'North by Northwest' on DVD and Blu-ray

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By Jen Chaney
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 6, 2009

Anyone who has been sucked into the intrigue and lickety-split pacing of a top-notch contemporary thriller should thank Alfred Hitchcock. More specifically, they may want to thank Hitchcock for "North by Northwest."

In 1959, the filmmaker who invented, defined and perfected the suspense genre delivered this grand mystery about a New York ad man (Cary Grant) mistaken for a secret agent, framed for murder and forced to flee directly into the arms of a seductive (and duplicitous) Eva Marie Saint. Many critics and cineastes consider it the quintessential Hitchcock film, so it's no surprise that "North by Northwest" is the director's first movie to be released on Blu-ray, courtesy of a 50th anniversary edition released this week in the high-definition format ($34.99) and on DVD ($24.82).

Remastered and looking as crisp as one of Grant's immaculate gray suits, "Northwest" sprints through its mistaken-identity storyline in particularly gorgeous fashion on Blu-ray. Let's put it this way: When that out-of-control crop duster starts zipping straight at Grant's head during the film's most memorable scene, the actor may not be the only one compelled to hit the deck.

This recently freshened release comes with a suite of special features, but only two are new to DVD. "The Master's Touch: Hitchcock's Signature Style," an hour-long documentary that explores the motifs in Hitchcock's work, including his fixations with cool blondes and wrongly accused men, does a fine job introducing the master's work with commentary from such filmmakers as Curtis Hanson, Martin Scorsese and Benicio del Toro. But the featurette " 'North by Northwest': One for the Ages" is a toss-off, relying on many of the same sources from the "Signature Style" doc to run through the movie's key plot points.

The extra that actually provides the most detailed information about how the movie was made is "Destination Hitchcock: The Making of 'North by Northwest,' " a 40-minute documentary released in 2000 that covers everything from the film's budget to Hitchcock's decision to buy Saint's entire wardrobe right off the models at Bergdorf's. (The excellent documentary "Cary Grant: A Class Apart" and a somewhat sleepy commentary from screenwriter Ernest Lehman are also included in this collection.)

In the end, it's that marvelous cross-country chase that matters most, and the repolished format makes Hitchcock's masterpiece look as slick and superb as ever.

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