12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Alfred Hitchcock's "North By Northwest" is simply one of the finest American films ever made. It is a great example of the skill and mastery that Hitchcock exhibited throughout his career. If you think back, there are few directors that have had as much success as Hitch did throughout his career.
Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) is involved in the Madison Avenue ad business. What does he do? It's unimportant, so we don't find out if he is President, an Ad Executive or in the mail room. He is quickly mistaken for George Kaplan, a man that some spies would like to have a word with. Forcibly transported to the estate of Lester Townsend, he is questioned by a man (James Mason). When Thornhill refuses to admit that he is Kaplan and tell them everything he knows, he is dispatched. He escapes and then sets out to figure out who George Kaplan is. Along the way, he meets Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint), a beautiful blond, and she becomes his ally. Thornhill's journey takes him from New York, to Chicago, to a desolate corn field, to an art auction, to Rapid City, South Dakota, to the face of Mount Rushmore.
Simplicity is the key to this film and its extraordinary success. The story is convoluted and may be considered improbable, but who is to say it wouldn't happen? I can't say that, especially as it is set during the Cold War and I have heard of many stranger things happening. The story is also very simplistic. We don't learn anything we don't need to know, and, frankly, it is most refreshing. I mentioned that we don't really learn what Thornhill does. He is involved in the Advertising industry, that much is clear, and it helps set up his lifestyle and his character quickly and plainly.
As I watched the film again last night, another thing struck me. In many films today, the filmmaker treats the audience as though they have no attention span and little ability to think. They show us a key piece of evidence, show the character looking at it, show it going into a pocket, later show the character pulling it out of the pocket, looking at it again, getting someone else to look at it again, and then getting some feedback. Each of these acts produces a view of the item in question for the audience. There is a sequence in "North By Northwest" which I want to use to illustrate how Hitchcock did this very differently. Thornhill and his mother (the very funny Jessie Royce Landis, actually only a year older than Grant), visit Kaplan's hotel room at the Plaza. There, Thornhill spots a picture of a group of men which includes the man he thinks is Townsend (Mason), he points it out to his mother and the audience gets to see it. He puts it back on the desk and goes about his business. Later, as he is rushing out, he grabs the picture. Outside the hotel room, he slides it in his coat pocket. We don't see the picture again, but we know it is the same picture. Later at the United Nations, he pulls the picture out and shows it to someone else. Again, we know which picture it is, not because we have seen it again and again, but because Hitch has allowed us to see it once and we are intelligent enough to know what they are talking about.
"North By Northwest" was made after "Vertigo" and before "Psycho". It makes perfect sense. "Vertigo" was reportedly a very personal film for Hitchcock. He put a lot of energy into the film was disconcerted when it did not receive the critical praise or box office that he felt it deserved. This is the first time that Hitchcock took the emphasis away from thrills and went for a more cerebral kind of suspense. He really delves into Scotty's obsessions and paranoia. It is a beautiful film and one of his best, but I can imagine that he was exhausted. It is pretty clear that Hitchcock was at the stage where he wanted to experiment a little. I can imagine that he probably felt that he should return to something that would help him get another hit. MGM purchased a book called "The Wreck of The Mary Deare". Hitch asked Ernest Lehman to adapt it for him. Lehman tried, but a few weeks later, he said he didn't know what to do with it. They talked a bit and then Hitchcock remarked that he always wanted to make a film with a chase across Mt. Rushmore. This single idea prompted Lehman to come up with, as he puts it, "The Hitchcock film to end all Hitchcock films". "NbNW" certainly explores territory that the director traveled before, but he brings a mastery to the work that sets this film head and shoulders above the rest. It certainly helps that Lehman created some of the best dialogue ever written. More on that later. So, while "NbNW" doesn't exactly push the boundaries of obsession that he was trying to reach with "Vertigo" or the psycho-sexual babble he tried to explore in "Marnie", it does examine the relationship of Thornhill and Kendall. In fact, the entire film is about relationships. The relationship between Thornhill and his mother leads him further into the mystery. Her mocking seems to make him more determined to prove he was abducted, pushing him further into the mystery. Thornhill's relationship with Kendall is erotic, intense and takes many turns, some of which take the story in new directions. Kendall's relationship with Vandamm is threatened by her relationship with Thornhill, causing Vandamm to doubt her sincerity. Vandamm and his henchman, Leonard, have a relationship that causes more friction between Vandamm and Kendall. The relationships in the film are the most intricately plotted part of the production.
Cary Grant has always been one of my favorite actors. He accomplished in his career what people like Schwarzenneger and Stallone are trying to do today. No, I am not comparing the two action stars to Cary Grant, but they are trying to break out of the action molds that they have created for themselves and lengthen their careers by trying other genres. Grant had great success in many genres. Of course, he was a handsome leading man in many romantic films. He also had great success in screwball comedies ("Arsenic and Old Lace" and "Bringing Up Baby"), War films (both serious and comedic) and thrillers (primarily, films he made with Hitchcock, but also notably "Charade", one of his last films). He was versatile and enjoyed a long career. If Lehman set out to make `The Hitchcock Film To End All Hitchcock Films', Hitchcock almost robbed Grant of one of his more memorable roles. They originally considered Jimmy Stewart. Someone suggested Grant and Grant received The Cary Grant Role to End All Cary Grant Roles. Grant is known for his great looks, his sexy accent, his suave character. These all fit perfectly in the role of Roger Thornhill.
Eva Marie Saint is one of the sexiest Hitchcock blondes, perhaps eclipsed only by Grace Kelly. Saint's portrayal of Eve Kendall pretty much defines what this type of character would be in hundreds of other films. She has to play both sides, never revealing too much to anyone, keeping her cool, trying not to fall in love. It is a difficult balance and Saint achieves it beautifully. She and Grant are so sexy together that it makes the films produced today look tame. In every one of their scenes, they are fully clothed, yet manage to create more sparks than any scene in which the actors are partially naked and simulating actual sex. In a couple of scenes, they spar verbally, flirting with each other. One of the sexiest kisses ever is captured in this film. They are kissing in Eve's train compartment and they move around each other, Thornhill's hands roaming all over Kendall.
As much as Saint creates a character that defines the role, Mason creates a villain that is very scary without ever using physical force. His voice is so rich and full of character that pretty much anything he says can be viewed as threatening and menacing. He seems the perfect characterization of a spy about to sell government secrets.
Martin Landau, in one of his first film roles, creates the role of Leonard, Vandamm's sidekick. Leonard is very devoted to his employer and dislikes Eve Kendall. There are slight homosexual overtones to the character which fit beautifully and help to further complicate the relationships in the film.
Hitchcock is a masterful director, but in the case of "NbNW", he had three very notable contributors. Ernest Lehman created a screenplay that is masterful in its simplicity. He created a story that is suspenseful, memorable and efficient. It moves from one point to the next, never boring us with details that we don't need to know. The dialogue in the film is perhaps the most memorable. Everything is slightly veiled. When Kendall and Thornhill are talking in the dining car, everything they say will eventually lead to their romantic evening. The dialogue is rich and entertaining. More importantly it is not cloying and sentimental. The dialogue also becomes threatening at the drop of a pin, as voice by Vandamm and Leonard.
Frequent Hitchcock contributor Bernard Hermann created one of his most rousing scores for "North By Northwest". What struck me when watching the film again is that there are very long passages with no music. You don't hear that in films produced today. John Williams and Ennio Morricone seem determined to prove their worth, overlaying every frame of film with music that is sure to evoke an emotion. In "NbNW", Hermann uses his music to accentuate the suspense or romance, not to substitute it.
The other contributor that deserves mention is Bob Boyle, the production designer. He and his team recreated Mount Rushmore in a studio and did a very good job. Just a few brief moments of the chase reveal that it is shot on a sound stage, remarkable really when you consider that none of it was actually shot on the monument.
The documentary included with the film is a treat in some ways and disappointing in others. It is great to see Eva Marie Saint again, very beautiful, narrating the documentary. It takes us step by step through the film and the sequence in which it was made. Some great production photos are used to illustrate. I found it disappointing that the documentary made various statements, but then provided no examples. For instance, at one point someone says that they felt tension between Hitch and Grant. Why?
"North By Northwest" is my favorite Hitchcock film and certainly my favorite film. It is the first film I remember seeing in a movie theater, on the big screen. It is a perfect example of the magic that Hollywood can create. It is the perfect example of what Hitchcock could create, frightening us, thrilling us, captivating us.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
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.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on August 14, 2001
Slap yourself if you haven't seen this movie. Although not as complex as "Vertigo" or "Rear Window," this is Hitchcock at his most enjoyable. I can't even begin to count the number of contemporary action films that were infulenced by (and frequently rip off) this. The crop-duster scene continues to be possibly one of the best suspense scenes I've ever seen, and it was only done with a plane, an empty field, and Cary Grant. The cast is perfect, the script is full of surprises and funny in a smart kind of way that modern moviemaking just doesn't understand. James Mason just oozes evil charisma.
So, how's the DVD? Incredible. I can't believe it ever looked this good, even on the big screen. The color separation is vivid and sharp, and I only noticed two or three imperfections in the print, which is amazing considering the age of this film. The stereo separation and noise reduction are great. Bernard Hermann's score, one of the most brilliant and propulsive I've ever heard, is absolutely transparent. And, of course, the stereo panning during the crop-duster sequence is spot-on. Oh yeah, and it includes the original theatrical trailer, as well as a mock commercial done by Hitchcock himself extolling the virtues of Mt. Rushmore as a tourist attraction!
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on June 13, 1999
Supposedly, Cary Grant, aged 54, was contemplating retirement until Alfred Hitchcock asked a fourth role of him. Thank goodness he went for it! As good as Psycho is, it should never have eclipsed North By Northwest as Hitchcocks most famous film. This is his masterwork, (in my opinion one of the top three best films EVER), and for innumerable reasons the end result is just an astonishing accomplishment. Justifiably famous for those two scenes, (and the cropduster sequence is totally thrilling, though I always wondered why the pilot decided to go kamikaze and plough into the petrol tanker!), it has so much more to recommend it. Grant, present in virtually every scene, is superb, and the Academy should forever hang their heads in shame for ignoring this actor. He is matched, however, by Jessie Royce Landis,(funny already in as much that she was also 54 yet plays his mother!), who is utterly hilarious in her role. Everyone infact is good form, and its a pity that James Mason, in his only Hitchcock performance, is offscreen for an eternity after an impressive initial scene opposite Grant. Alfred Hitchcock simply couldnt have paced this film better, and what a wild ride it is, though if forced to pick a favourite moment it would probably be in the auction room. I can never forget the lady turning to call Grant a "genuine idiot" and him thanking her for it! This is simply scintilating entertainment of the very highest order, I defy any reasonably minded person to weary of it, because the second you see the M.G.M. lion in green, and hear Bernard Herrmans brilliant score, you know your in for one of the biggest treats of your life! Yes it really is THAT good, even after a dozen viewings. If you dont own this, you cant be a serious film fan. PERFECT!
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on November 3, 2009
NORTH BY NORTHWEST is one of Hitchcock's masterpieces, no doubt about that. I won't bore you with a review of the film (as so many "armchair critics" do), but I will let you know that this Warner Bros. restoration is STUNNING.
Warner Bros. went back to the original VistaVision elements and treated us to a NBN DVD that is amazingly sharp and perfectly color balanced. The "old" DVD looked good, I was perfectly happy with the transfer, BUT, (get a load of what lay hidden for years) this 2 disc 50th ANNIVERSARY EDITION is beyond my greatest expectations - Replace . . . REPLACE that old copy NOW, if only for the fantastic SPECIAL FEATURES. Here are the treats in store for you:
* New 2009 Documentary Reveals The Master's Touch: Hitchcocks Signiture Style
* Acclaimed Feature-Length Career Profile Cary Grant: A Class Apart
* Explore in Depth the Movie's Innovations and Influences in the new NBN:
One for the Ages
* Vintage 2000 Documentary Destination Hitchcock: The Making of NBN
* Stills Gallery
* Theatrical Trailer
* TV Spot
As if that's not enough, there's a commentary track by Ernest Lehman (the screenwriter) - AND (!) a Music Only Track - One of the great Bernard Herrmann - Hitchcock collaberations!
This wonderful DVD is "for the ages"!
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on June 22, 2001
After seeing some other Hitchcock films on television like Vertigo, Psycho, and Rope, I decided to purchase North By Northwest.
At first, I was afraid that the DVD would be less than perfect, but I was very wrong.
The picture quality is outstanding. The colors are dead-on accurate and detail is everywhere. The letterboxing acheives a nice frame, the way the film was intended for. The sound is crystal clear and sounds better than theater quality.
The extras are also excellent. The documentary is very entertaining and informative, as is the commentary by Ernest Lehman. The trailers and TV spots are interesting because of their vintage quality. (The Hitchcock trailer is neat.) The photo gallery offers some neat photographs (nearly 40!). The inclusion of spanish and french audio tracks is great so that more people can be introduced to this excellent film. The music-only track is great since Bernard Herrmann's score is exquisitely great.
As with most Warner DVD's, the movie has a high number of chapter stops, which allows more access to scenes in the movie. The film is also enhanced for widescreen televisions, which makes the quality even better. Warners has a tastefully short and simple DVD intro with their company logo that lets you get to the movie quickly unlike Disney/Touchstone DVD's.
Warners knows that people want the main attraction, the film, and they satisfy that want. Also, the DVD cover is nice and comes in a simple snapper case, which is less likely to damage the disc.
This film has everything you could want from a movie...
Action, Romance, Suspense, Humor, Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, clever script by Lehman... and of course, Alfred Hitchcock's direction.
If you're wondering if you should purchase this fine DVD, don't hesitate.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on July 4, 2002
North by Northwest is one of my all-time favorite movies. From start to finish, NxNW is a roller-coaster ride you'll want to watch again and again. It is thrilling, exciting and at times totally hilarious. Essentially, it's about Roger O. Thornhill, a confident and charming advertising executive, who is mistaken for a government agent and is consequently chased across the country. He is set on the road drunk, forced to hide in train compartments, crop-dusted (a classic sequence), trapped in auction, and finally chased across Mount Rushmore. Movies don't get any better than this.
As for the cast, it is excellent! Cary Grant gives a perfect performance as Roger O. Thornhill - and he is hilarious and charming, as ever! Eva Marie Saint is also very good, as the mysterious and glamorous girl Cary meets on the train. James Mason does a wonderful job playing the debonair but evil villian.
Directed by Hitchcock, this is a great comedy/thriller - in my opinion, it is Hitchcock's best movie! Additionally, it is a good idea to get the DVD, because the movie is astonishingly sharp and clear and there are plenty of special features. 100% worth your money! If you haven't seen this, by all means do, and if you have, get a DVD you can watch again and again!
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on October 15, 2011
A little bit of railroad history was cut from the movie in the BluRay release. I do not know why such a brief scene was deleted except the editor of the BluRay thought something was amiss and jarring. The New York Central 20th Century Limited had an agreement with the Santa Fe Super Chief to attach a Pullman first class sleeper car from the arriving Super Chief in Chicago and take it in to New York City. Thus the passengers on the Super Chief did not need to transfer with their luggage from Dearborn Station to LaSalle Street Station. The whole car was switched over to the 20th Century. The reverse was true for Super Chief through passengers from NYC to L.A. In the the newly released BluRay version a brief scene which showed the silver Santa Fe car in the middle of the NY Central 20th Century Limited gray consist exiting a tunnel in New York City heading north was deleted. A bit of the original was therefore cut.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
*** THIS REVIEW IS FOR THE 2009 50th Anniversary "BLU RAY" VERSION ***
As you watch the title credits of Hitch's 1959 masterpiece "North By Northwest" roll up on screen in all their resplendent VistaVision Technicolor - the shiny, cold and aloof glass panelling of a New York skyscraper act as their backdrop.
It's a brilliant touch, because combined with Bernard Herrmann's staccato score it ratchets up the tension and also subliminally suggests to the viewer that some poor John Doe is about to get rightly and royally screwed by big business and big Government - or both. And of course, mistaken for a UN diplomat called George Caplin - our hapless hero George Thornhill (played by Cary Grant) - does just that.
Then when the credits end and Cary exits the lift with his secretary (Doreen Lang), all suited-n-booted and looking dapper enough to lick - another element kicks in - the picture quality...
The print is just BEAUTIFUL - featuring as it does state-of-the art frame-by-frame restoration. In fact, I raved in an Amazon UK Listmania list some 3 years ago about how good the DVD looked - well this BLU RAY is better - and at times just jaw dropping to look at.
Icing on the cake is that this 50th Anniversary BLU RAY reissue also adds on some superlative new features which are just as good as the film itself (nearly 3 hours of viewable features).
Here's the full list:
1. Commentary by Ernest Lehman (Original Script-Writer)
2. New 2009 Documentary "The Master's Touch: Hitchcock's Signature Style" (over 50 minutes - featuring comments from directors Martin Scorsese, Curtis Hanson, Francis Lawrence, Guillermo del Toro and many more)
3. Previously seen, but superlative feature-length profile "Cary Grant: A Class Apart" (over 1 1/2 hours)
4. New 2009 feature called "North By Northwest: One For The Ages" examining the movies innovations and influences
5. Feature called "The Making Of North By Northwest" from 2000 hosted by Eva Marie Saint
6. Music Only Audio Track
7. Stills Gallery (black & white stills of the stars and Hitchcock - both on set and on location)
8. Theatrical Trailers & TV Spots
9. Internet link to Warner Brothers
A whole bunch of things combine to make NBN work - a great story by Ernest Lehman, superb night and day locations, immaculate period clothes, the bulbous gas-guzzling cars, the art-deco buildings, the interiors of wealthy homes and the deeply luxurious dining cars of long-distance 1950's trains. And to top all of that, you get genuine old-school Hollywood star power in the form of James Mason, Martin Landau, Leo Carroll and the luminous love interest Eva Marie Saint. And of course the effortlessly suave and charming Cary Grant - arguably the best leading man Tinseltown ever produced. Throw in the tension, wit and camera angles of Hitchcock at the helm - and you're on a winner.
But your eyes keep coming back to how this BLU RAY shines. There are so many little scenes that now look sumptuous - Alfred missing the bus just at the end of the opening credits in his famous cameo scene - the garish colors of Fifties New York taxis, the marble of the Plaza hotel lobby as Cary walks through to meet clients in in the bar. Then there's the Townsend home and gardens as the villains motor up the gravel driveway to the front door, the three dapper suits of the boys as they parry in the library room inside (Mason, Landau and Grant) and the clarity of the night scene where they put a drunk Cary in a stolen car and try to drive him off a cliff. Further on there's the color of the fields in the legendary crop-duster scene, hanging off the Mount Rushmore monument by your fingernails - even Eva Saint Marie's beautiful red dress in the hotel room as she stands by the door while Cary showers in the bathroom... I could go on!
If I was to point out one genuine downside, it's the focus. Some scenes quite deliberately have Grant and Saint with an almost halo-like shine around them (soft focus to make them look better) and can at times make the print look just a teeny bit soft, but other than that the whole shebang is a joy to behold...
Up there with "The Italian Job", "Zulu", "Goldfinger", "Saturday Night, Sunday Morning", "2001" A Space Odyssey" and "The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner" in terms of top quality restoration (see my reviews for each) - "North By Northwest" is a triumph on BLU RAY. And the superb additional extras only make you feel that Warners are to be praised for a job well done...
Roll on "To Catch A Thief" on the BLU RAY format - another beautiful Hitchcock/Grant restoration currently being raved about (the "Centennial Collection" double DVD set)...
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on April 15, 2002
"North by Northwest" has been hailed as one of director Alfred Hitchcock's greatest masterpieces. In terms of script, acting and intrigue, that is absolutely true. "North by Northwest" can be enjoyed for the same reasons as virtually ever other Hitchcock film, particularly because they keep the viewer guessing until the very end.
However, "North by Northwest" adds another dimension for your viewing interest. It is perhaps the worst-edited movie of its quality that I've ever seen. There are hanging boom mikes, reflections in mirrors, and visible scenery curtains. Two things to particularly look for: the missing roof on Cary Grant's cab near the beginning of the film, and a little boy with his hands on his ears BEFORE Eva Marie Saint even produces her pistol in the Mount Rushmore cafeteria. The missing roof might not be visible in some prints, especially those which have been modified for TV screens, but the boy is evident in every version and is always a howl for those who know he's there.
Even with the errors, "North by Northwest" is a wonderful movie, and is something worth owning -- particularly on widescreen DVD, so you can freeze, and even magnify, the mistakes!