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DVD Picks: 'Alfred Hitchcock: The Essentials Collection'

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Time for our home video feature, where NPR movie critic Bob Mondello suggests something for those who like to pop their own popcorn and pop in a video. For this Halloween week, Bob suggests sending a shiver up your spine with some classics from: Alfred Hitchcock: The Essentials Collection.

When I was a kid, these were the Hitchcock films that scared me, um...shoutless: Psycho, Rear Window, The Birds, North by Northwest, and Vertigo. Wasn't till decades later that I realized he did them all for Universal Pictures, which turns out to have been a good thing, because they've now put them together in a single re-mastered package.

By their last release in theaters, some of these films — especially Rear Window — were in pretty bad shape. Happily, the frame-by-frame restoration didn't just color-correct faded negatives and clean them up, it yielded some nifty bonuses, especially for fans of composer Bernard Hermann. Ever wondered what Psycho's shower scene would've sounded like without the score amping up the horror? Janet Leigh's no slouch in the screams department, but there's no question the scene's stronger with those screeching violins.

On North By Northwest, you can test the reverse proposition, playing the whole movie with just the music track, no dialogue, no sound effects. It's an intriguing exercise, letting you see just how visual this one-time silent filmmaker was, though it also that means you won't hear Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint chattering away as they cling by their fingernails from Mt. Rushmore.

Other extras include a truly terrible ending the director was forced to shoot for Vertigo's overseas engagements at the insistence of foreign censors. Also Peter Bogdanovich doing a terrific Hitchcock impression as he remembers the suspense-meister telling a grisly, blood-soaked story while riding in a crowded elevator, then letting the doors close behind him just before reaching the climax. Tippi Hedron's screen test for The Birds is also included, as is Hitchcock himself in newsreel footage, regaling the press with how The Birds got such a short title.

"Just two words," he says. "There were three, but we cut the first word, 'for.'"

Vintage Hitchcock, a guy who knew how to amuse, while scaring the yell out of you.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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