Review: ‘North by Northwest’ on Blu-ray
Thrillers today are filled with fast cuts, pounding music, poor excuses for plotting and characterization, and seem designed to do nothing more than collect your cash and deliver the same old. You usually see every twist and turn coming and are rarely surprised.
In 1959, Alfred Hitchcock, at the height of his moviemaking career, unleashed the ultimate thriller in North By Northwest. Now celebrating its 50th anniversary, Warner Home Video releases the Blu-ray edition on Tuesday and it’s a cause worth partaking in.
Students of Hitchcock see the familiar bits from the frosty blonde to the case of mistaken identity but here, he mixes them all together and adds in some fresh touches. Rewatching the film in its new, crisp edition, is revelatory. The opening scene establishes Roy Thornhill as a busy advertising man, a man used to dealing in artifice and then slowly strips away everything that is a comfort to him until he is on the run and forced, late in life, to grow up a bit.
Hitchcock and writer Ernest Lehman allow the story to leisurely unfold and the scenes play to maximize tension rather then smash cuts and edits to cover up poor storytelling. Grant’s Thornhill is urbane and witty, matched perfectly against James Mason’s Van Damm, a polite but cold enemy of the state. Their first scene is like a ballet, two opponents in a manor’s library, warily moving about, sizing one another up. Once Grant begins to run, the pace quickens – just a bit – and we go from New York to Chicago to South Dakota.
Along the way, he encounters Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint) and their own dance is filled with delicious sexual tension. When they begin to kiss and she looks away, you understand that there’s far more to her than we first believed.
We all know the crop duster chase in the open field or the climax at Mount Rushmore, but the film is filled with great moments, large and small. Lehman allows the characters to be individuals while Hitchcock tamps down the emotions so things never go over the top regardless of the seemingly preposterous storyline with Grant confused for an American spy and then ultimately used as a pawn in Leo G. Carroll’s game of chess against Mason.
The movie stands up to rewatching and the video and aural transfers are terrific.
The disc is contained in a book which has a 48-page look at the making of the film and credits. On the disc itself are two new featurettes: The Master’s Touch: Hitchcock’s Signature Style and North by Northwest: One for the Ages. The former is a lengthy look at the director’s themes and filmmaking style intercutting an interview with the one-of-a-kind Englishman along with commentary from other filmmakers including Guillermo del Toro, Martin Scorsese, William Friedkin and Curtis Hanson.
The latter is a nice deconstruction of the film, much like a video book report for school with the above filmmakers chiming in as to the component parts that made the film special.
There are additional features lifted from previous editions and they include commentary from Ernest Lehman, a music only track version of the film, 2003’s TCM documentary Cary Grant: A Class Apart, Destination Hitchcock: The Making of North by Northwest hosted by Eva Marie Saint, Photo gallery and a gallery of Trailers.
All told, this is a marvelous package and one worth having for sheer entertainment value. Anyone who wants to tell tension-filled stories should own this for study.