Out this week is a new, two-disc 50th Anniversary Edition of North by Northwest, the second best Alfred Hitchcock film. (In my ranking, the first is Notorious, which teams Cary Grant with Ingrid Bergman, because I think she’s the strongest Hitchcock female lead.)
Here, Grant is an ad executive who is mistaken for a spy and accidentally dragged into conspiracy and murder. James Mason, smoothly menacing, is the bad guy, and Eva Marie Saint the cool Hitchcock blonde with uncertain loyalties. (Although she acts a little too reserved for my taste.) Martin Landau is Mason’s henchman; watch his performance considering that he played it with an air of homosexual jealousy over Mason’s attention to Grant.
It’s a gripping romantic thriller with excellent performances. Even knowing how the movie plays out, I still enjoyed watching the twists and turns unfold. (It’s one of the best ads for the adventure and glamor of train travel ever.) I’m assuming you’re already familiar with how excellent the film is, so let’s talk about this upgraded DVD edition.
The first disc has the movie, with a choice of commentary by screenwriter Ernest Lehman. His recollections, while interesting and complimentary, didn’t add very much to my appreciation of the film. You can also watch with a music-only audio track, highlighting Bernard Herrmann’s score. I believe the visuals have also been upgraded — at least, they looked crisp to me, as though this were a much more recent film.
The second disc is where all the goodies come in. There are four documentaries, two new to this set:
- Cary Grant: A Class Apart — This wonderful 90-minute overview of his life, touching on his varied career and analyzing his most famous movies, first ran in 2003. Owning this, if you’re a Grant fan, is alone worth the cost of the set.
- The Master’s Touch: Hitchcock’s Signature Style — A new hour-long examination of Alfred Hitchcock’s directing techniques to build suspense and menace gave me a fresh appreciation for his work. Includes commentary from directors including William Friedkin, Guillermo del Toro, and Martin Scorsese, plus clips of Hitchcock’s own comments.
- Destination Hitchcock: The Making of North by Northwest — Narrated by Eva Marie Saint in 2000, this 40-minute making-of also features daughter Pat Hitchcock, screenwriter Lehman, production designer Robert Boyle, and co-star Martin Landau telling how the movie came to be.
- North by Northwest: One for the Ages — The second new piece, this one is a 25-minute appreciation by many of the same people who participated in “The Master’s Touch”. After all the other features, I’m not sure how much this one really adds.
Given how much I enjoy finding out more about the context of enjoyable movies, this package was just what I wanted. Also included are a photo gallery, a TV ad for the movie, the theatrical trailer, and a Hitchcock-hosted promo. Just to remind you how good this film is, here’s a clip from the suspenseful ending, as the couple run from the bad guys chasing them (with her in a smart traveling suit) and wind up on the faces of Mount Rushmore.
(The studio provided a review copy.)