Alfred Hitchcock Presents Collectors’ Guide

  • 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
  • There are numerous 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.


Contents


Production

Deadpanning a witty intro to Alfred Hitchcock Presents

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

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.

Presents YouTube Channel | monologues, FigureCat, Ketchup | S.1 best openings | cellphone shorts


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.

Of course, Alfred Hitchcock Presents was revived from 1987 to 1989 for a four-season, 76-episode run which consisted of reused, colorized original Hitch bookends, 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 US only has seasons 1-6 of the original Presents on DVD 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 US sets also have other faults; for instance, Hitch’s intro is missing from the S1 episode, “The Baby Sitter”.

US: Universal Season…

Fabulous Films’ UK box sets, also available separately, are unquestionably the best way to obtain the entire 1955–1965 run. France has both series complete but, along with Germany and Spain’s incomplete DVDs, many episodes have localised titles and insert shots, and Hitch’s specially-shot French or German-language intros in many of the later episodes. Italy’s releases are also incomplete (seasons one and two) with some localised episodes, and so on. 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 foreign English-speaking audiences, so were replaced with jokes about Americans instead.

Only Australia also has both series complete and unedited but Madman Entertainment’s original 10 separate-season sets (2009–2013), clearly distinguishable by their large yellow ratings logo, are long deleted and quite pricey. Oz eBay’s your best bet, here and here. However, most of them have been re-released in the form of the Presents Seasons 1-4 and Hour Complete Series sets; hopefully seasons 5-7 of the former will soon follow. One other desirable release from Madman is Alfred Hitchcock Directs, a rare compilation of all 18 self-directed episodes of his series, naturally featuring some of the best of its 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 the Harrison-produced “Four O’Clock” episode of Suspicion (1957–1958), to round up every TV programme directed by Hitch. For added completeness, it also has the otherwise unreleased “The Jailer” originally made for Presents and produced by Hitch, Harrison and Lloyd. However, in the event it was broadcast as part of Alcoa Premiere (1961–1063), a more varied anthology series presented by and occasionally starring Fred Astaire. It has optional French subtitles, and dubs for eight of the episodes but, as before, several are altered from their original versions.

This 2008 featurette first appeared an extra in the US and Oz season four DVD sets and is now included in many of the latest Universal BD and DVD 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 set, and a way to boost sales of the already oft-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

During perhaps the most renowned director-composer pairing in all of cinema, Bernard Herrmann scored nine consecutive Hitchcocks from The Trouble with Harry to Marnie, until the pair fell out over the direction for Hitch’s next film Torn Curtain. He also scored 17 episodes of Hour up till the fall-out and his 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 all of Herrmann’s scores, 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 episodes 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.

According to renowned critic-historian and all-round good egg Professor Sir Christopher Frayling, Hitch’s choice of theme tune was inspired by its use in F. W. Murnau’s Sunrise (1927).


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 done an admirable job of it 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 was AHP: Ghost Stories for Young People, a 1962 LP which featured Hitch introducing six short stories. all evocatively recorded in ghoulish style.


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.


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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