“North by Northwest” is a great example of an era we’ll never see again. Once upon a time, you didn’t need half a dozen screenwriters, just as many producers, and an egotistical director to make a film with a big-name star. A guy like Alfred Hitchcock could rely on a trusted writer and get a film off the ground with a major leading man like Cary Grant on board, and he didn’t have to deal with the studio hassling him every step of the way.
And this wasn’t an intimate little character piece that could be made for a modest budget: If “North by Northwest” was remade today, a legion of CGI artists would be on standby, eight screenwriters would get a crack at the script (two uncredited), and someone would be wondering how they could top the original’s set pieces with Ben Affleck in the lead role. And yet Hitchcock was able to make a classic film that stands the test of time, with a story full of humorous quips, delicious tension, and intriguing twists. Even the special effects still hold up.
This 50th Anniversary Edition certainly does the film justice, with a gorgeous restored print (I’m sure the Blu-ray version is even more impressive) and an ample supply of bonus materials. Disc One offers up a music-only track that highlights Bernard Hermann’s classic score, along with a commentary from screenwriter Ernest Lehman; both appeared on previous releases of this film on DVD. The commentary is a serviceable track, but Lehman spends a lot of time telling us what we’re watching, and most of the anecdotes he relates are repeated from the Disc Two materials. He also doesn’t spend much time talking about the nuts and bolts of storytelling, which is surprising.
Disc Two also includes other bonus features ported over from a prior release: a still gallery; theatrical trailers and a TV spot; and “Destination Hitchcock: The Making of North by Northwest,” a comprehensive look at the production hosted by Grant’s co-star, Eva Marie Saint. “Destination Hitchcock” runs 40 minutes and digs into the making of the movie from start to finish, with plenty of anecdotes from Lehman and others.
Warner didn’t stop there, however. They went back to the well for “North by Northwest: One for the Ages,” which runs 25 minutes and includes Guillermo del Toro, Curtis Hanson, William Friedkin, and other Hollywood luminaries talking about why they love the film. All of them return, along with Martin Scorcese and others, for “The Master’s Touch: Hitchcock’s Signature Style,” which runs nearly an hour and discusses the director’s signature techniques, such as the various ways he ratchets up the suspense in an important scene.
Finally, we have a documentary from 2004: “Cary Grant: A Class Apart,” which runs almost 90 minutes and includes thoughts from Saint, Peter Bogdanovich, Martin Landau, Jill St. John, his widow, his third wife, and others. Helen Mirren narrates while Jeremy Northam reads passages from Grant’s autobiographical essay. It’s a leave-no-stone-unturned, unvarnished look at the actor’s career, the kind of piece that all film enthusiasts will enjoy.