In the course of slightly over two hours of screen time, advertising executive Roger Thornhill’s grey business suit gets kidnapped, covered in bourbon, cleaned, stuffed in a suitcase, thrown into the mud, shot at, sponged, pressed, shot at some more and crop dusted. The occupant of said suit, Mr. Thornhill (Cary Grant), mistaken for a phantom CIA operative by a spy named Philip Vandamm (James Mason), doesn’t have it much better. Abducted out of a swank Manhattan hotel bar, Thornhill is taken to Vandamm’s phony hideout — a Westchester County mansion he has appropriated for a few weeks — and interrogated without ever even understanding what it is he’s meant to be doing there. Eventually, he becomes a fugitive, hiding out on a train heading to Chicago, where he stumbles upon Eve (Eve Marie Saint), a beautiful engineer who may or may not be involved in the network against him. Initially released in 1959, it must be said that many of the ‘tricky’ plot elements will not do much to throw seasoned film goers off the trail of what is really taking place. What has remained ageless are the performances of the two leads — both Grant and Saint are at the peak of their powers — and much of the attention to geographic detail in which Hitchcock has soaked the film. The two most visually arresting scenes — the aforementioned cropdusting episode at a prairie crossroads somewhere in Illinois, and the climactic final confrontation over the giant faces on Mt. Rushmore — are every bit as breathtaking as they were at the film’s premiere. One final gripe, however, for a film that stretches its plot to the near breaking point for two hours and 14 minutes, the denouement is abrupt to a fault and all of a scant 30 seconds. By that time, alas, the suit has finally been replaced by a far more comfortable looking robe.
This 50th Anniversary Blu-ray edition features a print that has quite simply never looked better and a handsome book of photos. Additionally, it serves up a bevy of extras including a commentary by screenwriter Ernest Lehman, an extended making-of piece, a mini doc about Hitchcock’s mastery of the thriller form, a stills gallery, the original trailer and a special documentary on the life and times of the film’s star, Cary Grant.
Piers Marchant is a Philly-based writer and editor, and the EIC (and film critic) for two.one.five magazine (215mag.com). His reviews can be found on 215mag.com and his tumblr blog, Sweet Smell of Success. You can also follow him on twitter @kafkaesque83.