP Music to be Murdered By (1958). It also includes a jaunty, big band swing version by Stanley Wilson and His Orchestra which was previously released on a US promo-only 7″. From the album’s Allardice-penned rear sleeve:

Gentle Listener:

The record in this envelope is called “Music To Be Murdered By” and is part of a campaign of mine to return to murder the dignity and charm it once had. Today there are few good, honest murderers left. Most of them are hoodlums or neurotic wrecks with no sense of style or form and certainly no interest in good music. I realize there may be a few who whistle as they work but that is hardly the same thing. This modern notion that all murders should be performed a capella simply has no historical basis. You don’t think Nero was fiddling for his own amusement, do you? Certainly not.

These days a murder is amusing for the onlookers and the murderer but no one thinks of making things pleasant for the victim. He may be a tiresome bore but he is still rather essential and is entitled to some consideration. Music, I feel, will heighten his appreciation and make his own murder the truly ennobling experience it should be.

One warning: My disembodied voice will be heard occasionally, but I promise not to sing. After all, this record was designed to accompany murder, not to commit it.

I sincerely hope you enjoy “Music To Be Murdered By” and I trust that before your demise you have time to stagger out and buy some more albums for a few of your close enemies.

With deepest sympathy,

Alfred Hitchcock

Featuring similar Allardice-Hitch introductions to Alexander’s easy listening instrumentals throughout, in 2020 it provided the concept, cover art and title for rapper Eminem’s eleventh album. The following year, he released an expanded edition, Music to Be Murdered By – Side B, featuring a further Hitch homage, ahem, killer track; the single and video “Alfred’s Theme”.

Whereas Presents entirely used pre-existing stock music, original scoring was commissioned for its expanded Hour incarnation then constantly recycled until the end of its run. British-born composer-conductor-arranger Lyn Murray, fresh off scoring To Catch a Thief, was enlisted to supply the bulk of Hour’s music, with most of the rest courtesy of Hitch’s most well known collaborator. During perhaps the most renowned director-composer pairing in all of cinema, Bernard Herrmann worked on eight consecutive Hitchcocks from The Trouble with Harry to Marnie, until the pair fell out over the musical direction of Hitch’s next film, Torn Curtain. On fire at the time, Herrmann wrote scores for seven episodes of The Twilight Zone (1959–1964), including the pilot, and the credits music for the first season. He also scored many episodes of Hour up until his schism with Hitch and all its surviving music was exclusively anthologised by soundtrack specialists Varèse Sarabande in three limited edition CD sets. 15 master reels of the series’ original recordings are thought to survive but one could not be located, so the sets aren’t quite ‘complete’.

The first two sets consist of Herrmann’s scores, all of which luckily survive, and his opening and closing themes, takes on Charles Gounod’s “Funeral March of a Marionette”, bookend all three collections. Disc one of the third set comprises the scores for four of the 44 original episode scores by Lyn Murray, who was also composer for To Catch a Thief, while disc two has both episodes by Leonard Rosenman, and each of Lalo Schifrin and Benny Carter’s sole episodes. Additional composers, for whose scores no separate music stems survive, were Pete Rugolo, Robert Drasnin, Leonard Rosenman and Richard Shores.


Books

The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (1962–1965) trade magazine ad by Robert M. Thompson, 1962, via VintageTVArt,com.

The Alfred Hitchcock Hour 1962 trade magazine ad by Robert M. Thompson, via VintageTVArt,com

There are two fine reference books dedicated to the series and though they have a fair amount of overlap, between them they cover most of everything you could wish to know but not all – there’s always room for another! Dozens of Hitch-fronted tie-in books were published internationally when his popularity was at an all-time high during the entirety of his American years and his personal marketing machine had achieved juggernaut force. They chiefly consisted of short story compilations by renowned living and dead writers that were aimed at adults, and medium length mystery novels intended for children. It would require a whole book itself to do the subject justice but various folk have supplied admirable overviews nonetheless; here’s a good place to start.

But one in particular is among the most noteworthy: Stories They Wouldn’t Let Me Do on TV was first published in 1957 and its title is pretty self-explanatory, though it aged quickly. Four of the stories, “The Waxwork”, “Being a Murderer Myself” (retitled “Arthur”), “Water’s Edge” and “The Jokester”, were adapted later in the series’ run; who said Americans don’t do irony? It’s a great compendium of 25 punchy, classic gems that naturally err towards the grisly side of life death. Immensely successful, it was translated into several languages and, in the US and UK, was quickly republished in two volumes as 12 and 13 More Stories They Wouldn’t Let Me Do on TV. In 2010, five of the stories were adapted by BBC Radio 4 as 15-minute episodes for The Late Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Bizarrely though, they opted to redo already-filmed “The Waxwork” and “Being a Murderer Myself”.

The other most notable related item is AHP: Ghost Stories for Young People, a 1962 LP similar to Music to Be Murdered By, which also features Hitch introductions. This time they’re to six short stories mostly written and evocatively recorded in ghoulish style by  US voice actor John Allen, who also appears responsible for Hitch’s dialogue and the witty rear sleeve notes.


The aforementioned series were all from Hitch’s company Shamley Productions, named after the village of Shamley Green, Surrey, the location of his former home, Winter’s Grace manor house. The rest of Shamley’s output is comprised of Psycho and Dark Intruder, a 1965 feature originally planned as the pilot for an ultimately unrealised TV series. On DVD, it was initially paired with The Night Walker, a 1965 black-and-white chiller scripted and novelised by Psycho author Robert Bloch, and directed by budget horror maestro William Castle.

Good Evening: An AHP Podcast | Good Evening: An AH Podcast | The Shamley SilhouetteAHP Episode Reviews


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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Drake63
Drake63
6th February 2022 18:22

A tremendous and deeply well informed overview of an often overlooked part of his catalogue. Only worth noting that both series were screened by ITV across its regions in primetime during their 50’s / 60’s original run with the 80’s colour NBC run getting a network berth again on ITV at time of broadcast. Post the original UK broadcasts Channel 4 picked up a brief & sporadic set of re-runs in the late 80s which featured a number of the Master’s directorial efforts.

Fr. Matt
Fr. Matt
27th February 2022 06:34

Regarding Universal France’s Alfred Hitchcock présente set, you said: For added completeness, it also has the otherwise unreleased “The Jail”. I just purchased and reviewed this set, though, and did not find “The Jail.” Which disc is it on? I looked under the “Choix Des Episodes” menu of each disc and did not see it listed.

Fr. Matt
Fr. Matt
28th February 2022 18:18

No problem, I totally understand. Thanks!

Derrick
Derrick
19th May 2022 15:22

Imprint from Australia (under the Viavision label) has released a complete boxset of the Alfred Hitchcock Hour in July 2021. They are also releasing the complete boxset of Alfred Hitchcock Presents in April 2022 … both sets are region free I believe.

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