Alfred Hitchcock began his movie career in 1919 as a title card designer for silent films. He quickly moved up through the ranks at Paramount Pictures in Islington, England and became a scriptwriter, art director, and assistant director. In 1922, he was given his first job as director but after shooting just a few scenes, the finances were lost and filming was shut down. In 1925, he was given another directing opportunity and this one, The Pleasure Garden actually saw theatrical release. It flopped. As did The Mountain Eagle, made in 1926, a film which is now lost to history as all existing copies have been destroyed.
In 1927, Hitchcock turned to a genre which he wold return to almost exclusively for the rest of his career, the suspense thriller. The Lodger is a silent film about the hunt for a Jack the Ripper-type serial killer in London. It was a huge hit. Hitchcock made six more silent films before turning to “talking pictures” in 1929 with Blackmail.
By 1939, Hitchcock was a roaring success throughout the world. He was being hailed as the best director in Britain. Naturally, America came knocking, and in 1939, he signed with David O. Selznick for a seven-year contract. His first American film (though interestingly it was set in Europe), Rebecca, won the Academy Award for Best Picture.
The films he made in the '40s are quite good, but it's the 1950s that saw Hitchcock go from a very good director of genre films to absolute genius. In that decade, he directed such films as Rear Window, To Catch a Thief, The Man Who Knew Too Much (a remake of his earlier film of the same name), Vertigo, North by Northwest, Dial M for Murder, and Psycho (which premiered in 1960 but we’re still counting it). That’s an incredible run of films and includes several I’d include in the "best movies ever made" category. The '50s also saw the development of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, a weekly television series. Hitchcock approved all the scripts and directed a few episodes, but mostly allowed others to do the heavy lifting. Notoriously, he gave increasingly droll intros and outros to each episode.
Despite his overwhelming commercial successes over the next decade, Hitchcock struggled to gain any sort of positive critical reception. His films were considered genre pictures. He only made suspense thrillers, which were beneath most critics. This began to change in the late 1960s with a group of French critics writing for the influential magazine Cahiers du Cinéma. In 1967, one of those critics, Francois Truffaut, published Hitchock/Truffaut a book filled with a series of interviews between the two where Hitchcock discusses every film he’d made up until that point. It helped transform critical opinion of Hitchcock and remains a must read for film fans.
The '60s found the director’s output slowing down and his quality slipping. The culture was changing. The sexual revolution allowed women freedom over their own bodies. The Vietnam War was raging. The counterculture came roaring in. Movies, too, were leaving their old ways. The Hays Code was dying, major studios were struggling while independent films were bringing in the youth audience. Hitchcock tried to change with them. He’s always pushed the envelope against the censors and now his movies were more free.
The main characters in Torn Curtain are unmarried lovers. The violence became more graphic, the sex more outright. There’s even a bit of nudity in Frenzy. But he was still making movies like he did in the '40s under the studio system. He hired young, hip actors like Paul Newman and Bruce Dern but the man who famously said he treated his actors like cattle bristled against their method acting.
He died in 1980 at 80 years of age. He is now considered one of the greatest directors of all time. Though I still have a few films yet to watch, I’ve never seen one I didn’t like. Not all of them are great, but he made a string of classics to rival anyone whose ever made a film.
Alfred Hitchcock: The Ultimate Collection is a huge, beautiful collection of some of the master’s greatest films (and a few that aren’t). It contains fifteen films in all that cover the range of his American career (sadly, there is nothing from his British period). It's got most of his really big films and a few of the smaller ones. There’s a few obvious blank spots, like Rebecca and Dial M For Murder, and it runs a little heavy on his late period, but overall, it's a really lovely collection of films.
Here’s the full list:
Shadow of a Doubt
The Trouble With Harry
The Man Who Knew Too Much
North By Northwest
Each film comes with numerous extras including audio commentaries, appreciations, screen tests, and more. Also included are two disks full of episodes from Alfred Hitchcock Presents and the Alfred Hitchcock Hour (which is the same basic show only elongated from 25 minutes to 50). These are all on standard DVD not Blu-ray.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that these films have all been previously released on Blu-ray and this boxed set is merely a repackaging of those films and their various extras. The TV show is also available in its own, much more complete, sets. So you aren’t really getting anything new here and if you have these films in previous versions, then you might want to reconsider a repurchase. As such, the audio and video quality vary from film to film but overall, I am very pleased with the quality.
Normally, I hate that sort of thing as it just seems the studios are out to get your hard-earned cash for a double dip. But this box is filled with such goodness and at less than $100 it will make a great gift for your classic film-loving uncle and makes a really great primer for dipping into Alfred Hitchock’s filmography.
One last note on the packaging. The disks are not individually packaged in their own cases and instead slip into little cardboard sleeves. One will need to be extra careful pulling them out and putting them back in again to avoid scratches.
Alfred Hitchcock was one of the world’s great movie directors. The Ultimate Collection is a nicely priced set of some of his best films.