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Category:    Home > Reviews > Psychological Thriller > Mystery > Detective > Murder > Literature > Movie Music > Rear Window/Vertigo/Psycho – Universal Legacy Series Special Edition (2-Disc DVD Sets) + Bernard Herrmann – The Film Scores by Esa-Pekka Salonen with The Los Angeles Philharmonic (Sony Classical/SACD)

Rear Window/Vertigo/Psycho – Universal Legacy Series Special Edition (2-Disc DVD Sets) + Bernard Herrmann – The Film Scores by Esa-Pekka Salonen with The Los Angeles Philharmonic (Sony Classical/Super Audio Compact Disc/SACD/SA-CD)


Picture: B-     Sound: C+/C+/C+/B     Extras: B+     Films: B+/B+/A+     Music: B+



At one time, Alfred Hitchcock, his popularity and his influence were inescapable.  One of the most important and innovative filmmakers of all time, he was a distinctive British filmmaker in the silent era, did the first British sound film and when he arrived in America, became more and more popular with only a few box office failures and experiments that might not have worked getting in his way.  By the 1950s, he was a big Hollywood filmmaker after finding control at both Warner Bros. and Paramount, entered a peak phase that includes some of the most important films ever made.  Three of them, Rear Window (1954), Vertigo (1958) and Psycho (1960) are being reissued by Universal Home Video in upgraded DVD double sets and these versions easily surpass their sometimes too basic predecessor editions.


Rear Window is still a much-imitated and referenced film, as a photographer named Jeff (James Stewart) is stuck in a wheelchair and a cast temporarily after an accident, leaving him watching his neighbors, wondering about his life and juggling his share of visitors.  They include a friend (Thelma Ritter) and a closer friend (Grace Kelly) who may be more than that depending on how the relationship goes.  As Jeff is left with more time on his hands, he starts to notice many things, but when the wife of a not-so-nice-neighbor (Raymond Burr) disappears, he suspects murder and will try to do something about it.  But at what cost?


Ever suspenseful and clever, the performances are great, the film great and a masterwork that holds ups shockingly well 55 years later and counting.  Kelly is at her most beautiful, Stewart with another great performance, Ritter a riot and Burr giving another performance that shows how underrated an actor he is.  The voyeurism theme is explicitly addressed and is as true now as it ever has been.



Vertigo is about obsession and how it can bring us all to the point of life and death.  A remarkable film, Stewart plays a detective with the title illness who is having gilt because a case he was on got someone killed.  However, a friend out of necessity turns to him and begs him to come out of retirement to solve a new case about his wife (Kim Novak) who he wants followed.  When the results are her death, he freaks out even more and lands up institutionalized.  When he recovers, he is still not well, but realizes something is not right when he thinks he sees the dead woman!


A box office disappointment in its time, it became a highly celebrated film soon after by the French New Wave thinkers and in eventual rediscovery, from the Bernard Herrmann score to its bold twists and ending.  It is also a very personal film and like all Hitchcock films, the audience still has not caught up with it 50 years later.



Psycho was made after the huge box office success of North By Northwest (1959, MGM) and turned totally away from the big budgets, VistaVision and Technicolor that Hitchcock was thriving on in the latter 1950s.  It was said that Hitch had lost his touch and was being overtaken by other directors, including Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Diabolique (1955) where more than a few thought the capable French filmmaker had out Hitchcocked-Hitchcock.  How wrong they were.


Like the international French hit, Hitchcock would make his film on a low budget and in black and white.  He would use some name actors, but use his TV show crew and give himself limited time to shoot the whole production.  In one of the biggest mistakes in Hollywood history, all the studios would turn down financing the film, so Hitchcock funded it himself and when it was a huge blockbuster, they were all sorry.


The story is about Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) who has worked at a real estate business for many years, has a lover (John Gavin) she secretly sees and wishes she could be with more.  Later that day, her boss has a drunken client who leaves $40,000 in cash with her boss, who is so uncomfortable that he has her deposit all of it in the bank.  She takes the day off early, saying she is not feeling well, but decides to bolt with the money.  Then she takes one of the most famous trips in world cinema history and a classic was born.


The film is so complex to go into, it has been written about so many times and there is still so much more to say.  It is one of the greatest, most important, most influential films ever made and is the peak of Hitchcock - a master at the top of his cinematic powers.  From its brilliant Bernard Herrmann score to its flawless script by Joseph Stefano based on Robert Bloch’s book, to its great performances, to its brilliant production design, cinematography by John L. Russell, editing by George Tomasini and Saul Bass’s credits and story board designs, it is the ultimate Hitchcock masterpiece.  After endless rip-offs, imitators, a few odd sequels and even a catastrophic remake, Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho remains one of the greatest films ever made and nearly a half-century later, no thriller has been able to outdo it and the world still has not caught up with it either.



Music is an important part of the success of Hitchcock and his legendary collaborations with Bernard Herrmann are of a particularly prolific period for both.  When they split, Herrmann continued to innovate, while Hitchcock began to run into trouble.  Esa-Pekka Salonen is a huge fan of the films and the men, so much so that back in 1996, he collaborated with The Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra to record many of Herrmann’s great works and the resulting album is simply entitled Bernard Herrmann – The Film Scores.  This amazing collection was first released on Compact Disc, then Sony Classical issued it in their underrated Super Audio CD format.  The result is some of the best-sounding playback of Herrmann ever to hit any format.  The music includes:


1)     The Man Who Knew Too Much: Prelude

2)     Psycho: A Suite For Strings

3)     Marnie: Suite

4)     North By Northwest: Overture

5)     Vertigo: Suite

6)     Torn Curtain (not used in the film)

7)     Fahrenheit 451: Suite For Strings, Harps & Percussion

8)     Taxi Driver: A Night-Piece For Orchestra



Note that the music is often split into many tracks and the last two films are directed by Francois Truffaut (1966) and Martin Scorsese (1976) respectively.  The music for Torn Curtain was rejected outright by Hitchcock, ending their relationship for good.  Herrmann would also work with Brian De Palma and Larry Cohen at their cutting edge earliest.


The performances are very impressive, but Salonen does take a liberty with North By Northwest by speeding up the tempo a bit, but that still works.  It is one of the best movie music re-recordings of any kind in any format and is worth going out of your way for, especially in SA-CD.  For Hitchcock fans, it is a must!



The anamorphically enhanced 1.85 X 1 image in all cases looks pretty goods, with the restored Rear Window (which was reissued in three-strip Technicolor prints when the revival took place in the brief period the company was making such prints again) looking far better color wise, while Vertigo (shot in large-frame VistaVision and restored to a 65mm negative) also shows some improvement from the previous DVD versions, leaving Psycho the most improved.  This time, you can see the Video Black better; have better gray scale, detail and depth from the 35mm shoot.  All are promising for Blu-ray release after seeing these whenever they roll around.  The Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono on Rear Window and Psycho are as clean as they could be expected to be, while Vertigo adds a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix that does its best with the old audio.  Though it would seem DTS would have been a nice option, when the DTS-only 12” LaserDisc was issued of the film, its DTS 5.1 was no different than the Dolby in other versions; a rare case.


The DSD 2.0 Stereo on the Salonen SA-CD easily delivers the best audio here, being a new recording and all, also edging out its CD counterpart just enough, though you need that disc to hear the CD sound because there are no CD tracks on this SA-CD.  The CD versions touted Dolby Surround, meaning you could decode it with regular Pro Logic and get some nice surrounds.  That works here as well, though with as good as this recording is, it is a shame that a 5.1 DSD option was not available.


There are no extras on the SA-CD, but the DVD extras are many and finally do justice to these classics, though some are imported from previous editions.  All have original theatrical trailers, stills, excerpts from the classic book Hitchcock/Truffaut and production notes.  Rear Window adds an audio commentary by John Fawell (author of Hitchcock’s Rear Window: The Well-Made Film), the re-release trailer narrated by James Stewart, Rear Window Ethics documentary, interview with writer John Michael Hayes, Pure Cinema: Through The Eyes Of A Master, Breaking Barriers: The Sound Of Hitchcock and Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode Mr. Blanchard’s Secret.  Vertigo adds two audio commentary tracks (one with director William Friedkin, the other Associate Producer Herbert Coleman and the restoration production team including Robert A. Harris and James Katz), foreign censorship editing, restoration trailer, Obsessed With Vertigo: New Life For Hitchcock’s Masterpiece, Partners in Crime: Hitchcock’s Collaborators and Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode The Case of Mr. Pelham.  Psycho adds two looks at the shower scene, newsreel footage on the film’s release, an audio commentary by Stephen Rebello (author of the excellent Alfred Hitchcock & The Making Of Psycho), a making of featurette, In The Master’s Shadow: Hitchcock’s Legacy and Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode Lamb To The Slaughter.


These are must-own sets and the Salonen interpretations of Herrmann’s music is some of the best artistically and sonically of his work by other artists to date.  It is a great moment for Hitch fans!



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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