Tuesday, 17 November 2009

“North By Northwest”. A Review of the November 2009 BLU-RAY 50th Anniversary Reissue of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1959 Film Masterpiece.

"…We’re In The Business Of Expedient Exaggeration…”

As you watch the title credits of Hitch’s 1959 masterpiece “North By Northwest” roll up on your 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 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 picture quality…

State-of-the art frame-by-frame restoration has taken place here, because the print is just BEAUTIFUL. I raved in an Amazon UK Listmania list some 3 years ago about how good the DVD looked – well this BLU RAY is 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 hour)
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
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 Plaza hotel lobby Cary walks through to meet clients. 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 point out one genuine downside, it’s the focus. 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 the whole shebang is a joy to behold… Also the US version is in a dapper looking book-pack, while ours is a plain Blue pack with no booklet?

Up there with “The Italian Job”, “Zulu”, “Goldfinger”, “Saturday Night, Sunday Morning”, “2001” A Space Odyssey” and “The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner” 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…

Roll on “To Catch A Thief” on Blu Ray - another beautiful Hitchcock restoration presently wowing fans in the USA on a March 2009 2DVD "Centennial Collection" set...

I can’t help but think that this will make an ideal Christmas present for family members of a certain age and hair colour.

Recommended - big time.

PS: When the Government types scan the Nov 25, 1958 newspaper THE EVENING STAR at their desks, it has a headline "DIPLOMAT SLAIN AT U.N." But if you scan to the left of that, you can just see another article entitled “Nixon Promises West Will Remain In Poland”.

'Possibly' not the last promise he’ll make to the American people which may or may not be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but…

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Spines of Exceptional CD Remasters

Spines of Exceptional CD Remasters

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