NORTH BY NORTHWEST
Review by Michael Jacobson
Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason, Martin Landau
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: See Review
Length: 136 Minutes
Release Date: September 7, 2004
am but mad north-north west: when the wind is southerly I know a hawk from a
handsaw." - Hamlet, Act II, Scene 2
by Northwest is
the central film in what many fans consider to be Alfred Hitchcock's holy
trinity of films, starting with Vertigo and completing with Psycho.
For many, it's the quintessential Hitchcock film:
wry and funny, suspenseful, adventurous, romantic, and filled with
danger, intrigue and mistaken identities. Most
of all, it's two and a quarter hours of dynamite entertainment.
stars Cary Grant at his most affable and charming as Roger Thornhill, an
advertising executive who, by one harmless gesture, ends up in the hands of
Vandamm (Mason), a master of international espionage. Vandamm thinks that Thornhill is George Kaplan, an American
government agent on his trail. When
Kaplan...that is to say, Thornhill cannot cooperate, Vandamm tries to have him
killed by pouring a bottle of bourbon into him and setting him out on the road!
survives, but finds no evidence the next day to support his desperate claims of
kidnapping and attempted murder, meaning his only chance to clear his name is to
find the people who did it to him. A
daunting task, to be sure, but it's made even more difficult when Thornhill
becomes framed for a murder at the United Nations!
his picture in newspapers from coast to coast, Thornhill goes on the lam, but
ends up in the company of a sultry, mysterious train passenger named Eve Kendall
(the alluring Saint). He's not
quite sure why she's willing to help him, and neither are we...until we have
reason to believe she's one of Vandamm's operatives. Will Thornhill find a way to save his own hide, finger the
bad guys, and end up with the girl? Hey...this
is Cary Grant we're talking about!
favorite "mistaken man" plot has never been crafted so smartly and
entertainingly before, thanks to a keen screenplay by Ernest Lehman and
Hitch's own uncanny sense of pacing and rhythm.
Case in point is the famous sequence where Thornhill goes to meet Kaplan
on a hot, dusty, empty crossroads.
stands and waits. A car come up,
and goes by, and then another. A
truck does the same. A car pulls up
and stops, and a man gets out, while the car goes on its way.
The two men stare at one another. Thornhill
approaches. It's not the right
man...he's just a guy waiting for a bus. The man looks off at a distant plane and casually remarks
that the plane is dusting crops where there ain't no crops.
He gets on the bus. Thornhill
is alone again, except for that plane...
the rest, is of course, history. It's
a brilliant piece of filmmaking in which Hitchcock knows just how long to
toy with us before delivering the action packed finale.
When the chase begins, the effect is even more thrilling because of how
long we sat in anticipation without anything happening.
second major signature piece is the finale where Roger and Eve are chased across
the face of Mount Rushmore by the bad guys. It's a skillful blend of actual location shooting and
carefully reproduced interior sets to give the illusion that our heroes' lives
are always a footstep away from ending.
it's impossible for any group of fans to agree on which of Hitchcock's many
indelible films constitutes his greatest works, North by Northwest is
always one that gets brought up. Almost
50 years after its release, it remains a classic and a favorite amongst
Hitch's devotees, and quite possibly the most perfect of his movies to use in
introducing a newbie to the films of Hitchcock.
TRIVIA: Cary Grant's line to Eva
Marie Saint about "got the pumpkin" is a reference to the famous "Pumpkin
Papers"; documents stored in a hollowed out pumpkin by Whittaker Chambers that
proved once and for all Alger Hiss' subversive link to the Soviets.
DVD marks one of the all time greatest efforts in transferring an older film to
modern digital technology. North
by Northwest is a crisp, clean, colorful visual feast from start to finish.
Every line is solid, every detail is striking, every tone is rich and
natural looking. This is easily a classic movie on DVD by which almost all
others can be judged by.
new 5.1 audio mix is striking and dynamic, with Bernard Herrman's classic
score sounding brighter and more potent than ever.
Spoken words are clean and clear, and sound effects and other cues sound
sharp and distinct, with no noticeable background noise interfering with the
disc contains a commentary track by screenwriter Ernest Lehman, a
behind-the-scenes documentary hosted by Eva Marie Saint, a music-only audio
track, two trailers (including the famous Hitchcock tour guide one), a TV spot,
stills gallery, and talent files.