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Blu-ray Review: North by Northwest – 50th Anniversary Edition

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There is something absolutely wonderful about watching Cary Grant. Grant, no matter the role, always exudes an incredible amount of charisma and charm, and can carry an entire film on his back. It is, however, still preferable to see Grant in a great role in a great movie. Get the opportunity to see Grant in one of the roles he took on for master director Alfred Hitchcock and the experience is that much better. Put the film on Blu-ray in a special 50th Anniversary Edition and, well, you get the idea.

Coming to Blu-ray this week is the Grant-starring Hitchcock classic, North by Northwest. For those who don't remember, that's the one which has the climactic sequence at Mount Rushmore. It's also the one that has Eva Marie Saint as Cary Grant's love interest, James Mason as the bad guy, and the incredibly tense sequence with the crop duster attacking Grant's Roger Thornhill.

The film is one of Hitchcock's most polished pieces, and uses his oft-repeated Cary Granttrope of having an average individual thrown into extraordinary circumstances. Our average joe in this case is Roger Thornhill, New York City ad man, and something of a momma's boy. In an odd turn of events, it is actually due to his worrying about his mother that Thornhill gets mistaken for a fictional creation of our government and is kidnapped. Thornhill is quickly sucked into a world of intrigue in which the villain, Phillip Vandamm (Mason), refuses to believe that Thornhill is not Kaplan and Thornhill not only witnesses a murder at the United Nations, but actually opts to become the fake Kaplan in order to help protect a real government agent.

It is on this crazy chase across the country — with Thornhill pursuing the non-existent Kaplan, Vandamm and his cronies pursuing Thornhill, and the government pursuing everyone — that Thornhill meets up with Eve Kendall (Saint). Kendall, perhaps because Thornhill is irresistible, perhaps because he's Cary Grant, or perhaps because she has secrets of her own, finds herself brought into Thornhill's personal problems.

Built on intrigue after lie after twist, as with so many Hitchcock movies, the exact nature of the plot is far less important than the opportunity to watch the characters interact with each other and respond to all that happens around them. And, starring Cary Grant, what the viewer gets here are perhaps some of the best reactions ever put on film.

Even someone who has not seen North by Northwest in its entirety has unquestionably watched scenes from it repeatedly. Moments in the film have been imitated in other works, referenced in other works, and regularly show in clip reels of classic films.

Perhaps one of the reasons the film works as wonderfully as it does is because it beautifully combines thrills and comedy. Grant's Thornhill, despite being almost killed repeatedly, never seems to lose his wonderful, and wonderfully dry, sense of humor. It is his ability to add humor to any situation, no matter how dire, that turns what would otherwise be an above average Hitchcock movie into the masterpiece it is.

The 50th Anniversary Blu-ray release both looks and sounds excellent. The audio track is Dolby TrueHD 5.1 channel, and features crisp, wonderful audio, particularly with Bernard Herrmann's classic Hitchcockian score. The visuals are almost equally as impressive. The colors are sharp and bright, and one can make out the weave pattern on Thornhill's gray suits with ease. There appears to be little to no dirt nor other imperfections in the print itself. The one place the visuals represent a letdown are when Thornhill finds himself in taxis in New York. The views outside the windows from the taxi have not been given the same quality of Grant and Eva Marie Saint restoration work that the rest of the visuals have and the difference is both noticeable and distracting.

As for special features, the release comes with a commentary track by screenwriter Ernest Lehman, a music only track, a photo gallery, a trailer gallery, a TCM documentary on Cary Grant, and a making-of featurette hosted by Eva Marie Saint, all of which have been released before. Exclusive to this release is a documentary on Hitchcock's filmmaking and another on North by Northwest itself. The release also includes a booklet on the film, stars, and production.

To boil it down to its simplest terms, what one has with the Blu-ray release of North by Northwest's 50th Anniversary Edition is a great director, great actor, great screenwriter, great composer, and a great supporting cast all coming together to create a brilliant film which completely entrances viewers from the moment the opening credits begin (and they are incredible opening credits) until the last cel of the film unspools… in high definition.

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.