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(50th Anniversary Edition)

Masterpiece is a word that is associated with a large number of the movies directed by the late, great Alfred Hitchcock. NORTH BY NORTHWEST ($35) is without a doubt one of Hitchcock’s greatest masterpieces. This film is the pinnacle of the glamorous, romantic, Technicolor style that Hitchcock had adopted during the 1950s for thrillers like REAR WINDOW, THE MAN WHO KNOW TOO MUCH and TO CATCH A THIEF. Helping to make NORTH BY NORTHWEST the acknowledged masterpiece that it is, is Ernest Lehman rock solid screenplay, the ultimate Hitchcock leading man- namely Cary Grant, one of Bernard Herrmann’s greatest musical scores, the iconic crop duster sequence and an amazing climax on the face of Mount Rushmore.

The plot of NORTH BY NORTHWEST concerns one Roger O. Thornhill (Cary Grant), a Madison Avenue advertising man, who is mistaken for a government agent named George Kaplan by the henchman of Phillip Vandamm (James Mason), a shady individual that has been selling secrets to the other side. When Thornhill denies that he is Kaplan, Vandamm and his associates try to eliminate the advertising man by intoxicating him, and then placing him in an automobile that is heading for a cliff. Fortunately, Thornhill has enough experience behind the wheel, and with the bottle, to save himself from a watery fate. Unfortunately, reporting the incident to the local authorities does little good and when Thornhill tries to confront the man he believes abducted him, our hero ends up being accused of a murder he did not commit. Determining that catching up with the real George Kaplan is the only way he can clear his name, Thornhill sneaks onto a train heading for Chicago, where Kaplan’s is scheduled to be next. Despite the fact that the police are looking everywhere for him, Thornhill still manages to hide himself on the train, although, our innocent hero does get a little assistance from Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint), a beautiful and amorous woman whom he meets onboard. As Thornhill travels from New York to Chicago, and finally on to Rapid City, he finds that nothing in the spy business that is what it seems, and that people’s loyalties are continually being compromised by circumstance.

Cary Grant is debonair and charming as the film’s hero, a man who, on more than one occasion, finds himself befuddled and imperiled by his circumstances. Additionally, Grant’s years as an acrobat is put to good use during the film’s climatic sequences, one of the qualities that made him the ideal choice for the role of Roger Thornhill. I don’t think Eva Marie Saint has ever been more beautiful or sexier than she appears in NORTH BY NORTHWEST. Additionally, how some of her sexual innuendo laced dialogue, ever made it to the screen in 1959 is beyond me (not that I’m complaining). James Mason as Vandamm proves to be one of the most sophisticated screen villains of all time, I doubt that villainy wore such a sophisticated face again, that is, until Mason’s turn in SALEM’S LOT, several decades later. Not to be slighted, Martin Landau’s pivotal portrayal of Vandamm’s right hand man, Leonard, makes for another unforgettable screen villain. The cast of NORTH BY NORTHWEST also features the incomparable Jessie Royce Landis and Leo G. Carroll, as well as Josephine Hutchinson, Philip Ober, Adam Williams, Edward Platt, Robert Ellenstein, Les Tremayne, Philip Coolidge, Patrick McVey, Ed Binns, Ken Lynch, Maudie Prickett and John Beradino.

Warner Home Video has made NORTH BY NORTHWEST available on Blu-ray Disc in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio presentation that has been encoded onto the disc with the VC-1 codec. Considering that NORTH BY NORTHWEST has received a meticulous restoration and re-mastering, with the scanning the original VistaVision production elements in 8K resolution, all I can say is that I am thoroughly delighted by the fabulous 1080p presentation of this film. I have seen every home incarnation of NORTH BY NORTHWEST, not to mention revival house prints, and nothing comes close to this the beauty of this Blu-ray edition. Of course, NORTH BY NORTHWEST does not offer the sharpest or most highly defined image that one will find in high definition; however, that is not a flaw in this truly marvelous presentation. NORTH BY NORTHWEST was shot with a lot of diffusion lenses, which was a big part of Hollywood glamour cinematography. Also, Cary Grant was nearly fifty-five when NORTH BY NORTHWEST was in front of the cameras, and almost every medium shot and close-up featuring the actor does contain some level of diffusion. On top of that, NORTH BY NORTHWEST contains plenty of optical processing work, which mildly softens all of the effects shots, fades and dissolves. Of course, shots without diffusions or optical effects demonstrate a wonderful clarity and dimensionality speaks highly of the VistaVision process. Heck, even with diffusion, every bit of NORTH BY NORTHWEST looks tremendous. Color reproduction is excellent and appears more true to life than previous incarnations of the film. Still, the reds and other primary colors do pop quite beautifully- check out the dress Eva Marie Saint wears during the hotel room and auction sequences. Flesh tones are quite attractive. Considering how tan Grant appears in the film, he must have been the George Hamilton of his generation. Blacks are velvety and the whites are crisp. Contrast and shadow detail are excellent for the era. The film elements from which NORTH BY NORTHWEST were transferred display virtually no flaws. A modest very grain structure is visible, but the picture never seems digitally homogenized. All in all- this is a superb high definition rendering of this classic film.

NORTH BY NORTHWEST is presented on Blu-ray Disc with a 5.1 channel Dolby TrueHD soundtrack. For the 2000 DVD release, NORTH BY NORTHWEST, was given a Dolby Digital 5.1 re-mix, but this lossless presentation betters what has come before. Bernard Herrmann’s brilliant score is the big winner here, sounding more robust that it has previously, which is saying a lot for the fifty-year-old recordings. Certainly, the music doesn’t sound like it was recorded yesterday, but it still does manage to impress. Directional sound effects are nicely panned across the soundstage and are especially effective during the film’s iconic crop duster sequence. Like the sound on the DVD, dialogue is locked into the center channel and is very cleanly reproduced. An English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is also present on this release, as are French, Spanish, German, Italian and Portuguese monaural tracks. Subtitles are available in English, French, Spanish, Danish, German, Italian, Finnish, Norwegian, Portuguese and Swedish.

The interactive menus allow one access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as the supplements, some of which have been ported from the previous DVD release. Starting things off is a running Audio Commentary with screenwriter Ernest Lehman. Next is an Isolated Soundtrack, containing Bernard Herrmann’s immortal score. New to this release is The Master’s Touch: Hitchcock’s Signature Style, a near hour-long program, which includes interviews current filmmakers, who talk about the ingredients found in a Hitchcock cocktail. Also new is North By Northwest: One For The Ages, which runs twenty-five minutes and is in a similar vein as the previous program, but film specific. Coming from the DVD, is Destination Hitchcock: The Making of North By Northwest. Hosted by Eva Marie Saint, this highly entertaining forty-minute documentary includes new interviews with screenwriter Ernest Lehman, production designer Robert Boyle, actor Martin Landau and Hitchcock’s daughter Patricia. Cary Grant: A Class Apart is a near ninety-minute documentary on the legendary leading man. A Stills Gallery, TV Spot and Theatrical Trailers close out the supplements. NORTH BY NORTHWEST features book styled packaging that contains forty-four pages of photos and production notes.

After fifty years NORTH BY NORTHWEST remains one of the most entertaining romantic thrillers ever produced, as well as one of Alfred Hitchcock’s greatest cinematic masterpieces. Warner’s Blu-ray release is visually superb and certainly betters everything that has come before. Absolutely positively recommended.



North by Northwest (50th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray Book) [Blu-ray] (1959)


DVD & Blu-rayDisc reviews are Copyright © 2009 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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