NORTH BY NORTHWEST
Review by Michael Jacobson
Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason, Martin Landau
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: See Review
Length: 136 Minutes
Release Date: November 3, 2009
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.
With high definition technology and a 50th anniversary restoration from original VistaVision elements, this Blu-ray of North By Northwest is going to be a treat for film fans. The Technicolor images ring out with a rich clarity and beauty that, typical of form, goes beyond lifelike into something even more eye pleasing. Images are sharp and well-detailed throughout. My favorite? Probably the shot from the top of the United Nations building at a tiny Cary running for his life. I never noticed all the detail before this issue...nicely done!
You won't hear much better as far as a vintage film being remastered for digital surround. Listen to the crop duster scene...you're right in the middle of it, and the explosive conclusion really packs a wallop. Just listening alone, you might think you were hearing a much newer movie. Bernard Hermann's amazing score sounds more lively and forceful and fully orchestrated than before. Dynamic range is pretty strong in a few scenes thanks to the action and music, and spoken words are cleanly mixed against all of it.
The Blu-ray contains some brand new features, including "The Master's Touch", an hour long appreciation of Hitchcock and his style and featuring interviews from modern masters such as John Carpenter, Guillermo del Toro, William Friedkin, Martin Scorsese and many others. There is a tribute to Cary Grant, and a look at the resounding influence of the film in the featurette "One For the Ages".
There is also 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.
North by Northwest is a smashing, funny, and thoroughly entertaining thrill ride. It's no wonder this one is always named as one of Hitchcock's best. It's never looked or sounded better than on this 50th anniversary Blu-ray release from Warner Bros. Absolutely recommended.