In college, I lost about 80 kazillion brownie points with my then-girlfriend when I let it slip that I thought Hitchcock was "kinda overrated."
WAIT! WAIT! Don't go away! Hold on a second! To be fair, that statement was uttered following a screening of Strangers on a Train, which is hardly Hitchcock's best film, and also to be fair, in college I said even more dumb stuff about things I didn't understand than I do now.
Last week, three of Hitchcock's most revered and famous films--Psycho, Rear Window, and Vertigo--came out on two-disc DVD sets under the "Universal Legacy Series" banner, each with a beautifully remastered picture and a bunch of bonus features. At this point, I think it's fair to say that no, Hitchcock isn't overrated, and yes, you're right, college-age me was a fucking idiot, and also, you should hit the jump for my impressions on all three DVDs.
Along with The Birds, North by Northwest, Rope, and Lifeboat, these three films arguably mark the high points of Hitchcock's career. Out of these three, Psycho (1960) is probably the most famous and the general favorite. But I'm not sure if that's really deserved--Psycho is really great and creepy, sure, but once you know the plot twist, it doesn't hold up nearly as well as the fantastically well-made Rear Window (1954) or the endlessly rewatchable Vertigo (1958).
Rear Window is as close to a perfectly made film as you'll ever see, actually: I can't think of a single frame or line of dialogue that's wasted. Jimmy Stewart plays L.B. Jefferies, a photographer laid up in a wheelchair and stuck in his apartment, waiting to heal; as he sits there getting more and more bored, he spies on his neighbors--including one who seems to have gotten away with murder. The performances are dead-on, across the board. The whole thing unfolds in a way that's not only incredibly entertaining on a gut level--the movie's just fun to watch--but astonishingly smart and clever and insightful. Plus, Grace Kelly is so jaw-droppingly, heart-stoppingly gorgeous and charming in this movie that I'm not even going to bother trying to describe the massive crush I have on her, though maybe this'll help explain matters.
Vertigo is a whole other deal, 'cause it's just profoundly, irrevocably fucked up. It's easy to think of Psycho as being the most messed up film out of these three, but really, Psycho's physical violence has nothin' on the eerie, cryptic, ugly psychological violence on display in Vertigo, where Stewart, as an acrophobic detective, investigates the weird-ass behavior of a weird-ass lady (Kim Novak) and eventually gets sucked into this whole weird-ass thing that's just... yeah. It's hard to describe, but it's just fantastically gripping and profound and unique, not to mention that it's one of the most stunning-looking films ever made. There are beautiful, haunting, and rich images throughout Vertigo that are just permanently etched into my brain, and have been since before I even saw the film--images that've transcended their presence and utility in the film to become ingrained images in our collective consciousness. So yeah. Vertigo is amazing and terrifying and pretty. And messed up.
Psycho is Psycho, and whether it's spawning an entire genre of copycat films or novelty shower curtains or unasked-for remakes, it's pretty hard to underestimate the effects the film has had. It's an incredibly effective film, and it's a lot of fun, and the first time you see it, it is pretty scary--but all that said, it doesn't hold up as well on multiple viewings, or offer quite as much, as Hitchcock's other stuff. Definitely worth seeing, and definitely worth having if you're a Hitchcock fan, though.
Extras wise, each of these films comes with a bonus disc of special features, which include all sorts of stuff: documentaries about the making of the films, trailers and lobby cards and production photographs, commentaries from Hitchcock experts. They're solid bonuses, and worth delving into, though a few are particularly cool: Vertigo's "foreign censorship ending" adds a whole other scene to the end of the film; while Psycho has Saul Bass' storyboards for the infamous shower scene, as well as a promo reel about the release of the film that does a fantastic job of showing what an excellent (and shameless) self-promoter Hitchcock was.
So anyway, yeah: Three really good DVDs of three really good movies are out. In a couple of week's I'll likely do another Hitchcock DVD review on Blogtown, this time of MGM's "Hitchcock Premiere Collection," an eight-disc box set collecting some of the director's earlier work: Lifeboat, Spellbound, Notorious, The Paradine Case, Sabotage, Young and Innocent, Rebecca, and The Lodger. I haven't seen a bunch of those, so it's gonna take me some time to bust through that set. If you want to beat me to it, that set (and like I said, the three releases I talked about above), are all available now. Get Netflixin'.