North By Northwest appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered disc; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 sets. Though not without flaws, the image usually impressed.
In fact, one element was the main reason I had to drop my grade down from “A”-level: a big vertical line that showed up at the 52:05 mark. I tend to forgive defects found in older flicks, and if I’d simply seen a couple of small specks, I wouldn’t have docked the transfer. However, this line is so prominent and distracting that I didn’t think I could grant it an “A-“.
Otherwise I found virtually nothing to mar the proceedings. No additional source flaws cropped up through the film. Grain looked natural, and no other specks, marks or distractions appeared. Edge enhancement was minor, and I noticed no jaggies or shimmering.
Sharpness was usually quite good. Some shots displayed minor softness, but I felt those instances usually resulted from the film’s photographic style. Hitchcock tended to like a bit of soft focus, especially in terms of his leading ladies, so close-ups of Eva Marie Saint seem a little hazy.
That was intentional, though, and Hitchcock also deployed a bit of the same soft focus for Cary Grant. Both Grant and Saint played characters significantly younger than themselves, so the photographic choices attempted to distract us from that fact. I didn’t mind the visuals, though, and I thought the film exhibited very good definition. The light edge enhancement made wide shots a bit tentative, but they remained fine overall.
North went with a fairly monochromatic palette, so don’t expect a broad range of hues. Occasionally the film boasted vibrant reds, but otherwise, the flick remained pretty restrained. The colors looked fine within those constraints, and the brighter tones were terrfic. Black levels seemed nicely dark and solid, with good contrast to be seen throughout the movie, and shadow detail looked clear without any excessive opacity. Even with that pesky vertical line and some edge enhancement, this was a good presentation.
I also liked the nice remixed Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of North. The designers didn't go "audio happy" with this one, as much of the sound stayed in the center channel. The front side speakers opened up the image at times; we heard the music presented in stereo plus occasional positive use of effects like cars driving or planes flying. The surrounds contributed reinforcement of the score plus a few examples of ambient audio such as more cars and planes as they traveled toward the rear. It's an appropriately modest soundfield that nicely complemented the film.
Audio quality seemed strong as well. Dialogue sounded fairly natural and warm. Speech held up better than expected; intelligibility was excellent and no edginess seemed apparent. Effects were a little thin, but they appeared fine within age-related constraints, and they boasted pretty good low-end on a few occasions. The score sounded bright and reasonably dynamic. Ultimately the soundtrack betrayed some signs of its age but it nonetheless came across very well.
In terms of extras, we open with an audio commentary from screenwriter Ernest Lehman. He provides a running, screen-specific affair that looks at cast and crew, story and character issues, working with Hitchcock and Cary Grant, sets and locations, the film’s reception, and a few other subjects.
Lehman’s chat starts slowly, as he does little more than narrate for the first act or so. Matters pick up pretty well for a while, but Lehman peters out for roughly the film’s last hour. Some good tidbits still emerge, but there’s not a lot to keep up engaged.
All of which makes this a frustrating commentary. Lehman offers enough interesting tidbits to ensure the track doesn’t become a total dud. However, the chat falters too much for it to turn into a success. Fans will want to give it a listen, but they shouldn’t expect a lot from it.`
Next comes a documentary called Destination Hitchcock: The Making of
North By Northwest. Hosted by actress Eva Marie Saint, this 39-minute and 20-second program provides a solid overview of the making of the film. We learn about it through interviews with Saint, Lehman, actor Martin Landau, director Alfred Hitchcock’s daughter Pat, and production designer Robert Boyle. Overall, it's a solid program that provides a nice wealth of information about the film. Special treat: Landau's killer impression of Hitchcock.
Another audio track appears on North as well. We get Bernard Herrmann's score offered in stereo. I listened to parts of it and thought it sounded quite good. Its inclusion will be a nice treat for film score buffs.
A few promos appear on the disc. We get a standard two-minute and 15-second theatrical trailer, a 60-second TV Spot and the "Hitchcock" trailer. This three-minute and 15-second piece follows along the same lines as similar ads for Psycho and The Birds in which the director himself introduces us to the film. It's not as much fun as those other clips, but it's a nice addition nonetheless.
The disc also features a Stills Gallery. It includes 44 shots from the production and also some from the spring 2000 creation of the documentary. These are decent but unmemorable.
Cast and Crew offers decent biographies of Hitchcock, Grant, Saint and James Mason. As is typical of WB DVDs, the section lists more participants than these four, but only their entries provide additional information.
North By Northwest isn't Hitchcock at his absolute best, but it's close, as the film provides a compelling mix of action, intrigue and debonair humor. The DVD presents the movie in positive fashion, with very picture and sound plus a few interesting extras. Bottom line: North By Northwest offers yet another fine Hitchcock DVD and it'll fit nicely between Vertigo and Psycho in your collection.
To rate this film, visit the Blu-Ray review of NORTH BY NORTHWEST