Torn Curtain (1966) is a political thriller starring Paul Newman and Julie Andrews. Despite its intriguing cast, the film is forgettable, offering up very little intrigue in its Cold War storyline. Topaz (1969) also centers on the Cold War. Unlike Torn Curtain’s backdrop of a Germany divided by the Berlin wall, Topaz deals with Russian spies. It comes off like Hitchcock’s version of a James Bond thriller, except its ensemble cast was lacking a central character with the charisma of a Bond-type figure. At 143 minutes, the film feels bloated and is missing the taut, can’t-stop-watching appeal of Hitchcock at his finest.
Finally there’s The Trouble with Harry (1955) and Family Plot (1976). Both films delve into the less-explored comedic side of Hitchcock. They’re more or less black comedies that deal with murder and death. The more enjoyable of the two (by far) is Harry, in which the residents of a small town find a dead body and can't seem to agree on what to do with it. They also can't seem to agree on whether there is a murderer in their midst. Shirley MacLaine and Jerry Mathers both appear in their first film roles. Family Plot centers on a fake psychic (Barbara Harris) and her boyfriend (Bruce Dern) who attempt to find the long-lost nephew of a wealthy old woman. The couple is in it for the money, but they soon find the nephew may be up to more no good than they are. This was Hitchcock’s final film and it doesn’t make a very good epitaph.
As for the visual presentation of Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection, while the pluses generally outweigh the negatives, it’s hard not to feel like many of these films will eventually be spruced up for future standalone releases. Surprisingly, the best-looking film in the set is the one that’s been available on Blu-ray since 2009, North By Northwest. Warner clearly spent some time restoring that film in a way that Universal simply hasn’t done for most of the other 14 films collected here. The biggest problem, far and away, is the abundance of print flaws that plague many of the films. The Man Who Knew Too Much is the most obvious victim of this, saddled with a transfer that is just plain terrible. If the tons of white and black specs, blotches, and fine lines weren’t enough, the colors are inconsistent and badly faded.
With those two setting the best and worst standards, a very wide range is covered by the others. The earliest films are among the best looking. Both Saboteur and Shadow of a Doubt benefit from strong transfers and relatively clean source prints. Both films were shot by cinematographer Joseph A. Valentine and the detail in his work is well represented. Valentine was joined by William V. Skall for the earliest color film, Rope, and it’s a bit of a mixed bag, with an overall soft look.