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5.0 out of 5 stars "...Expedient Exaggeration..." - North By Northwest on BLU RAY And Which Issue To Buy?, 17 Nov. 2009
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This review is from: North By Northwest [Blu-ray] [1959] [Region Free] (Blu-ray)
*** THIS REVIEW IS FOR THE BLU RAY REISSUES ***

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. But other than that - this is exemplary stuff and a jewel in Warners Brothers considerable filmic Crown.

Up there with "The Italian Job", "Zulu", "Goldfinger", "Saturday Night, Sunday Morning", "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.

As to which release to buy on BLU RAY - (as of April 2014) there are a number of releases for UK fans:

1. The Standard UK release of 2009 (50th Anniversary Edition cover) is in a simple clipcase with no booklet (Amazon Reference B002CYIR5W)
2. The UK 2013 Steelbook Reissue Version uses the old Poster artwork on the front and has no booklet either (Amazon UK reference B00A6UH9PS)
3. The American DIGIBOOK release of 2009 (50th Anniversary Edition cover) on Warner Brothers however has a Hardback Sleeve and a beautiful 46-page booklet attached inside. It's also Region Free so will play on all machines. If you've the few quid - opt for this - it often retails for around a ten spot and is gorgeous to look at and own (Amazon UK reference B0017HMF6W).

PS: For anyone interested (as I said above) - the American NBN is part of the following list of American DIGIBOOK BLU RAY titles on Warner Brothers. Most are REGION FREE and each has a beautiful booklet - which few if any of the UK versions have:

All The President's Men (1976)
Amadeus (1984)
Batman (1989)
The Big Parade (1925)
Blade Runner (1982)
Bonnie And Clyde (1967)1975)
Cabaret (1972)
Camelot (1967)
Casablanca (1942)
Chariots Of Fire (1981)
Citizen Kane (1941)
Clash Of The Titans (1981)
A Clockwork Orange (1971)
The Color Purple (1985)
Deliverance (1972)
Dirty Harry (1971)
Doctor Zhizago (1965)
Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
East Of Eden (1953)
Elvis On Tour (1972)
Empire Of The Sun (1987)
The Exorcist (1973)
Falling Down (1993)
Full Metal Jacket (1987)
Gettysburg (1993)
Giant (1956)
Goodfellows (1990)
Gods And Generals (2003)
The Green Mile (1999)
Guys And Dolls (1955)
Hamlet [Kenneth Branagh Version] (1996)
Hans Christian Andersen (1952)
How The West Was Won (1962
Jaws (1975)
The Jazz Singer (1927)
JFK (1991)
The Killing Fields (1984)
King Kong (1933 Original)
Malcolm X (1992)
The Man Who Would Be King (1975)
The Matrix (1999)
Meet me In St. Louis (1944)
Midnight Express (1978)
Mutiny On The Bounty (1935)
Natural Born Killers (1994)
North By Nothwest (1959)
One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest (1975)
The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)
Papillon (1973) - SEE REVIEW
Poltergeist (1982)
Rebel Without A Cause (1955)
The Right Stuff (1983)
Rocky (1976)
Se7en (1995)
The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Silverado (1985)
The Sorcerer (1977)
A Star Is Born (1954 Original)
A Star Is Born (1976 Remake)
A Streetcare Named Desire (1951)
300 (2007)
The Tuskegee Airmen (1995)
Unforgiven (1992)
What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? (1962)
Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory (1971)
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Comments

Tracked by 2 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 17 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 19 Nov 2009 15:53:16 GMT
Mr Barry,
I was intending to write a review of North by Northwest blu-ray myself,until I read your review!!!!!!
I have to congratulate you on a first class EXCELLENT review,I wouldn,t even attempt to better yours,it,s perfect in every sense of the word.
When I first started watching NBN blu-ray,I kept thinking,is this any better than the dvd? because,like you,I thought the dvd picture quality of NBN was great!!!!but,the longer I watched it became clear to me how great this blu-ray transfer is,and I aint gonna say anymore,your review says it ALL Pal,well done,great job.
Davy Cairns.

In reply to an earlier post on 19 Nov 2009 16:11:30 GMT
Last edited by the author on 19 Nov 2009 16:14:12 GMT
Mark Barry says:
Thanks David for your comments - appreciated.

Here's a bit of info if your a Hitch or Grant fan that you might not know.

There's a series of 2DVD sets which were issued in the States earlier this year (2009) called "The Centennial Collection" - they've done "Sabrina", "The Odd Couple", "Roman Holiday" - excellent films like that.
Each has a restored print, proper extras and a nice card wrap (black with the photo centered). Included in that series is "To Catch A Thief" - Hitchcock's 1955 Rivera caper film with Cary Grant and his fave leading lady Grace Kelly.

I've had the standard 1DVD set issued here a few years ago - and it's BEAUTIFUL to look at - even better than NBN if you can imagine that! It looks like the BLU RAY reissues of these classic titles are following from these 2DVD sets - so "To Catch A Thief" should be winging its way to us soon...

I review a lot of oldies on this new format - some are absolutely off-the-charts good ("Pinnochio" and "Snow White" jump to mind - I must review both of these actually), while others are hugely disappointing duffers "Adventures Of Baron Munchhousen", "The Eagle Has Landed" and "Great Expectations" (I have reviewed these) - but NBN is right up there with the goodies.

But what puts this BLU RAY into the stratosphere is the really great extras - I calculate at least 3 hours of viewable stuff about the movie which is a delight to watch.

"North By Northwest" on BR will make a great Christmas Present for someone you love this December...

I just wish all classics were given this kind of loving refurbishment.

Again - thanks for the positive.

In reply to an earlier post on 25 Nov 2009 16:38:47 GMT
Could you tell me if it includes spanish (castilian) and if so, on 5.1? thanks for such an incredible review

In reply to an earlier post on 25 Nov 2009 23:49:19 GMT
Mark Barry says:
Yes it does have Castilian - in fact in two areas - there's AUDIO in Castilian Spanish 1.0 (as opposed to 5.1 for the English) and the SUBTITLES are also in Castilian Spanish.

There's also subtitles in Brazilian, Portuguese, Danish, Finnish, French, German, Italian, Latin Spanish, Norwegian and Swedish too.

Happy watching Hector and thanks for the positive. Mark.

Posted on 7 Dec 2009 16:57:17 GMT
Last edited by the author on 7 Dec 2009 16:58:00 GMT
SL-N/1973 says:
Great review, very helpful. Could you tell me if this print is in the proper aspect ratio? The dvd wasn't, if I remember. One thing that influences any purchasing for me is when the formats of great films are played around with. Bergman's films and Tarkovsky's have suffered at the hands of a self-appointed genius or two.

In reply to an earlier post on 7 Dec 2009 23:31:50 GMT
Mark Barry says:
The aspect is 1:78:1. (It also lists 16x9).

Posted on 29 Dec 2009 20:51:42 GMT
Dear Mark,
Just wanted to say thanks so much for the wonderful review of North by Northwest(Blue Ray)
As a new convert to BR I was looking for classic films that may be worth upgrading and your review sold this to me!
After our family watched it together last night we were knocked out-everything you described was absolutely right. It certainly made 50's America look fantastic and brought a new depth to a film that I first watched on a school 'treat' cinema visit in 1963. You mentioned Goldfinger as another great transfer but I couldn't find your actual review (I enjoyed reading all your others both film and music though!) so I've got it anyway. Next up Italian Job I think. Do keep up, the great reviews-very much appreciated! Kind regards Neil Bullock

In reply to an earlier post on 30 Dec 2009 00:54:07 GMT
Mark Barry says:
Thanks Neil

I'm about to review "Goldfinger" and "Zulu" which I've mentioned in other reviews - I've been meaning to get around to them for months. "The Italian Job" is a peach - great film and a great Blu Ray. All of the Bond films - especially the ones right up to "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" - were beautiful on DVD, but on Blu Ray in High Def - they're simply mind-blowing. It's like seeing them anew. Luckily the extras that were on the 2DVD 'Ultimate Editions' have been transferred over too and they're fantastic viewing. "2001: A Space Odyssey" is gorgeous as is the DVD of "To Catch A Thief" (not yet on Blu Ray, buy your player with play it). Unfortunately, I've watched "A Bridge Too far" which has none of the extras on the "Definitive" 2DVD set and the print is only ok. "The Battle Of Britain" fairs better, but again, no extras. "Snow White" and in particular "Pinnochio" look breathtaking - you won't believe how good the restoration has been on those.

I'm afraid it's a case of some being superb, while others are simply being thrown out there - there's no guarantee that because it's on Blu Ray - it's therefore automatically better - it isn't. In many instances of films I've watched from the 1980s and 1990s - the print is worse - the BLU RAY only amplifies how badly filmed they were in the first place. "The Grifters" looks fantastic while "2010" looks awful.

Of the modern titles, I'd highly recommend the 6DVD tin set of "Band Of Brothers" (less than seventeen pounds in some places - see review) and "Wall-E" - gobsmacking to look at (we had the DVD for a while, but the BLU RAY is astonishing). "Bleak House" is incredible to look at too.

I'll be posting more reviews soonest. Again thanks for the positive. Mark.

Posted on 26 Apr 2010 12:09:10 BDT
Motte 1 says:
Brilliant review! Many thanks. I wish others would also comment about the Blu-ray effect on these older movies. Big fan.

Posted on 25 Nov 2010 09:20:03 GMT
Superlative review ...a total joy to read, and so very informative! Bravo!

LLS
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Mark Barry "Mark Barry"
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