Adventure, Spy, Thriller

North by Northwest (1959)

0 Comments 03 March 2012


Studio: Warner Brothers

Theatrical Release: July 17, 1959

Blu Ray Release: November 3, 2009

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Not Rated

Review by James Klein

The final film to pair star Cary Grant and director Alfred Hitchcock is arguably their best film. Some even consider North by Northwest Hitchcock’s masterpiece. While I love Psycho, it’s hard to argue that North by Northwest isn’t one of Hitchcock’s best films. Undoubtedly, it is his most entertaining and action-packed. For those who have never seen a Hitchcock film, this is where you should start. From the very beginning, North by Northwest is a cinematic rollercoaster.

Cary Grant plays Roger O. Thornhill, a smartass advertising executive inNew York Citywho one day is mistaken for a spy named George Kaplan, who we find out doesn’t even exist. As Thornhill leaves a luncheon one afternoon, two men take him away at gunpoint and thus throw Thornhill into a world of spies, mistaken identities, romance, and murder. As Thornhill is being chased around, another spy named Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint) abruptly enters his life who may or may not be helping Thornhill escape or be killed.

As there have been many essay’s and reviews regarding North by Northwest, it’s hard to write something that hasn’t been written before. Simply put, it is a wonderful film. The movie is action packed and Hitchcock understands to not only direct suspense but also big elaborate action set pieces such as car chases, foot chases, fist fights, and daring stunts like Thornhill being chased by a crop dusting airplane and Thornhill trying to rescue Kendall on top ofMount Rushmore as spies try to kill him. The script by Ernest Lehman is pretty tight and one wonders what sort of mishap or action scene will happen next to Thornhill. Unlike most action films nowadays, the set pieces and stunts don’t seem too far fetched and Hitchcock keeps a certain subtle humorous element, almost like an early James Bond film to these action scenes. In fact, the film is quite funny at times and Thornhill’s sarcastic comments had me laughing out loud in certain parts. Even some of the obvious sexual references that Grant and Saint spout off to one another is quite comical and even racy for 1959.

While Grant and Saint are excellent, it helps that the supporting cast is just as great. The always wonderful James Mason is perfect as the suave but deadly Vandamm. His right hand henchman Leonard is played by a very young Martin Landau. At times I often wondered if the film was subtly trying to suggest that Leonard was homosexual and had the hots for Vandamm as it seemed he was jealous anytime Vandamm hadKendallin his arms or was touching her. Jessie Royce Landis is also quite funny as Thornhill’s oblivious mother. Her bluntly asking two hitman in a crowded elevator if they were going to kill her son is still quite funny and surprising. Once again, Hitchcock knew how to cast his pictures and again he hits a grand slam.

And speaking of grand slams, this blu ray by Warner Brothers is an absolute must buy. This 50th Anniversary Edition is just breath taking to look at. The picture has never looked this good. Shot in VistaVision which was a higher grade widescreen process developed back in the 1950’s, most likely to compete with the popularity of television, the 1:66 widescreen presentation is flawless. While the film still continues to have grain, the picture looks sharp and very pleasing to the eye. The colors are also very bright and at times, the movie looked almost like a modern film and not a film well over 50 years old. While the 5.1 surround is fine, I had problems at times hearing some of the quiet dialog and had to turn up the speakers. I would have preferred to hear the original mono soundtrack myself but that is not included on this blu ray set. Still, a very minor complaint.

Once again, like all of the other Hitchcock blu ray’s we have reviewed, this disc is chock full of special features. There is a commentary track by the screenwriter himself which is extremely informative and a must listen for aspiring writers. There is a new documentary on Hitchcock’s style in films, a featurette on Cary Grant, a featurette on the influences that North by Northwest has provided various films and my favorite featurette, the 2000 documentary hosted by Eva Marie Saint on the making of North by Northwest. This documentary goes through each day of shooting and what was happening on the set on that day. Just to see an image of Hitchcock wearing a short sleeved shirt is enough to make this a must watch. With numerous trailers and TV spots (which were in black and white), the special features section will have you busy for hours.

Like the other Hitchcock films out on blu ray, this is a must own. North by Northwest is just a hell of a lot of fun and a pure classic masterpiece.

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