North by Northwest (1959)

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Released 3-May-2001

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Thriller Main Menu Introduction
Main Menu Audio & Animation
Listing-Cast & Crew
Audio Commentary-Ernest Lehman (Screenwriter)
Featurette-Destination Hitchcock:Making Of North By Northwest
Theatrical Trailer
Gallery-Photo
Isolated Musical Score
TV Spots
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1959
Running Time 130:46
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (83:43) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Alfred Hitchcock
Studio
Distributor

Warner Home Video
Starring Cary Grant
Eva Marie Saint
James Mason
Jessie Royce Landis
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $36.95 Music Bernard Herrmann


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 1.0 (192Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Isolated Music Score Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
Italian
French
Spanish
German
Romanian
Bulgarian
Italian for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement Yes, mildly
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

††† It would seem that the comments I made in my review of Arsenic And Old Lace regarding the lack of back catalogue titles in Region 4 struck a chord with a number of readers. Well, the good news is that once again we have a good back catalogue title to review. Well, okay, a little better than good. For North By Northwest is arguably the best of the films from the true master of the suspense/thriller genre, Alfred Hitchcock. But it is an arguable point, for he did make some beauties: Rebecca, Rear Window, Vertigo and Psycho amongst them, which does allow plenty of room for plenty of argument! What is undeniable is that the film is in the American Film Institute's Top 100 films of all time, and is well and truly ensconced in the top twenty five of the Internet Movie database Top 250 films of all time. Only great films can achieve such lofty accolades and this is a great film.

††† This film really does have all the Hitchcockian touches in perhaps his best rounded effort. At its core is his favourite plot line - an ordinary man thrown into extraordinary circumstances and having to battle his way through them. The poor unfortunate in this instance is Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant), an advertising executive on Madison Avenue. He is at a business meeting when he inadvertently asks a message boy about sending a telegram (remember those?) just when the message boy is seeking one George Kaplan. Thus is laid the case of mistaken identity that results in everything that follows! Everything that follows basically involves his kidnapping by a couple of unsavoury characters working for one Phillip Vandamm (James Mason), a businessman under investigation for his possible passing of secret information out of the United States - one of Phillip's investigators has been an elusive George Kaplan. Determined to finally be rid of Kaplan, Vandamm resolves to have Thornhill killed but he manages to avoid that fate. After escaping the clutches of death and the law, Thornhill/Kaplan decides to locate the mysterious Kaplan, but his first port of call results in him being framed for a murder which serves to complicate the process of clearing up what is going on. Along the way he meets up with a real agent by the name of Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint) and naturally the sparks fly. Everything else will be revealed by watching the film.

††† The end result is a quite brilliant film that is highlighted by a great story from Ernest Lehman and some great cinematography. However, this great film is a great blend of all aspects of film making: great acting, great effects, great story, great cinematography, great score. Even forty-odd years on, this remains an excellent film that stands well in comparison to films even one quarter its age.

††† It is interesting to watch this film after Arsenic And Old Lace simply to see Cary Grant in action in his final collaboration with Alfred Hitchcock. This really is a superb acting job and is arguably the best thing he did (even though he received no Oscar for the performance). He brings to the role a certain charm, wit and intelligence that certainly indicates exactly why he would have been a great James Bond (unfortunately he was too old when the Bond franchise was in its infancy). He is perfectly complemented by the beautiful Eva Marie Saint, Alfred Hitchcock's personal choice for the role even though the studio wanted to use other contracted actresses including Cyd Charise. Goes to show that Mr Hitchcock had a far better grasp of film-making than the studio executives, and it is difficult to imagine the role of the femme fatale spy being played by anyone else nowadays. The often underrated James Mason brings a very stylish portrayal of the baddie to the film that is not often encountered in film. So basically across the board the performances are top notch and even the smaller roles like Clara Thornhill, Roger's mother, is delightfully played by Jessie Royce Landis. The backdrop against which these performances were brought to life ranged from the streets of New York to the Mount Rushmore National Monument, settings which used the Vistavision format of the film to the utmost. However, the film did use a lot of special effects, mainly through the use of matte backgrounds and projected backgrounds. Whilst these were very much state-of-the-art in 1959, they are decidedly passť nowadays and in the digital medium it is easy to pick up where backgrounds have been inserted or projected. This is perhaps the one disappointing aspect of the film, but it does give the film a different feel to it. Rounding out a great package is a terrific score from a true great of the genre.

††† There is no doubt that this is a rare classic film that thoroughly deserves its lofty status on the AFI Top 100 list, and there is really no excuse for this not being in every film collection.

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Transfer Quality

Video

††† The film is actually quite contemporary to my own life since it was first released way back in 1959, the year of my birth. Naturally enough, I have never seen the film before for some reason, even though it has long been on my list of must-see films. Well, I might have waited my entire life to see it (quite literally), but the wait was well worth it.

††† The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 which is very close to the original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Thankfully the transfer is 16x9 enhanced.

††† Some time ago I made mention in a review about the tendency of early Technicolor films to be oversaturated, which broadly affected the clarity of the transfer. Well, this transfer is the exception that proves the rule! This is a d*** fine transfer all things considered. It is quite sharp throughout without having to resort to edge enhancement. In fact, the stunning and original opening credits shine like a film less than half this age. Really quite unbelievable stuff. The transfer is blessed with good to very good detail throughout, and there are certainly no complaints about the depth to the transfer presented here. Shadow detail is quite excellent too, with even the night-time scenes not presenting any sort of issue here. Clarity is excellent and there is little or no evidence of grain at all. There is also no evidence of noise in the transfer.

††† Rather than the slightly oversaturated tones of Technicolor films of the era, this one has a slightly undersaturated look to it at times. Overall, it presents an excellent palette of colours throughout and is usually very vibrant. Even though there is not much in the way of bright colours here, and the night-time scenes are just a little too light for my taste, the transfer is in general very believable. As a train buff, the excellence in the transfer for me is highlighted by the excellence of the colours on the New York Central diesel locomotives: these are really quite accurate representations indeed. There are plenty of other examples, not the least of which is in the Townsend residence. The tones are consistently solid throughout and the blacks in particular have a fine depth to them for a film of this age. There are no issues with oversaturation here at all, and colour bleed is also not an issue. The only thing of note is that the first half of the film seems to be slightly better in quality than the second half - but that is a very relative difference, sort of like comparing the excellence of colour in a Van Gogh painting compared to a Manet painting.

††† There did not appear to be any MPEG artefacts in the transfer. There were a couple of instances of aliasing in the transfer, but these were generally of a quite minor nature: the worst example is perhaps the car grille at at 66:42, but even that was hardly a great distraction. There did not appear to be any other film-to-video artefacts. I was quite stunned by the lack of film artefacts in the transfer: I failed to note any of consequence at all.

††† This is an RSDL formatted DVD with the layer change coming mid-scene at 83:43. Whilst it was not too disruptive to the film, it really was a little too obvious and I cannot help but feel that it could have been better handled.

††† Overall, this is another quite excellent remastering from this source and clearly demonstrates that when the time is taken to do the job properly, the quality that can be obtained in older film transfers can be quite exceptional.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

††† There are four soundtracks on offer on the DVD, being an English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, an Italian 1.0 soundtrack, an English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 surround encoded soundtrack and an Isolated Music Score Dolby Digital 2.0 surround encoded soundtrack. I sampled the English soundtrack, the English Audio Commentary and extensively sampled the Isolated Music Score.

††† The dialogue and music come up very well in the soundtrack, clear and easy to understand. There did not appear to be any audio sync problems in the transfer, apart from the famous (or infamous, depending upon your point of view) dubbed line during the dining car sequence on the train: the one where Eve is looped saying "I never discuss love on an empty stomach" but actually is mouthing "I never make love on an empty stomach".

††† The original musical score comes from another of the true greats in Bernard Herrmann, who did more than a few Hitchcock films. Whilst probably best known for Vertigo, this is another great soundtrack with a very hauntingly original opening theme. Listening to the Isolated Music Score just illustrates how great the soundtrack is, and how effective it is in underpinning the action sequences of the film. Utterly superb stuff and deserving of the Isolated Music Score treatment.

†† When I saw that this had a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, I had fears that it may have been inappropriately handled. I should not have held such fears for the remastering has been done in an entirely sympathetic manner. There has been no attempt to add too much into the mix, but rather to subtly improve the overall soundscape somewhat from what I would presume was the original mono. So, there is no great improvement in rear channel ambience and surround channel use is relatively restrained, used to just open up the sound a fair degree and to ensure that there is no congestion in the sound.

††† The bass channel does not get great use, but is brought into action only when really necessary - such as during the plane crash and subsequent explosion. Even this has been done in a nicely restrained manner so that it does not come across as a falsely enhanced portion of the overall soundscape.

††† Really, the whole soundtrack ends up being an entirely believable effort that is more open than I would have expected and is remarkably free of any blemishes. An excellent example of remastered sound in an older film.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

††† For a film of this age, we have been given a most gratifying extras package.

Menu

††† A rather striking animation introduces the main menu, which also features some nicely handled animation and audio enhancement. Very nicely done without being garish. The menus are 16x9 enhanced.

Listing - Cast and Crew

Audio Commentary - Ernest Lehman (Screenwriter)

††† This is unlikely to make anyone's list of the top commentaries available on Region 4 DVD. He has a rather relaxed approach to the whole deal and there are extensive periods of silence. Some of the commentary has obviously been lifted from the interviews conducted for the featurette, which does not add to the enjoyment either. There is not an awful lot of film enhancing stuff here, but I suppose that any sort of commentary for a forty one year old film is an unexpected bonus, irrespective of the actual content. Possibly worthwhile suffering through this once but I really doubt that you would ever want to listen to it a second time.

Featurette - Destination Hitchcock: The Making Of North By Northwest (39:29)

††† With the added bonus of being hosted by Eva Marie Saint, this really is a terrific effort. Loaded with behind-the-scenes stuff and plenty of interview input from some of the crew as well as Hitchcock's daughter Pat. Presented in a Full Frame format, which is not 16x9 enhanced, it comes with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. I found this to be very enjoyable and informative, and it certainly does not pull too many punches. You will love the goof that they point out during the climactic scene of the film!

Theatrical Trailer (2:10)

††† This is actually the re-release trailer and not the original trailer. Whilst that is a tad unfortunate, there is not much else to complain about here. Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, this is 16x9 enhanced and comes with Dolby Digital 1.0 sound. The sound is a little strident, but otherwise the quality is very good with no really distracting film artefacts.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

††† As far as we can ascertain, the Region 1 release differs from the Region 4 in having the original theatrical trailer as well as the re-release theatrical trailer. It also appears to have full cast and crew biographies. Reliable reviews would indicate that the technical quality of the Region 1 release is very much on a par with the Region 4 release, so I suppose it gets down to whether that additional theatrical trailer is worth the cost of importation. Call this one even.

Summary

††† North By Northwest is a classic film in every sense of the word and should be in every representative film collection. It has been given a generally superb video transfer and a wonderful audio transfer. The extras package is a heck of a lot more than I was expecting for a forty one year old film. Another film that I wholeheartedly recommend you add to your collection.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ian Morris (Biological imperfection run amok)
Friday, May 25, 2001
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-515, using S-Video output
DisplaySony Trinitron Wega (80cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationYamaha RXV-795
SpeakersEnergy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL

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