Do you have one of the previously restored versions of the 1959 North by Northwest? Like another? Alfred Hitchcock’s greatest innocent-man-on-the-run movie has gone through its latest, probably-not-the-last revitalization of sound, picture, what have you, an excuse to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of its release. And if you’re dissatisfied with the spectacle of the standard format, which would’ve surely satisfied Hitch, there’s the blu-ray edition. All the more dazzling.
Yep, the film is back again—has it ever left?—re-re-released by Warner Brothers in a two-disc set. Disc one contains the movie, restored from the original VistaVision film elements. From previous issues are the commentary by screenwriter Ernest Lehman and the music-only track of Bernard Herrmann’s score. The music is possibly the composer’s quintessential score for a Hitchcock picture, and while isolated scores are becoming rarer DVD features these days, it would be something of a crime not to have re-included Herrmann’s magnificent music.
Disc two, with the boasted “over 3 hours of special features,” contains two new items: the documentary The Master’s Touch: Hitchcock’s Signature Style and the movie as One for the Ages, a study of the director’s milestones and influence. Repeats include the 2004 career profile of Cary Grant and the 2000 documentary on the making of the film, plus the usual stills, trailers and TV spots.
Maybe its absence is due to possible legal reasons or simple unavailability, but what might have been included is one of the finest studies of the director, Hitchcock, Selznick and the End of Hollywood, a PBS documentary first aired in 1998. Although the documentary is ultimately unfavorable—it delineates, after all, the decline of two egomaniacal artists—it is far superior to the somewhat haphazard Master’s Touch. Maybe, in the future, when a Hitchcock-Selznick picture is restored (again?)—say, Rebecca or Spellbound—this End of Hollywood extra could be included. A more apt renovation would be The Paradine Case, the first undeniable sign of David O. Selznick’s deterioration. Although the film was one of Hitch’s poorest, he had a final wave—his third?—of masterpieces before he himself would lose his touch.
So—got plenty of money? Then buy this latest North by Northwest. You can’t say the picture and sound quality aren’t the best yet. Or you could wait. Maybe the next restoration, on the fifty-fifth anniversary, will be a lot “better.” It’s a little unfortunate that only a few popular films receive the restoration treatment—repeatedly—while many others have never been put on DVD or, if so, exist in a crude or pathetic condition. You must decide, to purchase or not to purchase.
What’s never uncertain is the magic of Alfred Hitchcock, here in North by Northwest for all to see.