on April 22, 2000
One of the best of Hitchcock (although as far as his films go, Hitch probably has the best track record of any director living or dead). This film is basically the original "Fugitive" and follows pretty closely the plot to his "The 39 Steps" from 1935 - a man is mistaken for a CIA agent and is caught in a "deadly game of cat and mouse," as it were. I LOVE the music and the visuals that start out the film - it makes me wish I had been alive to see it in a movie theater in the 50's. And although this film is over 2 hours long, there's no way you can be bored - the suspense is so intense you'll be chewing your nails the whole time (I did the first time I saw it). Cary Grant is excellent as always, James Mason plays one of the most sinister of Hitchcock's villains (I would LOVE to have this guy's voice) and Eva Marie Saint looks gorgeous and plays her part well. I also enjoyed seeing Martin Landau in an early role as one of James Mason's henchmen and Jessie Royce Landis (the mother from "To Catch a Thief") as Grant's mother (although both were very near the same age at the time). And I love any film score by Bernard Herrmann - this guy should have had a mantle covered with awards, but as luck would have it, most of his scores went not only un-awarded but un-nominated (as this one did). By all means, if you don't own it, pick it up today - and by the way, good job for FINALLY releasing it on DVD, MGM.
on September 17, 2000
With this film, Alfred Hitchcock set out to top himself and get back on top after the failure of VERTIGO; he did just that. NORTH BY NORTHWEST is automatically a classic with the acting by Cary Grant (his fourth and final film with Hitchcock), Eva Maria Saint, James Mason, Leo G. Carroll (another one of Hithcock's favorites), and young Martin Landau (in his film debut), the amazing set pieces (the UN murder, the cropduster sequence, and the climax atop Mt. Rushmore), Bernard Hermann's music score, and the classic work of the camera by the Master of Suspense. But this DVD's extras really add to the film. It includes a documentary hosted by Saint ("Destination Hitchcock," not "The Man in Lincoln's Nose" as listed on this site), an audio commentary by screenwriter Ernest Lehman, two theatrical trailers (a standard trailer and one featuring Hitchcock), a TV Spot, an isolated music audio track and the film itself remastered in Dolby 5.1 Audio and 1.66:1 widescreen anamorphic format. The only problem is it comes in a snap case like all Warners DVDs, not allowing a booklet with production notes. But this DVD is a must buy, especially if you're a fan of Hitch. It's also a note of interest for 007 fans (like myself). This film brought about spy thrillers and you should compare the cropduster sequence in this film to the helicopter sequence in FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE.
on June 4, 2000
Forget about the numerous improbabilities (e.g. that death by cropduster is an effective way to get rid of one's enemies; that a good place for foreign agents to have a hide-out is right on top of Mt. Rushmore; that Jessie Royce Landis is old enough to be Cary Grant's mother, etc.)--and just enjoy this ride. I've seen this movie several times and tend to forget the details between viewings--which allows me to be surprised all over again. And surprise is what North by Northwest is all about.
Casting James Mason and a young but very creepy Martin Landau as the villains was sheer genius. Eva Marie Saint is the icy blonde in this one and suggests a fair amount of fire beneath that ice. Grant, already in his mid-50s, was obviously meant to be younger (mid-40s at the most), but you'll find yourself suspending disbelief about that and everything else and just allowing yourself to get caught up in this extremely entertaining film. There is no better example of Hitchcock's cinematic mastery. Aside from the aforementioned crop duster pursuit (scarier than any low-flying plane scene in any WWII movie), there's the classic Rushmore sequence, and, of course, the tunnel bit at the end which delighted would-be Freudian critics with its (daring for the time?) symbolism. It's as witty as it is adventurous, with a wonderful Ernest Lehman script, excellent cinematography by Robert Burks and a great score by Bernard Herrmann. A classic...but then, you probably don't need me to tell you that.
"North by Northwest" (1959) was the fourth and final collaboration between director Alfred Hitchcock and actor Cary Grant. Both men were at their artistic zenith when they made this superb comic thriller, which screenwriter Ernest Lehman promised would be "the Hitchcock picture to end all Hitchcock pictures." Lehman's script incorporates some brilliant setpieces that the Master of Suspense was unable to work into his previous films, such as the famous crop-dusting chase and the surreal Mount Rushmore climax. However, the highlight remains the Chicago auction sequence. Grant's screwball humor and dark charm make him the ideal Hitchcock leading man - complemented by excellent performances from Eva Marie Saint, James Mason and Martin Landau. "North by Northwest" was Hitchcock's sole effort for MGM and he makes the most of the studio gloss. It's a top-notch production in terms of set design and matte work. In fact, author Ian Fleming considered "North by Northwest" to be the stylistic prototype for the James Bond series and wanted Hitchcock to direct the first 007 production (he turned down the offer). To fully appreciate this classic film, it should be seen in the letterbox format that Hitchcock intended. One of the all-time greats.
on December 7, 2000
Warner Bros. has outdone itself with this new, pull-out-the-stops, first-class presentation of one of Hitch's best films.
When I first read that Warners had rights to the film and would subsequently be releasing the DVD, I was nervous. Though the studio has championed the format from its very inception, I remained concerned that they would simply rehash the laserdisc transfer from a few years back and issue the title in their "bargain" DVD line due to the age of the film, and thus consign Hitchcock fans to suffer the ignominy of seeing "North by Northwest" denied the top flight treatment lavished by Universal Studios on the Hitchcock titles they control. (Universal's stubborn refusal to re-issue the impressively restored "Vertigo" in anamorphic should be a crime, however.)
But what a surprise this disc turned out to be!! Warner Bros. was paying attention, and one-upped Universal with this terrific effort. Simply stated, the picture quality on this disc is ASTONISHING. This is without question the best this film has ever looked - and that has only partly to do with the resolution and stability of digital video. A completely new print has been struck, and cleaned up - indeed, it is doubtful the film looked this good on its opening night premiere. There's hardly a nick or scratch to be seen, and grain is totally absent. It's as if they took a giant sponge and wiped years of age-induced desaturation away.
Anamorphically enhanced, the DVD's compression is excellent - blacks are velvety and rich, color is deep and vibrant, and edge enhancement (which results in unnatural "shimmer") is seemingly non-existant. For a film of this vintage, the image is nothing short of eye-popping, especially if the DVD player's component video outputs are used. Hopefully, this should raise the bar for Universal, whose releases (save for "Vertigo") of Hitch's films have tended to be grainy and a bit nicked-up in areas, though certainly still bettering any previous video incarnations. All the special features in the world don't make a difference if the print of the movie itself isn't presented in the best way possible. Make no mistake, the Universal releases look good - very good - but not as good as this one does.
If you're a Hitchcock fan like me, owning this film is a no-brainer. If you're a film fan at all, this classic deserves - no, demands - a place in your collection. That Warner Brothers has paid it proper respect with a DVD of this quality (not only is the transfer sparkling, but the extras are rich in content and well done, too) is something that, like the film, is truly wonderful.
Wow! The Blu-ray is the transfer we've been waiting for. It eclipses all previous ones (at least, those I've seen), including the well-done LV.
"NbNW" has never been a particularly "good-looking" film. Projection prints were grainy and contrasty, with vivid, vulgar colors. This transfer -- made from the camera negatives, or something close -- corrects these problems.
For the first time, we can see just how /beautiful/ "NbNW" is, and the outstanding quality of the cinematography. The scene in which Mason closes the drapes and turns on the lights, while he and Grant eye each other and waltz around the room, has a sense of depth and "tonality" I've ever seen before. Even better is the scene on the train where Grant and Saint engage in "intercourse" while clothed and standing up (Hitchcock knew how to get around the censors! *). It's soft and romantic, a quality quite lost in previous transfers.
Interestingly, the matte paintings, rear projection, and static mattes are /less/ obvious than they were in previous versions. The scene in which Thornhill and the Professor walk toward the plane is perhaps the finest example of rear projection you'll ever see. You have to look closely to realize they're /not/ at an airport. **
"NbNW" was shot in VistaVision ("Motion-Picture High Fidelty"). It uses what still photographers would call a full 35mm frame (rather than the half frame used for movies), and therefore runs horizontally through the camera. Of all 35mm formats, VistaVision was /made/ for high-definition video. Its basic aspect ratio is 5:3 (within the 3:2 film frame), and it can be matted to wider aspect ratios in the camera or during projection. ***
"NbNW" was probably intended to be projected at 1.85:1. This transfer is at the slightly less-wide 16:9 (1.77:1), an excellent choice that fills the HD screen. Nothing is lost, and there are no distracting borders (for those bothered by such things).
And let's not forget the sound, because this is a Bernard Herrmann score. As far as I know, this is the first transfer to present all the music in stereo (ditto for sound effects). (The LV had only the overture in stereo.) The sound is fantastically good -- if you're so young you think "digital good, analog not-so-good", you need to hear this. ****
I have some gripes. Several shots in the crop-duster sequence have a "splotch" near the center, likely due to a water droplet that dried on the lens. And the brightness of some of the static mattes in the Mount Rushmore sequence flickers quite obviously. These would not have required a lot of work to correct.
Another reviewer has criticized the color, and I'm inclined to agree. Male skin tones are excessively warm, even yellowish. This is fine for Cary Grant -- who sported a perpetual Douglas Fairbanks tan -- but most of the male actors look as if they've spent too much time under a sun lamp. Now, get this... excerpts from this transfer used in the supplemental material have more-natural skin tones! Why this is, I don't know, but I've seen it on several recent Blu-rays -- the image quality in the supplements is better than that of the film itself.
As is becoming increasingly common for "important" movies, the disk is encased in a souvenir book. It's nice, but substance-free. You'll read it once, then put it aside. (It's a shame such books don't attempt to duplicate the contents of road-show souvenir booklets, but the format doesn't lend itself to it.)
As for the film itself, what is there to say? A classic, a perfect example of how Hitch was able to "play" the audience like an organ. In my "Snow White" review, I suggest that it is possibly the most consciously ingenuous film ever made. Hitchcock's films are the polar opposite -- consciously disingenuous. He's not just telling a story, but deliberately manipulating the audience. The audience knows it, but loves it anyhow.
Perhaps the most-amazing thing about "NbNW" is the way Hitchcock seamlessly melds humor, suspense, and action. (Grant's ability to switch instantly between restrained-ironic and dead-serious helps.) Only Steven Spielberg has come close. But he'll never be a Hitchcock.
* Thematically, "NbNW" is much like "Notorious" -- Ingrid Bergman is a "loose" woman coerced into marrying Claude Rains so she can spy on him for the government. In a famous scene, Hitchcock got around the Code's restriction on how long a man and woman can kiss by repeatedly having Grant and Bergman break the kiss, then start over -- which makes the scene even more sensual.
** MGM probably realized that VistaVision would reveal problems not visible in a smaller format, and spent the money for better effects shots.
*** Given the high cost of VistaVision prints and the need for a special projector, few theaters were able to project VistaVision as it was meant to be seen. Most VistaVision prints are half-frame reductions, which lose most of the original quality.
**** I used to do live recording, and digital comes closer to live sound. But... in the late 50s and early 60s, analog tape recording had reached a level of transparency, "immediacy", realism, and just plain "euphony" you rarely hear today. Simply in terms of "sounding good", this 50-year-old soundtrack is state-of-the-art. (If you want to hear a modern recording that's better -- that is, coming significantly closer to live sound -- try the Rilling performance of Britten's "War Requien".)
on September 10, 2000
No introduction required for this one: Alfred Hitchcock's is one of the most popular classic of all time, and it certainly deserves to be so. Watching NORTH BY NORTHWEST is a pure joy of cinema. It's thrilling, exciting and hilarious. You just get carried away with the master's perfect art of storytelling.
Many critics tried to "decode" the deeper meaning of this film in a vain effort to "intellectualize" Hitch's art. But the point is: there are really no serious message or psychological which understanding is vital to understand the film (which is quite the contrary from VERTIGO, his previous film, and PSYCHO, the one he made right after this one). The best way to understand this particular film is to just enjoy it. And boy, how enjoyable this movie is!
The new deluxe collector's edition DVD offers, first of all, a solid good transfer. I must congratulate MGM for keeping such a good care of the original elements. Unlike VERTIGO for which a lot of restoration works was required (and the end result still has some unrepairable deteriorations, even though it generally looks far better than how VERTIGO used to look for the last 17 years or so), NORTH BY NORTHWEST is preserved very well. This DVD represents the magnificence of the original VISTAVISON/IB-TECHNICOLOR images quite faithfully. The images are crisp-sharp (one great virtue of this now almost extinct process) and the colors are vibrant, deeply saturated and very rich. However, some of the rear-projection process shots (for examples, exteriors seen through a moving car window) look a bit faded and need a little work to be done. But don't worry, the final Mount Rushmore is transfered superbly, with all the miniature works, back-drop paintings, matpaintings and process shots are intact and are so effective. In fact, when properly done, the old techniques look as good as the recent digital CGI effects, maybe better.
I'm not quite sure about the Dolby 5-1 stereo because the film must have been made originally with a Mono soundtrack (or 3 channels Perspecta stereo), but at least it doesn't have the awful redone foley job which sounded quite ugly on the restored VERTIGO, so we can say it stays more faithful to what Hitch intended. Plus, I have to admit the new soundtrack REALLY brings out the magnificent orchestration of Bernard Herrmann's beautifully composed score!
Herrmann was one of the very few film composer who did his own orchestration. He was an uncompromised artist. By the way, you can enjoy the richness of the score with the music-only track as well.
An added enjoyment is the original theatrical trailer featuring Mr.Hitchcock himself, which was not on the previous LD release.
The DVD also features a good documentary about the making of the film which, unlike a conventional featurette where the filmmakers and the actors are just glorified in a phony promotional manner, really tells you about how a movie was made in those days. It even tells you how Cary Grant charged 15 cents to every autograph he gave to the fans! Unfortunately, Hitch himself is no longer with us to give a commentary for DVD fans, but the writer Ernest Lehman (also known for the screen adaptations of WEST SIDE STORY and THE SOUND OF MUSIC) tells about how he wrote this original screenplay and cleverly points out the subtle intelligence in Hitch's masterful direction. Critics and scholars (including myself, I must admit) often talk only about big scenes and flashy camera works which catch your eyes at the first moment you see them, but Lehman made me think how subtle a director's genius is, and that makes the whole difference from all the poorly made films that we see so often in the thriller genre today.
on August 15, 2002
I purchased the DVD box set with high expectations. Instead, I received something that appeared more like WB slapping left overs together for $$$. The DVD is what you can purchase in the store. Don't get me wrong, the movie and the DVD are great - I am a die hard Hitchcock fan. The contents of the box set in my opinion are not woth the money. The 8x10s and mini Lobby Cards appear as screen captures - fuzzy. The poster is folded real compact and is blurry as well. I was really hoping the DVD would have extra content from the "regular" version on the market. I just feel WB could have done better with a movie such as this!
on April 13, 2010
No Blu-Ray collection is complete without a well-transfered vintage movie, and I'm happy to say that Alfred Hitchcock's 1959 masterpiece 'North by Northwest' is a worthy choice for that movie.
The film itself needs no introduction. It's a classic, pure and simple. From the wonderful performances by Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint to the jaw-dropping Mount Rushmore and (my personal favorite) crop duster sequences, 'North by Northwest' is a high-caliber suspense film, through and through.
One aspect that sets it apart from many other movies of its day is the test of time. Even though it hit movie theaters more than 50 years ago, the action and humor in 'North by Northwest' have aged very well. I still laugh out loud when I watch it, and the suspense is still just as nail-biting.
As for the Blu-Ray transfer, I don't think we could've asked for a better one. As far as I'm concerned, the purpose behind the Blu-Ray format is to make the home viewing experience as close to the theatrical experience as possible. This beautifully-produced Blu-Ray does just that. The incredibly sharp picture effectively transports the viewer back in time to a theater seat in 1959, right down to the old-school film grain.
The special features here are very impressive, including a standout documentary hosted by Eva Marie Saint. If you appreciate extras, you won't be disappointed. My favorite, for some reason, is the featurette titled "A Guided Tour with Alfred Hitchcock." It's a genuinely funny and witty look at the movie, and shouldn't be missed.
Additionally, the Blu-Ray comes packaged with a 44-page Digibook, which is a very appreciated addition. It includes facts about the production as well as profiles of the actors. Very cool packaging.
Classic movies like this are a treat to behold on the Blu-Ray format. 'North by Northwest' is no exception. If you're looking for a wonderful piece of cinematic history that showcases the format beautifully, then look no further than 'North by Northwest.' It's absolutely a must-buy.
on September 10, 2011
I wish Amazon would sort the reviews so we could all find a review for the edition we are considering. Or maybe there is a way and I'm just not getting it.
In any case, this is an amazing disc. The restoration and HD quality are superb. It's fun to watch the old trailers, featurettes, etc. The book packaging is first rate.