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  Directed by
  Starring
  Specs
  • Widescreen 1.85:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  • Dual Layer (RSDL 83:43)
  Languages
  • English: Dolby Digital Stereo
  • Italian: Dolby Digital Mono
  Subtitles
    English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Romanian, Bulgarian
  Extras
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Audio commentary
  • Isolated music score
  • Photo gallery
  • Animated menus
  • TV spot
  • Documentaries

North by Northwest

Warner Bros./Warner Bros. . R4 . COLOR . 131 mins . PG . PAL

  Feature
Contract

"One of Hitchcock's most entertaining American thrillers" - so says Pauline Kael, and though the statement reeks of specificity and comes from a woman who retired because she couldn't bear giving bad reviews, the lass has a point. The great director was certainly at the peak of his artistic form, and if he felt the urge to fit a little light relief in between the psychological turmoil of Vertigo and the schnicky-schnick shower antics of Psycho, who am I to judge?

Taking 'rather good, actually' scriptwriter Ernest Lehman under his wing, Hitch flies across the reels, making divebomb runs at the thriller, suspense and comedy genres. Along for the breakneck ride is Cary Grant, making his last collaboration with the director as Roger Thornhill, an advertising exec mistaken for a secret agent and on the run from both the villain of the piece (James Mason) and the police, who want him for a murder he didn't commit. Eva Marie Saint is Eve Kendall, the femme fatale that Thornhill falls for on his adventure across the US, but does she know more than she is letting on?

"It's going to be a long night... and I don't particularly like the book I've started..."

The two great triumphs for the film are firstly that it travels at such a pace and with such humour and style that the audience doesn't notice the plot holes in the script while watching, and secondly, that upon the realisation of the basic logic flaws, they decide the holes don't matter.

The final result is a gem that has barely aged in over 40 years, still captivating a willing viewer in a way that modern films can't do in the year of release, let alone decades afterwards.

  Video
Contract

Stunning. This disc has everything going for it. The large frame size of the VistaVision format virtually guaranteed above-average sharpness, but nobody could have predicted how well every other aspect of the transfer has scrubbed up. Some scenes literally could have been filmed last year, such is the clarity and richness of the image. We're talking fully-saturated colour, contrast and detail as good as old-school stock could pump out. Film artefacts are strangely - spookily - absent.

Obviously, the qualities of the film stock and the usage of rear-projection footage date the picture, but overall, this is a magnificent video transfer, far surpassing titles twenty years younger. It seems that the original negatives did not suffer the shocking treatment given to 1958's Vertigo, which necessitated an immediate and expensive restoration effort to the reels before they degenerated beyond repair. Despite the occasional aliasing shimmer, this disc demands top marks for picture quality. To be blessed with a transfer this good for a film of this quality demands a sacrifice to the DVD gods - burn your copies of Independence Day now. No, really.

  Audio
Contract

Another of the oh-so-fashionable 5.1 remixes of a mono film, and as you'd expect given the age of the film, the fidelity is not up to the standard of modern releases. The actual surround effect is extremely subdued, with the rears only being used for Bernard Herrmann's excellent score for the majority of the running time. An appreciated extra is the isolated stereo score, making it possible to enjoy the music without effects or dialogue.

Unusually for master tapes of this vintage, the discrete remix hasn't revealed any obvious flaws such as hiss or distortion, and the mixers have been fairly restrained in their treatment. The only sour note for me was the sole explosion in the film, where the bass had been obviously exaggerated to a distracting level. Dialogue generally sounds a little canned, 'as was the fashion at the time', but is always clear and intelligible.

  Extras
Contract

There's probably enough in the way of extras here for Warner to have given the packaging the Special Edition treatment, and the lack of any kind of hyperbole on the cover makes the disc seem strangely lackluster. Of course, it's what's inside that counts, or so my Mum used to tell me while laughing at my hideously misfigured face.

  • Audio Commentary - by screenwriter Ernest Lehman, who's understandably getting on in years. Sporadic at best, and filled with more fond memories than hard information, it's interesting that producer Herbert Coleman didn't provide any commentary as he did with Vertigo.
  • Documentary - "Destination Hitchcock: The Making of North By Northwest", a decent 40 minute doco hosted by Eva Marie Saint, with interviews with Lehman, Hitch's daughter Pat and others and a nice amount of Hitch anecdotes to enjoy.
  • Theatrical Trailer - Actually, this is the trailer for MGM's re-release. Perhaps the original trailer is long since lost to the mists of time? Kind of how any mention of the trailer is missing on the packaging...
  • TV Spot - A typically entertaining 60s black-and-white TV trailer, although for some strange reason it's 16:9 enhanced. For all the widescreen TVs in the 60s, obviously. Everybody except you had one.
  • Still gallery - A bunch of promo stills, with the stars and Hitch hamming it up for the camera.

Let's not forget the isolated music score, of course. Considering the difficulties in finding material for a 4-decade-old film, this is a pretty good effort.

  Overall  
Contract

This disc is an essential purchase. The general public, being the discerning arbiters of taste that they are, will ensure that The Mummy outsells North by Northwest 20:1, but don't let that stop you. Buck the trend. Stand up to The Man. Get jiggy.


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