North by Northwest (DVD, 2009, 2-Disc Set, Special Edition) Reviews
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North by Northwest (DVD, 2009, 2-Disc Set, Special Edition)

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Hitch by Hitchcock and Lehman

Dec 29, 2000 (Updated Dec 29, 2000)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Brilliant script, direction, the best of charismatic acting from a debonair Grant, polite bad guy Mason and not so icy princess Eva Marie Saint.

Cons:I didn't see it when it premiered at Radio City Music Hall in N.Y.C. complete with stage show rockettes.

The quintessential Hitchcock film, is not as dark and obsessive as other Hitchcock masterpieces but is a brilliant paranoid's fantasy which eclipses the ideas of 39th Steps, The Wrong Man and Saboteur into a breezy sexy suspenseful stew of Hitch tics, themes, and style. Many of the best elements from his past films coalesced into this comedy thriller. It was nominated for awards and appreciated as an impressive entertainment when it was originally released but it was not immediately recognized as a masterpiece or trend setter.

It's been one heck of a trend-setter too. Films which consulted with the North by Northwest blue print of mixing set pieces, intrigue, sex, multiple locations, comedy and suspense include the James Bond series, Charade, Mirage and a lesser parade of often over-produced and less then impressive wanna-be's. Modern action films owe a lot to the film as well. It also features some very risque sexual banter (a few lines were actually dubbed over in editing to appease the censors), and stirred up tremendous controversy because Hitchcock dared to stage an action sequence having actors run around our beloved President's faces.

Ernest Lehman was originally supposed to work with Hitchcock on the planned filming of The Wreck of the Mary Deere. Hitch and Ernest got along well, but there was no ship wreck movie being written, so Hitch simply said that Ernest should write something else and he would clear the project with the studio. Hitch contributed some ideas which Ernest then figured out how to use. It was like writing an elaborate puzzle with Hitch contributing some important pieces. The screenplay played right into Hitch's strengths and also included some wonderful witty dialogue.

The casting of Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint (On the Waterfront) and James Mason (not to mention Martin Landau and several key long time supporting players Hitch liked to rely upon –like Leo G. Carrol) pretty much insured the expensive 4 million dollar film (or so) would create some box office magic.

It's perhaps the last film Hitch really enjoyed making. The process of making films was always one fraught with much drudgery for Hitchcock because he had planned so meticulously every shot, every angle before the production began, he often felt like an assembly line supervisor while shooting his films. But there were enough challenges and a bit of improvisation necessary to tackle some production problems which kept Hitchcock very interested in the project. He predicted that some day movie audiences would be hooked up to electrodes which would give people jolts of various emotions and feelings to take the place of movies. He designed the film to
affect audiences in very specific ways, and the film did exactly that.

Cary Grant at his most assuredly debonair plays advertising big wig, Roger O. Thornhill. What's the O. stand for? Nothing... but the initials R.O.T. look great on promotional matchbook covers. When having coffee with some business associates R.O.T. is mistaken by two heavies to be George Kaplan who is thought to be a government agent on the trail of a spy (James Mason). We later learn Mason has been getting microfilm containing U.S. secrets out of the country in some manner and a C.I.A. type organization headed by Uncle(... well Leo G. Carrol anyway,) wants to find out why. They have created the non-existent Kaplan so that Mason won't be suspicious of the real spy Leo has used to infiltrate his organization. But Thornhill is left to fend for himself and complications develop quickly because Thornhill appears to be guilty of assassinating a U.N. ambassador. On the lam, Thornhill meets up with Eva Maria Saint. Is she a double agent? Of course a lot of this is improbably hooey, but it's paced so energetically and delivered with such skill few will care for one moment if all of this makes much sense (it actually does of course....but).

Along the way there's several exciting set pieces, including the crop dusting plane that tries to eliminate Thornhill/Kaplan, and of course the exciting finale at Mount Rushmore which is followed by perhaps my favorite edit in all of movies to quickly wrap up the film.

I can just imagine what a truly exhilarating experience it must have been to movie audiences of the late 50's who first saw the film. A suspenseful, big budgeted comedy thriller that had a little romance and lots of excitement.

The film would never have been made if it were not for Bernard Herrmann however. One of his most memorable scores graces the film and adds immeasurably to it's success, but it was Herrmann who introduced writer Lehman to Hitchcock which resulted in North by Northwest being made.

The DVD presentation of the film is superb. The film has never looked or sounded better. You will also find a 40 minute documentary hosted by Saint and featuring Lehman, Landau and Hitchcock's daughter, Pat about the making of the film. There is also a pleasant commentary track featuring writer Ernest Lehman. You'll want to have this in your collection.

Chris Jarmick, Author (The Glass Cocoon with Serena F. Holder-a steamy cyber- thriller Available January 2001)



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