*** THIS REVIEW IS FOR THE 'UK' BLU RAY REISSUE ***
As you watch the credits of Hitch's 1959 masterpiece "North By Northwest" roll up on the screen in all their resplendent VistaVision Technicolor glory - the shiny, cold and aloof glass panelling of a New York skyscraper acts as their backdrop.
It's a brilliant touch - because combined with Bernard Herrmann's staccato score - it ratchets up the tension - and also subliminally suggests to the viewer that some poor John Doe is about to get rightly and royally screwed by big business and big Government - or both. And of course - mistaken for a UN diplomat called George Caplin - our hapless hero George Thornhill (played by Cary Grant) - does just that. Then when the opening credits end and Cary exits the lift with his secretary (Doreen Lang) all suited-n-booted and looking dapper enough to lick - another element kicks in - the extraordinary picture quality...
State-of-the art frame-by-frame Lowry Digital restoration has taken place here and the result is that the print is just BEAUTIFUL. I raved in a UK Listmania list some 3 years ago about how good the DVD looked - well this BLU RAY is way better - and at times just jaw-dropping to look at. Icing on the cake is that this 50th Anniversary BLU RAY reissue (Nov 2009) also adds on some superlative new features which are just as good as the film itself.
Here's the full list:
1. Commentary by Ernest Lehman (Original Script-Writer)
2. New 2009 Documentary "The Master's Touch: Hitchcock's Signature Style"
(over 50 minutes - featuring comments from directors Martin Scorsese, Curtis Hanson, Frances Lawrence, Guillermo del Toro and many more)
3. Previously seen but superlative feature-length profile "Cary Grant: A Class Apart" (over 1 and a half hours)
4. New 2009 feature called "North By Northwest: One For The Ages" examining the movies innovations and influences
5. Feature called "The Making Of North By Northwest" from 2000 hosted by Eva Marie Saint
6. Music Only Audio Track
7. Stills Gallery
8. Theatrical Trailers & TV Spots
9. Internet link to Warner Brothers
A whole bunch of things combine to make NBN work - a great story by Ernest Lehman, superb night and day locations, immaculate period clothes, the bulbous gas-guzzling cars, the art-deco buildings, the interiors of wealthy homes and the deeply luxurious dining cars of long-distance 1950's trains. And to top all of that, you get genuine old-school Hollywood star power in the form of James Mason, Martin Landau, Leo Carroll and the luminous love interest Eva Marie Saint. And of course the effortlessly suave and charming Cary Grant - arguably the best leading man Tinseltown ever produced. Throw in the tension, wit and camera angles of Hitchcock at the helm - and you're on a winner.
But your eyes keep coming back to how this BLU RAY shines. There are so many little scenes that now look sumptuous - Alfred missing the bus just at the end of the opening credits in his famous cameo scene - the garish colours of Fifties New York taxis, the marble of the hotel lobby Cary is meeting clients in. Then there's the Townsend home and gardens as the villains motor up the gravel driveway to the front door, the three dapper suits of the boys as they parry in the library room inside (Mason, Landau and Grant) and the clarity of the night scene where they put a drunk Cary in a stolen car and try to drive him off a cliff. Further on there's the colour of the fields in the legendary crop-duster scene, hanging off the Mount Rushmore monument by your fingernails - even Eva Saint Marie's beautiful red dress in the hotel room as she stands by the door while Cary showers in the bathroom... I could go on!
If I was to nitpick - some scenes quite deliberately have Grant and Saint with an almost halo-like shine around them (soft focus to make them look better) and can at times make the print look just a teeny bit soft. And a very real downside for UK and European fans is that the US issue comes in a dapper 40-page hardback book form which maddeningly is an all regions disc so will play on all players - while our measerly issue features a boring standard clipcase with no booklet. If you want the best 'presentation' of NBN - then plumb up the few extra pounds for the US bookpack (see separate entry). Other than that the whole shebang is a joy to behold.
Up there with "The Italian Job", "Zulu", "Goldfinger", "Saturday Night, Sunday Morning", "2001: A Space Odyssey", "The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner", "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang", "The African Queen", "To Catch A Thief" and "Back To The Future" in terms of top quality restoration (see my reviews for each) - "North By Northwest" is a triumph on BLU RAY. And the superb additional extras only make you feel that Warners are to be praised for a job well done.
But please Warners - start issuing your classics in decent packaging 'this' side of the pond...so collectors and movie lovers don't get short-changed.