"North by Northwest" Blu-Ray review - Home Theater Forum and Systems - HomeTheaterShack.com

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post #1 of 6 Old 11-09-09, 11:53 AM Thread Starter
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"North by Northwest" Blu-Ray review

The restored Blu-Ray version of Hitchcock's "North by Northwest" (derived from an 8 K master)
is the most spectacular presentation of this VistaVision film I've ever seen. So before you
ask...what have I seen on this film? I screened an original 1958 35mm dye transfer Technicolor print,
a 1966 35mm dye transfer re-issue and a 16mm 1.33 Technicolor print. The first two release copies
were in 1.85 and the 16mm print in a modified 1.33 but with more image area on top and bottom
and less on the sides which is what used to be broadcast on TV. What that meant was that
the tops and bottoms of sets were obvious along with some movie lights.

The Blu-Ray is in the proper 1.85 ratio even though the 35mm negative was in
a 5.1 ratio that exposed an 8 sprocket image horizontally. My research indicates
the original color negative was too faded to utlilize so they taped the VistaVision
black and white separations and recombined them with color filters. So this Blu-Ray
is first generation but looks as good as a camera negative transfer because of the huge
image area exposed in the cameras (the same ratio as in a still camera).

This movie is Hitchcock's most popular color movie and the zenith of the 'innocent man
accused of murder' theme that he utilized in so many other pictures up to that date. He
would do one more film with this plot device in 1972, "Frenzy".

Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint and James Mason give defining roles in this mock thriller
which has as much comedy as it does suspense. Hitchcock was such a master of his
game that the preposterous plot is totally believable during it's running time. There is no
house on top of Mount Rushmore with a landing strip and of course anyone smuggling state
secrets would not pick such a conspicous spot as a national monument. But
the pacing is so fast and the dialogue so sharp you're able to suspend your disbelief.
Any lesser director would have the audience laughing at the film rather than with it.

Grant portrays his stock character very well and looks better in middle age than many other
leading men did in their youth. Mason wanted the lead role but Hitchcock persuaded him
to play one of the most charming villains in his canon. What isn't disclosed in any of the
supplements is that the role was loosely based on Soviet spy Alger Hiss who was also
debonair. The clue is when Saint gives Grant the statue he comments that she has
the "pumpkin" referring to the Pumpkin papers in the Hiss case. KGB archives
were released revealing Hiss was their top spy in Washington. So Hitchcock
borrowed this character as the "McGuffin" which is the story device to put the plot in motion.

Saint is a real standout here since before and after this movie she
tended to portray meek female victims or housewives. This is her only 'femme fatale' and
she's sensational in it even though she didn't play this type of role again.

Hitchcock's usual team is on hand including Robert Burks for the vibrant Technicolor
photography and Bernard Hermann for the dynamic music score. Saul Bass did the
imaginative opening credits which set the mood for the film. This movie was the stylistic influence
for the later James Bond films.

The Blu-Ray looks razor sharp with spectacular color and fine grain sharpness. Only the
special effects process shocks look bad because of the upgraded quality. The sound has
been re-mixed to 5.1 and also sounds good although this is an alteration of the original
mono track. Hitchcock seemed uninterested in stereo sound even though three of
his Paramount films were released in Perspecta sound in the fifties ("The Trouble with
Harry", "To Catch a Thief", "The Man Who Knew Too Much"). Since he never
mentioned them in any interview, I suspect the Perspecta directional encoding was done
by the studio without his input.

Aside from the humor and set pieces, the film does have a dark undercurrent like most
Hitchcock films. The entertainment is for the masses, the subtext is for
film buffs and historians. Leo Carroll's duplicitous CIA operative is no more concerned with
human life than the villain played by James Mason. Another stand out is the
closeted gay killer played by Martin Landau. Somehow his line, "Call it my woman's intuition"
escaped the Production Code scrutiny. There is a lot of risque dialogue
and only one line was censored. Saint's sentence, "I never make love on an empty stomach" was
re-dubbed to, "I never discuss love on an empty stomach".

The Supplements have some carry over material from previous editions. One new piece
of information was that the movie went one million dollars over budget. It was such a hit,
Hitchcock was forgiven although he followed this box-office smash with a low
budget black and white Gothic horror film, "Psycho". I was always under the impression that
Hitchcock meticulously stayed within the budget due to his intensive pre-production planning.

I highly recommend this Blu-Ray which is superior to the original Technicolor prints.
Really breathtaking film-making from a director at the top of his game.

Before watching the movie make sure to check out the Hitchcock narrated trailer with
the director pitching the film like a tour guide. Very droll.

Last edited by Richard W. Haines; 11-14-09 at 05:44 AM.
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post #2 of 6 Old 11-13-09, 08:08 AM Thread Starter
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Re: "North by Northwest" Blu-Ray review

As I continue to research this restoration I get conflicting information about what element
was used for the transfer. Some claim they used the VistaVision camera negative but it
had been disclosed that it was too faded to utilize which leads me to believe they used
the black and white VistaVision separations for an 'ultra resolution' transfer. Eastmancolor
negative was very unstable from 1952-1982. After 1983 they developed low fade color
negative stock. The years 1958-1960 were notoriously bad for Eastmancolor fading.
Fortunately, many major features had black and white separations made as a back up
element. Those are fine grain black and white positive copies of each color...similar
to the three strip Technicolor process except that system had separate black and white
negatives. While it's very expensive, a lab or video transfer facility can recopy the color
design layer by layer by placing appropriate color filters over these separations and recombining
them. "Spartacus" was restored entirely from black and white separations photochemically
whereas today they do it digitally then output the restored version back to 35mm low fade
color negative for the future.

In any event, whatever pre-print element they used worked and the film looks as good
as it did when it came out. Ned Price was the man who restored this classic and he deserves
credit for his incredible work.
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post #3 of 6 Old 11-29-09, 01:33 PM
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Re: "North by Northwest" Blu-Ray review

A Must Own Blu-ray title for sure. Thanks for the review.
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post #4 of 6 Old 11-29-09, 01:37 PM Thread Starter
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Re: "North by Northwest" Blu-Ray review

You're welcome.
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post #5 of 6 Old 12-01-09, 10:52 AM
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Re: "North by Northwest" Blu-Ray review

Great review. I look forward to watching this film on Blu-Ray, as it's one of my favorites.
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post #6 of 6 Old 12-01-09, 11:21 AM Thread Starter
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Re: "North by Northwest" Blu-Ray review

And thank you usrsld.
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