If North by Northwest isn’t a perfect movie then it’s as close as a film can get.
More than likely you’re familiar with the movie, but in case you aren’t, the movie tells the story of Roger Thornhill, a likeable, somewhat roguish advertising executive who’s mistaken for CIA agent George Kaplan. Framed for murder, Thornhill flees from enemy spies and the authorities, aided only by the mysterious and beautiful Eve Kendall, who may have reasons all her own for helping him. Thornhill’s journey to clear his name takes him from the United Nations to a deserted road in Indiana to the top of Mount Rushmore and has made for one of the most memorable thrillers in cinema history.
Cary Grant gives one of the best performances of his career in this movie. Thornhill shares many of the traits of Grant’s other famous characters, including his other works with Hitchcock, but Grant brings them together seamlessly into this role, crafting a performance full of humor and wit, but also desperation and anger, and he does so in such a natural way no one ever catches him acting. From the moment Grant appears on screen, going over his agenda with his secretary, you’re completely charmed by his personality, and whether you know it or not, you’re completely on his side.
It would be easy for Grant to dominate the movie, but one of the great aspects of this movie is the incredible cast. Eva Marie Saint plays Eve Kendall, and she more than holds her own against Grant, tossing away brilliant one-liners as easily as one breathes. Her performance allures with mystery, intelligence, and vibrant sexuality, making it easy to see how Thornhill falls so quickly in love with Kendall.
And on the other side stands James Mason and Martin Landau as Phillip Vandamm and Leonard. Mason’s portrayal of Vandamm is wonderfully fraught with a kind of laconic menace, and Landau is just downright creepy as his righthand man. The best way I can describe Leonard is as a menacing version of Smithers from The Simpsons, but that hardly gives justice to his performance. The two actually show up only a few times in the movie, but comparatively few moments are superb.
Of course one can’t write about this movie without talking about Alfred Hitchcock. Only, what is there to write that hasn’t already been written? The man was a master filmmaker who, like Orson Welles, changed the way we think about, watch, and make movies. Hitchcock has a wonderful visual style supported by an equally wonderful talent for characterization and storytelling, and North by Northwest may very well be his masterpiece.
In a way it’s difficult to write about this movie because it’s so good. At some point this review ceases to be a review and becomes a love letter to all involved. It’s just that good.
The movie is presented in widescreen with no aspect ratios specified. The audio consisted of an English track in Dolby Surround 5.1, and a mono French track. English and French subtitles are available. As the film was restored from its original version it looks and sounds fantastic. Those involved in the restoration did a great job worthy of a 50th anniversary edition.
Commentary by Screenwriter Ernest Lehman – Very good commentary track. Lehman is entertaining and informative.
Music-Only Audio Track – This may be my favorite extra on this set. The music for the movie classic and it was a joy to sit back and just listen to it.
Cary Grant: A Class Apart (1:27:06) – Excellent documentary about Cary Grant.
The Master’s Touch: Hitchcock’s Signature Style (57:28) – Another excellent documentary.
Destination Hitchcock: The Making of North by Northwest (39:25) – Now I’m starting to repeat myself, because this is a great extra feature.
North by Northwest: One for the Ages (25:28) – I think you know where this is going, but this DVD hits another home run with this extra.
Stills Gallery – I found this to be the weakest of the extra features. The stills are nice and all, but I typically don’t care to watch still photos on my television. Fans of stills galleries should enjoy this, though.
Trailers and TV Spots: TV Spot (1:02); A Guided Tour with Alfred Hitchcock (3:14); Theatrical Trailer (2:13) – These are fun little additions, especially the Guided Tour.
Everyone should see this movie at least once in their lives. If you don’t already own a copy of this movie then go out and buy this one right now. And if you do, the extras on this release may be enough to justify replacing it. This DVD release absolutely does justice to the movie’s 50th anniversary. Highly recommended.
Warner Home Video presents North by Northwest. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Starring Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason, and Martin Landau. Written by Ernest Lehman. Running time: 136 minutes. Rated NR. Released on DVD: November 3, 2009. Available at Amazon.
Tags: alfred hitchcock, Martin Landau