NORTH BY NORTHWEST  [50th Anniversary Edition] [Deluxe Limited Edition DigiBook] [Blu-ray] [US Import] From the Killer Plane in the Cornfield! To The Cliff-hanger on George Washington’s Nose! It’s Suspense in Every Direction!
A masterful mix of comedy and suspense from Alfred Hitchcock. Advertising executive Roger Thornhill [Cary Grant] is lunching in a restaurant with his mother when he mistakenly answers a page for one George Kaplan. He soon finds himself on the run across the country, being pursued by enemies of the government who are convinced that he is a secret agent. He finds a friend in Eve Kendall [Eve Marie Saint], who helps conceal him during a perilous train journey, but soon discovers that she is not all she seems.
FILM FACT: `North by Northwest' was nominated for three awards at the 32nd Academy Awards® Ceremony for Best Film Editing for George Tomasini. Best Production Design for William A. Horning, Robert F. Boyle, Merrill Pye, Henry Grace, Frank McKelvy. Best Original Screenplay for Ernest Lehman. This is one of several Alfred Hitchcock films with a music score by Bernard Herrmann and features a memorable opening title sequence by graphic designer Saul Bass. This film is generally cited as the first to feature extended use of kinetic typography [the technical name for "moving text"] in its opening credits. Alfred Hitchcock's cameo appearances are a signature occurrence in most of his films. In ‘North by Northwest,’ he is seen getting a bus door slammed in his face, literally just as his credit is appearing on the screen.
Cast: Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason, Jessie Royce Landis, Leo G. Carroll, Josephine Hutchinson, Philip Ober, Martin Landau, Adam Williams, Edward Platt, Robert Ellenstein, Les Tremayne, Philip Coolidge, Patrick McVey, John Berardino (uncredited), Edward Binns, Ken Lynch, Malcolm Atterbury (uncredited), Tol Avery (uncredited), John Beradino (uncredited), Ned Glass (uncredited), Doreen Lang (uncredited), Nora Marlowe (uncredited) and Alfred Hitchcock (uncredited)
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Producers: Alfred Hitchcock (uncredited) and Herbert Coleman
Screenplay: Ernest Lehman
Composer: Bernard Herrmann
Cinematography: Robert Burks
Video Resolution: 1080p [Technicolor]
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 [VistaVision]
Audio: English: 5.1 Dolby TrueHD, French: Dolby Digital Mono, German: Dolby Digital Mono, Italian: Dolby Digital Mono, Spanish: Dolby Digital Mono, Portuguese: Dolby Digital Mono. Isolated Music only track: 5.1 Dolby Digital
Subtitles: English SDH, French, German SDH, Italian, Italian SDH, Castellano, Spanish, Portuguese, Danish, Suomi, Norwegian and Swedish
Running Time: 136 minutes
Region: All Regions
Number of discs: 1
Studio: Warner Home Video
Andrew's Blu-ray Review: "I want to do a Hitchcock picture to end all Hitchcock pictures" is the comment screenwriter Ernest Lehman made to Alfred Hitchcock one day in 1957. With ‘North by Northwest’  the ultimate Alfred Hitchcock picture is exactly what they produced. All of Alfred Hitchcock's trademark themes are here in the story of an everyday man [Cary Grant] caught up in a swirl of mysterious events like spies and chasing microfilm, while being helped by a beautiful blonde [Eva Marie Saint]. There's a gripping, imaginative chase scene and the entire film wraps up at an unexpected public landmark like Mount Rushmore.
‘North by Northwest’ came into existence when Alfred Hitchcock and writer Ernest Lehman hit a brick wall while working on the nautical thriller, ‘The Wreck of the Mary Deare’  [Metrocolor and in CinemaScope]. They messed around for a few weeks while telling the studio the project was going great until one day Lehman thought of creating a pure Alfred Hitchcock film. The director could never resist a challenge and immediately clicked with the idea, especially since he'd longed to use Mount Rushmore as a location but never had an appropriate project. So while Alfred Hitchcock was filming ‘Vertigo’  the two would get together and thrash out the script and further plans for a film that was then called In a Northwesterly Direction. Oddly enough it was also briefly entitled ‘Breathless’ which a year later would be the English title of the debut feature from Jean-Luc Godard, a massive Alfred Hitchcock fan. The resulting screenplay was tight, balanced and intricate; Alfred Hitchcock later told Francois Truffaut that "In this picture nothing was left to chance." The script also made liberal use of the MacGuffin, Alfred Hitchcock's name for a device that keeps the story in motion even though in itself it's practically meaningless. The key MacGuffin in ‘North by Northwest’ is the secret information sought by James Mason's sinister operation even though we never learn why it matters. This was Alfred Hitchcock's personal favourite, one he said had "been boiled down to its purest expression: nothing at all!"
From the beginning, Alfred Hitchcock and Ernest Lehman planned on casting Cary Grant as their innocent leading man even though James Stewart showed extreme interest in the project despite his ignorance of the plot. Thanks to Cary Grant's contractual percentages and a daily pay rate that kicked in when the film took longer than expected for completion, the actor made quite a bit of money from his participation in ‘North by Northwest.’ It was his fourth and final Hitchcock film and Cary Grant brought his usual debonair charm and a genuine sense of confusion and bewilderment to the part. During shooting Cary Grant said to Alfred Hitchcock, "It's a terrible script. We've already done a third of the picture and I still can't make head or tail of it." The comment greatly amused Alfred Hitchcock because, far from being a flaw, that exactly mirrored what Cary Grant's character was feeling as well.
For the role of the woman spy there was some minor conflict. Cary Grant pushed to have Sophia Loren because he at one time had romantic interest in her but she left to film ‘Two Women’ in Italy, but the studio wanted Cyd Charisse. Alfred Hitchcock of course preferred one of his trademark blondes and gave the part to Eva Marie Saint ‘On the Waterfront,’ even personally picking out most of her on-screen wardrobe. By the way, see if you can read Eva Marie Saint's lips during her line "I never discuss love on an empty stomach" since the audio was supposedly dubbed over the original line "I never make love on an empty stomach."
While the story covers a wide span of the United States, filming was mostly brief location shots and extensive studio work. Alfred Hitchcock and cast started in New York in August 1958. A hidden camera was used to film Grant entering the United Nations building but they weren't able to film in the real UN lobby because it had been used somewhat inappropriately in an earlier film so all films were forbidden there. Instead they filmed on a studio set that had been recreated as accurately as possible. Alfred Hitchcock had gone through the real lobby with a still photographer while pretending to be a tourist and getting numerous snapshots. The director ran into a similar problem at Mount Rushmore. The Department of Interior, which operates the monument and not only wouldn't allow filming on the actual sculpture but they also wouldn't give permission for actors to crawl over a reproduction either. A compromise was reached where the actors went between the faces instead of over them, but except for a few exteriors the whole Mount Rushmore scene was filmed at the M-G-M studios. Perhaps it's a good thing that Alfred Hitchcock gave up his plan to have one of the characters erupt in a sneezing fit while hiding in a statue nose.
The famous scene where Cary Grant being chased through a cornfield by a crop duster is an example of Hitchcock at his best. It came about because he had noticed that when most directors try to make a suspenseful scene they use tight alleyways, shadows barely visible through the gloom and the slow building tension of the approaching menace. So Alfred Hitchcock did exactly the opposite, filming in full daylight, completely open space and a very fast machine. Similarly, most directors gradually shorten each individual shot in such a scene as a way of increasing the tension, but Hitchcock kept his shots fairly uniform so that a viewer gets a better idea of how far and where Cary Grant is running. The finished scene lasts around seven minutes with no dialogue and is as remarkable as the shower scene he devised for ‘Psycho’ a year later. The studio, however, wasn't quite so appreciative. They wanted to cut the film thinking that at 136 minutes it was too long. But Alfred Hitchcock's contract prevented that, and he insisted that some of what they were trying to cut was in fact vital to the film.
Cary Grant, a veteran member of the Alfred Hitchcock acting varsity, was never more at home than in this role of the advertising-man-on-the-lam. He handles the grimaces, the surprised look, the quick smile, the aforementioned spooning and all the derring-do with professional aplomb and grace. In casting Eva Marie Saint as his romantic vis-à-vis, and Alfred Hitchcock has plumbed some talents not shown by the actress here before. Although she is seemingly a hard, designing type, she also emerges both the sweet heroine and a glamorous charmer. Jessie Royce Landis contributes a few genuinely humorous scenes as Mr. Grant's slightly addle-pated mother. James Mason is properly sinister as the leader at the spy ring, as are Martin Landau, Adam Williams, Robert Ellenstein and Josephine Hutchinson, as members of his malevolent troupe. And Leo G. Carroll is satisfyingly bland and calm as the studious intelligence chief.
Overall, ‘North by Northwest’ receives my high marks in numerous ways and gives us a “colourful and exciting route for spies, counterspies and lovers.” Part of this “colourful and exciting route” can be explained through the cross-cutting technique. In nearly all of the suspenseful scenes, including the drunken car chase, the police chase in the train station, and the climatic Mount Rushmore scene, the rapid scene change from Mr. Roger Thornhill to those in pursuit creates a heightened level of suspense. I also found the rapid pace of North by Northwest to be extremely engaging. Nearly every scene, the viewer is learning more about the truth behind Roger Thornhill. Each scene provides a small piece of evidence and the pace of the film made me eager to learn about the next clue. ‘North by Northwest’ is an engaging film that combines a wide range of genres ranging from suspense to humour. The continuity techniques of establishing shots, reverse shots, and match editing allows the viewers to experience a suspenseful, yet smooth story. The importance of each scene keeps the viewer engaged in all of the details. The constant feeling of suspense, as well as using both continuity and discontinuity techniques made ‘North by Northwest’ is an extremely suspenseful and worthwhile experience.
Blu-ray Video Quality – When Warner Home Video released 'North by Northwest' on the inferior NTSC DVD in 2000, it instantly became one of the preeminent classic film transfers of the digital age, so expectations were understandably sky-high when the company announced a Blu-ray edition of Alfred Hitchcock's iconic chase film earlier this year. The restoration price tag reportedly topped $1 million, but it was money very well spent, as 'North by Northwest' comes closer to achieving perfection than any other 1080p classic film transfer I've seen. The 50-year-old film looks so good; in fact, it puts many recent Blu-ray releases to shame. Shot in VistaVision, which was a short-lived, higher resolution widescreen process developed by Paramount in the mid-1950s. 'North by Northwest' is a natural for a Blu-ray makeover, and its exquisitely balanced colour and contrast, along with its fine grain structure, which is a VistaVision staple, produces a very crisp, dimensional, utterly pleasing viewing experience. Grain-haters will no doubt rhapsodise over the picture's sleek appearance, but the 1080p encoded image never looks processed or digitally smoothed. A palpable filmic feel still prevails, and though a few brief scenes sport a hint more grain than most, the levels never seem out of whack. The transfer's quality is evident from the film's opening frames. The fluorescent green background, over which the credits roll, is solid and vibrant, and as it gradually dissolves into the glass façade of a skyscraper reflecting Manhattan's teeming cityscape, the level of detail is striking. It is a very tricky shot, and flawlessly rendered. Background accents are always razor sharp, so whether Cary Grant is navigating the Big Apple's jammed sidewalks, a dense Indiana cornfield, or the face of Mount Rushmore, the image is always packed with information, and its depth and dimension easily immerse us in the on-screen action. Alfred Hitchcock also employs a hefty amount of rear projection work, one of his few shortcomings, in my opinion, and though it's always apparent, it's well integrated into the whole. Colour-wise, primaries pop, but never look synthetic or overly saturated, and though the film's palette often emits a sterile coolness, enough warmth permeates the picture to keep its temperature in check. Cary Grant's heavily tanned skin rivals that of George Hamilton, yet it still appears natural, as do all flesh tones. Blacks are deliciously inky, but no incidents of crush drown out shadow detail. Close-ups are strong, despite the stylistic use of filters to shave a few years off Cary Grant's age and soften Eva Marie Saint's facial features and textures, such as the weave of various suits, wall coverings, leather upholstery, even the coarse hair on Cary Grant's knuckles, are clearly discernible. Simply put, this is a stunning gorgeous 100% effort that perfectly represents this Alfred Hitchcock masterwork. Once again, Warner Bros. proves just how brilliant classic films can look on Blu-ray, and this impeccable transfer more than whets our appetite for the riches yet to come.
Blu-ray Audio Quality – The 5.1 Dolby TrueHD soundtrack is a fine upgrade from the DVD's previous 5.1 Dolby Digital audio, but doesn't quite achieve the same wow factor as the video. First of all, don't be afraid to pump up the volume; I found the track to be surprisingly quiet at first, yet after two or three sizeable increases above my normal settings, I finally reached a comfortable listening level. Warner Bros. TrueHD classic film tracks always seem to be mixed a little on the soft side, but handle augmented volume extremely well. Surround sound elements are understandably faint throughout most of the film, but boy do those rears come alive during the crop-dusting sequence, as the plane makes its dipping and diving passes over Cary Grant, the cornfield, and my living room sofa. (It's hard to imagine a 50-year-old film competing sonically with today's action epics, but 'North by Northwest' tries its best during this one classic scene.) When the surrounds are silent, the front channels pick up the slack with some distinct stereo separation that lends the audio welcome scope. Dialogue is well prioritised and always easy to understand, even when spoken in hushed tones, and Bernard Herrmann's highly recognizable score sounds terrific. Though it doesn't wrap around us as much as we'd like, its fullness of tone and enhanced fidelity make almost every instrument distinguishable. The screeching strings always resist distortion, and the low-end horns and percussion lend great weight to select scenes. For those who truly want to experience and revel in Bernard Herrmann's marvellous score, a music-only track can be accessed through the disc's special features. Details are always crisply rendered, from the subtle use of hedge-clippers early in the film to the gravel beneath Cary Grant's shoes as he shuffles his feet while awaiting the crop-duster's surprise attack. And the one big bass moment doesn't disappoint, as the subwoofer pumps out a hefty rumble during a memorable crash and subsequent explosion. Best of all, the track is as clean as a whistle, with no errant pops, static, or hiss betraying the film's advanced age and of course sound is an essential Hitchcockian element, and the superior audio on this disc does the film proud. So all in all Warner Home Video have done a sterling work all round.
Blu-ray Special Features and Extras:
Audio Commentary: Commentary by Screenwriter Ernest Lehman: The late screenwriter Ernest Lehman was a very sprightly 84 years old when he sat down to record this commentary in 2000, and his crystal clear memories of his close collaboration with Hitchcock and detailed chronicle of the creative process behind penning the 'North by Northwest' script make for a fascinating listen. He also recalls how composer Bernard Herrmann introduced him to Hitchcock, how he and the director hoodwinked M-G-M into letting them develop 'North by Northwest' instead of work on a previously arranged project, and how he visited all the various locales prior to writing and that included climbing halfway up the face of Mount Rushmore! Ernest Lehman starts slowly, but after 20 minutes or so picks up steam, and his insights will enlighten even diehard Alfred Hitchcock fans.
Special Feature Documentary: Cary Grant: A Class Apart  [480i] [87:12] This was originally broadcast on the PBS channel in America, as part of the network's acclaimed 'American Masters' series, this incisive and interesting documentary and previously included in the Cary Grant NTSC DVD Box Set that contains the film 'North by Northwest,' and takes an in-depth look at Cary Grant's screen persona and how it shaped and affected his private life. Reminiscences from close friends, two wives, and noted critics provide fascinating perspective on the actor's professional and personal relationships, his difficult upbringing, stellar work ethic, and underrated talent. Film clips galore, from Cary Grant's first role in 1931 to his last in 1966; illustrate his versatility, magnetism, and iconic style. Though his contributions to cinema dominate this excellent profile, Cary Grant's five marriages, his controversial relationship with fellow actor Randolph Scott, experimentation with LSD, affair with Sophia Loren, and lifelong struggles with intimacy are also explored with integrity and good taste. This is required viewing for anyone with even a passing interest in this beloved Hollywood legend.
Special Feature Documentary: The Master's Touch: Hitchcock's Signature Style  [480i] [57:32] This is a myriad aspects of Alfred Hitchcock's inimitable technique are scrutinised in this probing, well-produced piece that shows how the director's personal idiosyncrasies influenced his work. A host of fellow directors, from Martin Scorsese to John Carpenter, as well as Hitchcock himself, which via an archival interview, with comments on such topics as visual storytelling, subjective point of view, editing, and building suspense. We also learn about the fascinating villains Hitchcock often employed, the sense of humour that pervades his films, his selective use of sound, impeccable sense of style, and, of course, his penchant for blonde heroines. Clips from such classics as 'Dial M for Murder,' 'Strangers on a Train,' 'Stage Fright,' 'The Wrong Man,' 'I Confess,' and 'North by Northwest' illustrate the various points. This top-notch documentary is another must-view that will captivate Alfred Hitchcock junkies and those just discovering the master's work.
Special Feature Documentary: Destination Hitchcock: The Making of North by Northwest  [480i] [39:27] Eva Marie Saint hosts this thoughtful look back at the film's production, which was included on the previous DVD release. Eva Marie Saint takes us through the film's shooting chronologically, and along the way relates personal anecdotes, spills secrets, identifies one notable gaffe, and recalls some on-set buffoonery. Martin Landau, Ernest Lehman, whose remarks on the commentary track were largely, if not totally lifted from his interview here, and Alfred Hitchcock's daughter, Patricia, also share their memories of the director and his technique.
Special Feature Documentary: North by Northwest: One for the Ages  [480i] [25:29] This all-new, absorbing documentary allows directors Curtis Hanson, Francis Lawrence, Guillermo Del Toro, and William Friedkin, along with screenwriter Christopher McQuerrie, the chance to honour, analyse, and dissect this Alfred Hitchcock masterwork. Among other things, the quintet identifies the various classic Alfred Hitchcock elements present in the film, discusses the script's surprising depth, and provides an in-depth examination of the crop-dusting scene.
Special Feature: Stills Gallery  [1080p] [5:52] Forty-three stills in both black-and-white and colour are included in this gallery, which features on-set production shots, a selection of poster art, and photos of notable personalities like Eva Marie Saint, Ernest Lehman, and Patricia Hitchcock, during the shooting of interviews for the NTSC DVD's special feature package.
Special Feature: Theatrical Trailers [480i] [6:00] Includes a TV Spot [480i] [1:02] Plus, in addition to a black-and-white re-release TV spot and full colour re-release trailer, there's this amusing theatrical preview, plus again 'A Guided Tour with Alfred Hitchcock,' in which the master himself hypes 'North by Northwest' as if he were a travel agent hawking a cross-country vacation.
Special Feature: Music-only Track: Presented in 5.1 Dolby Digital, the switch to the track is apparent, lacking much of the sound options smoothness and dynamic range. Though it's somewhat disappointing, the score is such a strong component of the film that in this case there's really not much benefit to the isolated track. Forced to choose between isolation and higher resolution, I recommend the latter.
BONUS: Deluxe Limited Edition DigiBook: This stunning 43-page full-colour DigiBook, contains two short essays, actor, director and screenwriter bios, and lots of great publicity stills, behind-the-scenes photos, and one-sheets.
Finally, Alfred Hitchcock fans rejoice! The master's first American high-definition release hits the ball out of the park. 'North by Northwest' may be 50, but this immortal action-comedy thriller doesn't look or sound anywhere near that old on Blu-ray. Superb video and audio immerse us in Roger Thornhill's desperate, madcap plight, while a fantastic array of extras puts Alfred Hitchcock and Cary Grant, and this wildly entertaining film in their proper perspective. The attractive Deluxe Limited Edition DigiBook packaging adds an extra bit of panache to one of the year's classiest classic releases. One to own and replay it often, as one never gets tired of this Alfred Hitchcock stunning masterpiece. I know a lot of people hate the actor Cary Grant, well I find that totally negative outlook, as he is absolutely superb in this film especially and again this stunning Blu-ray package is outstanding and cannot be beaten and I am so proud to add it is to my Alfred Hitchcock Blu-ray Collection. Very Highly Recommended!
Andrew C. Miller – Your Ultimate No.1 Film Fan
Le Cinema Paradiso
WARE, United Kingdom