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North by Northwest, 50th Anniversary Edition

Two discs; $34.99

By Richard von Busack

Sure, the Berlin Wall fell 20 years ago and Woodstock rolled 40 years past, but here's an anniversary really worth celebrating: a gorgeous new DVD (using original VistaVision materials) of one of Alfred Hitchcock's greatest films: 1959's North by Northwest, the grandfather of the James Bond adventures, with ever-traveling hero, gentlemanly villain and untrustworthy woman—and smashing set pieces scored to ominous music (Bernard Herrmann, here), music that's like a whole separate layer of the film. When an ad man stands up at the wrong moment at the Plaza Hotel, he's mistaken for one Irving Kaplan, an American superagent; from this point on he's pursued by agents of the spymaster Van Damm (James Mason at his silkiest). The movie summed up Alfred Hitchcock's American films, according to the director. Those sniffing around the subtext of Hitch can find some meat in the Taming of the Squire sequences, in which the suave protagonist, Roger O. Thornhill (Cary Grant), gets treated by Eva Marie Saint like a trick who won't leave. But mostly, the film is a surreal version of the pioneer's American journey, full of frontier tall-tale elements: from the Temperance fantasy of the city villains who force you to drink to the perilous train trip to the prairies, where a single biplane symbolizes thousands of locusts. This two-disc package includes a voice-over commentary by estimable screenwriter Ernst Lehman (Sabrina, Sweet Smell of Success) and documentaries about Grant, Hitchcock and the making of the film.

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