DVD Review: ‘North By Northwest’ 50th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray

north-by-northwest-bluray-book-coverOne of the most visually stunning, action packed, clever and suspenseful of all Alfred Hitchcock movies, his 1959 masterpiece North By Northwest finally gets the Blu-ray treatment it deserves. Featuring a terrific remastering with lots of great supplemental material and beautiful packaging the movie really shines and Warner Bros. has clearly pulled out all the tops to bring this classic film to a new generation of audiences.

Just in case you’re not familiar with this Hitchcock masterpiece, it stars Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason and a young Martin Landau in a story featuring one of Hitchcock’s signature conceits: the wrong man. Grant’s Roger Thornhill, mistaken for superspy George Kaplan by a group of sinister agents led by James Mason’s Phillip Vandamm, is taken to a county house, forceably intoxicated and almost murdered. He barely manages to escape with his life, mostly due to his high tolerance for alcohol after years in the advertising business, but this sets in motion a series of events culminating in one of the most exciting and visually stunning climaxes ever filmed, at least up to that time.

Cary Grant is funny and cool as Thornhill and the rest of the cast take on their roles brilliantly. The script by Ernest Lehman is funny, action packed, dramatic and tight as a drum and, of course, the direction by the “master of suspense” Alfred Hitchcock is outstanding, making this, if not his best work, at least in the top three right along with Psycho and Rear Window.

Mention must also be made of the stunningly exciting action sequence involving Cary Grant, a deserted county road and a crop dusting plane. For the times, this action sequence was considered the pinnacle of cinematic achievement and even today, due to its quality and innovative direction and editing, its still ranks high. Of course, now that filmmakers have almost anything imaginable at their fingertips through the use of CGI, this action sequence may seem tame to some.

However, knowing when it was filmed and how, and also taking into consideration when it appears in the film, you have already been drawn into the world of this amazing film and completely go along with whatever happens. In short, it just works. And works exceptionally well.

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Moving on to the packing, the presentation and the bonus features of this Blu-ray, I can only say, once again, that Warner Bros. has pulled out all the stops. The packaging is a beautiful illustrated and put together book offering insights into the characters, director, story and the making of the film itself.

Having owned many Blu-ray titles over the years I can safely say that this presentation of the material is among the best I’ve ever seen. The care and craftsmanship that went into it makes it a befitting package to deliver such a worthwhile motion picture experience.

The transfer and presentation of the film itself is also of superior quality. Obviously, the same care went into the restoration and Blu-ray mastering of the film itself that went into the packaging, and it shows. The film is beautiful and this version really serves to highlight the brilliant direction by Hitchcock and the Vista Vision, Technicolor cinematography by Robert Burks.

The other special features are mostly from previous DVD release including an audio commentary by screenwriter Ernest Lehman, a 39-minute documentary on Hitchcock, followed by a stills gallery and three trailers. New content for this release is an excellent 87-minute Turner Classic Movies 2004 documentary on Cary Grant that goes into considerable detail including interviews with some of Grant’s ex-wives.

Also included is the 57 minute Hitchcock tribute “The Master’s Touch: Hitchcock’s Signature Style” which features a wealth of information from directors such as Martin Scorsese commenting on Hitchcock. The other new feature, “North by Northwest: One for the Ages” features directors Curtis Hanson (L.A. Confidential), Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy), William Friedkin (French Connection), Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend) and Christopher McQuarrie (Way of the Gun and writer of The Usual Suspects) who discuss the film’s impact on them and on the industry.

If you happen to be a Hitchcock fan and have been waiting for his films to come to Blu-ray, there could be no more fitting first title to buy than this one. North by Northwest is one of the greatest films in the history of cinema made by one of the greatest directors of all time and its received a fitting tribute with this Blu-ray package. For any Hitchcock fan, or any fan of superb films, this is a must own.

  • VHS to DVD
    December 10, 2009 at 5:31 am

    Awesome Review.
    I love this film.

    • Chris Ullrich
      December 10, 2009 at 8:37 am

      Thank you. One of my all time favorites as well, as you might be able to tell.

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