North by Northwest (1959) - 50th Anniversary Edition [Blu-ray]
|Genre(s): Adventure / Thriller|
|Warner Brothers || NR - 136 minutes - $34.99 || November 3, 2009|
|Reviewer: Brian Oliver || Posted On: 2009-10-22|
Writer(s): Ernest Lehman (written by)
Cast: Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason, Martin Landau
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Alfred Hitchcock’s 1959 adventure-mystery North by Northwest is yet another marvelous entry into the master of suspense’s repertoire and although I’m a bigger fan of James Stewart than Cary Grant, I still found the film to be incredible. Amazingly, this is only my second viewing and while some movies, perhaps incredible at the time, can lose that gleam, but as with most of Hitchcock’s pictures, they are timeless.
Cary Grant stars as Roger Thornhill – an everyday advertising executive – who, during a lunch meeting and odd coincidence, is mistaken for a CIA agent named George Kaplan and is kidnapped by two thugs. Taken to a mansion, he pleads with his captor Mr. Townsend (JAMES MASON), that he is not Kaplan but Townsend refuses believing it is another ruse by a sly agent out to bring him down for stealing government secrets.
After refusing to tell them information he has no knowledge of, Townsend’s right-hand man (MARTIN LANDAU), forces bourdon down Thornhill’s throat with the idea to stage a tragic crash that would be blamed on the alcohol. But Thornhill manages to be able to escape and into the arms of law enforcement who do not believe his absurd story. And why not? Not only was the mansion he was at owned by a U.N. assemblyman, named Mr. Townsend, who was not the man Thornhill met, but we learn that this Agent Kaplan... doesn’t exist.
What follows is a mystery trek from Chicago to the middle of nowhere and finally to North Dakota and Mount Rushmore all the while meeting the seductive Eve Kendall (EVA MARIE SAINT) who has her own part in the whole scheme.
North by Northwest, although not my favorite of Alfred Hitchcock’s suspense mysteries, is still a fantastic ride from beginning to end. Much like other Hitchcock movies, they are dependent in big part to the lead actors. Rear Window and Vertigo wouldn’t have worked without Jimmy Stewart. At the same time, and Stewart was tapped to play Thornhill, I cannot imagine anyone else but Carey Grant in the role. Grant portrays the dull man thrown into an outrageous situation masterfully.
And no Hitchcock film would be complete without the blonde bombshell. Dial M for Murder and Rear Window had Grace Kelly, Pyscho and Janet Leigh and in North by Northwest, we got Eva Marie Saint. Saint portrays the character taking her from a sensual lover to femme fatale to potential damsel in distress.
Overall, this film is a masterpiece, a classic Hitchcock if ever there was one that could be picked. I loved the seamlessness of suspense (as only the master could do), comedy, subliminal sensuality and intense thrills and anyone who has not seen North by Northwest is missing out on so much. I might prefer other of Hitchcock’s works, but for my money suspense does not get better.
Warner Brothers has ported over features from previous DVD releases and also adds a couple new ones as well. I normally don’t consider this as a feature, but the digi-book with photos and information.
Commentary by Screenwriter Ernest Lehman – The writer provides a slow and low-key track and he basically gives a play-by-play account of the plot intertwined with where it was shot and his recollection of the filming and meeting Hitchcock. Personally, I wish there was a new track provided with maybe modern filmmakers (I would love to hear from Christopher Nolan and any one of the directors in the “Signature Style” featurette).
Cary Grant: A Class Apart (87:12) is an absolutely incredible documentary on the life of the suave actor who himself could not live up to the persona he created. It takes us from his childhood when his mother abandoned him to his rise through Hollywood, his multiple marriages and affairs through retirement. This feature alone warrants at least three stars...
The Master’s Touch: Hitchcock’s Signature Style (57:32) is another brilliant documentary this time taking a look at the Master of Suspense’s life and features interviews with various directors including Martin Scorsese, Guillermo Del Toro, John Carpenter, William Friedkin, Curtis Hanson and many more including his ex-wife and others who knew him. ** New Feature **
Destination Hitchcock: The Making of North by Northwest (39:27) – This interesting featurette made back in 2000 (I believe for Turner Classic Movies, but I could be wrong) is hosted by Eva Marie Saint. It features archival footage of Hitchcock as well as interviews with actors or crewmembers that had worked with him and covers how the film came to be.
North by Northwest: One for the Ages (25:29) – A more personal look at the film featuring more interview footage with Guillermo Del Toro, William Friedkin, Marc Lawrence, Curtis Hanson and Christopher McQuarrie talking about what made North by Northwest one of Hitchcock’s greatest films. This is another great featurette that, albeit the shortest, is still fascinating for any fan of cinema to watch. ** New Feature **
Lastly there’s a Stills Gallery, some trailers (TV Spot, Theatrical Trailer, Guided Tour with Hitchcock) and a Music-Only Track. Now, I normally dismiss these music-only tracks but Bernard Herrmann’s score is absolutely amazing; as someone who owns the score on CD, it is well worth checking out.
.::AUDIO & VIDEO::.
This is why I love the high-definition media and all that is possible when a film 50 years old can be restored to its original schema. North by Northwest is presented with a 1.85 aspect ratio and even if you don’t compare it to previous DVD incarnations, the picture absolutely looks fantastic. There’s a bit of film grain, a little unobtrusive noise but an excellent blend of colors that is well balanced and not oversaturated to push it off the screen. Now, I did slightly dock it because on a couple scenes it did look a tad rough but I doubt it had anything to do with the restoration and more with what they had to work with. That aside, this is one of the best transfers of a classic film I have seen thus far.
The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track is a bit weaker probably given the source, but I wasn’t disappointed too much. At times dialogue would come out a little rough and the rear channels don’t get a whole lot of usage, yet I still feel this was an impressive audio track. A regular English Dolby Digital 5.1 track, along with mono tracks in various other languages, is also available.
I can only hope to see more of Hitchcock films on Blu-ray (Rear Window, please) especially with the care Warner Brothers has given with North by Northwest.
Even without those incredible special features, the restored high-definition picture and just the amazing and all around classic film, is worth picking up no matter what the price is – though I imagine you’ll be able to pick it up for $15 in the near future.