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For Christmas this year, I received my first to-own DVD: Hitchcock's
classic, NORTH BY NORTHWEST. After over 40 years, this rip-racing
adventure-thriller still packs a punch and looks great on widescreen. This
movie came along during a renaissance period for the Old Master, between
masterpieces like VERTIGO and PSYCHO, but this excursion into the world of
suspense is so different from anything else Hitchcock had created up to
point. Never did he challenge our endurance to keep still in our seats for
such a long period of time, and yet the film's 135 minutes go by so fast
could only be explained by movie magic itself.
Cary Grant is one of those actors that a filmgoer either falls in love with or deeply envies. His debonair manner is displayed to the full in this film, even though the peril that his character goes through would cause any normal dude to break into a maddening sweat. The dialogue Roger Thornhill delivers alongside Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint) in this film is sometimes too hilarious to be true, but wouldn't any woman fall for it? (I'm merely guessing here) Ernest Lehman's screenplay is so lighthearted and yet very ominous. With all the traps and pitfalls Grant goes through in this film, you would have to find comedy in it. Grant does and to great appeal. I absolutely love the sequence at the auction when Roger tries to get himself arrested by yelling out flaky bids and accusing the auctioneer of selling junk worth no more than $8. I also admire the scenes with Saint on the train to Chicago; I was tempted to jot down some of his pick-up lines, but then I realized it's just a movie (or is it?)
Hitchcock was famous throughout his career of setting up death-defying sequences with major landmarks as backdrops. Here, Mount Rushmore will never be looked at the same again afterwards. We may never enter the United Nations again without peering behind our backs for a notorious knife-thrower. And, I dare say, I will never walk alongside a highway where a cropduster could swoop at any minute. I love the line during the Rushmore incident when Grant says his two ex-wives left him because he lived too dull a life. Go figure!
It has been said that Hitchcock's many films each contain a personal side of the director inside them. The archetypes of the Master of Suspense are here amid the chasing and running across the U.S. The mysterious blonde, played to a tee by Eva Marie Saint, is a common fixture of many Hitchcock jaunts. Saint joins Grace Kelly and Tippi Hedren in this feature. The protagonist is again awkward when faced with the opposite sex, but unusually casual when wrapped up in danger. The hero has an attachment to his mother, continually under his nurturing wing. And of course, the macguffin has fun with us again (government secrets my foot!)
Whenever I see action-packed epics today like "The Fugitive" or the James Bond series, they all seem to quiver in comparison to this film. It amazes me that Hitchcock is able to hold the audience in the palm of his hand throughout the whole length of the journey. We become Grant as he runs away from the police and the secret agents who have chosen him as their dupe. But throughout the squabble, we sense that Grant is getting off on the whole jaunt, just as we want the chase to continue, not looking at our watches for a minute. However, it's fascinating to note that Roger Thornhill is not a born adventurer, nor is he an archeologist with a flair for escaping impossible situations. We are experiencing the Cary Grant in all of us, running away from an enemy we do not know they are or what they want. Is this symbolism of some kind? I say who cares; just watch the film and have fun!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
VERTIGO did nothing to advance Hitchcock's career in 1957 when he
released it, and it's actually not a shame: the following year he
decided to go completely against the slow-moving erotic thriller genre
and do something shamelessly commercial, escapist and single-handedly
create the spy movie. Ian Fleming, author of the James Bond novels,
states he based his character on the physical characteristics and the
suave personality of Cary Grant, as an added note. This could well
amount to be the first James Bond film -- a dangerous villain complete
with a sidekick, an alluring woman with a dubious nature and an
enigmatic "boss," a dashing hero, lush locales setting the scene for
powerful chases and escalating danger.
NORTH BY NORTHWEST has one crucial difference to any James Bond film, though: Alfred Hitchcock. While the Bond films have been seen as quintessential action fluff (although fluff of the better kind until the franchise ran out of gas in the 80s), Hitchcock, always the master of subtext as well as suspense, creates memorable scenes that balance sexual tension, sexual innuendo, comedy, and mounting suspense seamlessly. There is never the feeling of being bored as there is too much going on, especially with the sizzling chemistry of Eva Marie Saint and Cary Grant, by now a Hitchcock veteran. When they're on screen, dialog crackles and so much more is said with so little gesture -- she closes the lid on her Ice Goddess role, but gives it a nice, cheeky, knowing wink. He of course evolves from the sort of man who while looking and being slightly clumsy and under his mother's thumb -- once it becomes clear he's been marked and is a target for a sinister plot that only later becomes clear -- becomes more assertive in taking matters into his own hands. A quintessential Hitchcock Everyman, Grant has his stamp all over his role. No one can imagine anyone else running away from that crop duster in one of the movies many standout sequences, or saying the reassuring last words to Eva Marie Saint as they cuddle together in the train. When one thinks of NORTH BY NORTHWEST, one thinks Cary Grant.
Easily one of Hitchcock's best films, made while he was at the peak of his career in the bracket formed with THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH and MARNIE. Great supporting performances are all over the map, from Jesse Royce Landis as Grant's mother, James Mason as Phillip Vandamm, Martin Landau as Vandamm's protégée who might be a little more than that, and Leo G Carroll as The Professor. Doreen Lang appears early in the movie as Grant's secretary; she would of course be remembered as the woman who shrieks at Tippi Hedren in THE BIRDS and gets slapped by her as the camera holds itself tight on her face.
Its Hitch's most briskly entertaining movie, and one of his most comic,
adventure-caper type movies, largely thanks to the persona of Cary Grant.
But its also one of his most suspenseful - in the fact that Grant is being
recognised as someone else, and that he may be put in jail for someone
I've finally come to realise just how great North by Northwest is. The reason you should love Hitchcock is he put entertainment upfront. Hitchcock was not interested in whether this or that would happen in real life: he was interested in what would make the most entertaining scene for the movie. North by Northwest is a peak in this regard. The dialogue and situations intentionally throw reality to the wind - the double-entendre dialogue in the love scenes is not supposed to be the way people talk!
If you said to Hitchcock "as if he'd keep driving" or "as if she'd do that" - he would just laugh at you and say you've missed the point. This is 100% movieland, and once you get used to the fact, and that this is not a fault in the film, but done intentionally, you'll love it. Its expressionistic - everything happens in movie language: the people laughing at Grant in the elevator, the way he keeps driving drunk near the beginning, the way he grabs the knife and everyone stares at him after someone's been stabbed.
It flirts with the idea of identity. I thought it was interesting how Grant first is dismissing, then incredulous that people should be calling him by another name; then, as the tries to find out who this guy is, he enters the hotel room of this new identity, then he puts the suit on, and finally he identifies himself as George Kaplan.
A succession of fantastic, memorable scenes, a great leading man in Grant, and one of Hermann's essential Hitch scores make for a movie i can put on at any time.
I saw this film for the first time when I was a freshman in college as part
of an english class I took entitled "writing and the movies". Little did I
realize that I would be seeing a film that would stay with me to this day
and in essence become one of my all time favorites. Then, a few years ago,
I caught it on the big screen at the Fine Arts theater in downtown Chicago.
I remember that it was a rainy, cold October day. Perfect weather for a
Hitchcock film I thought to myself.
For me, half of the fun of North by Northwest is its incredible story. This film has something for everyone within it: a little comedy, a little romance, great snappy dialogue and more action than any Bruce Willis Die Hard film combined. Hitchcock was a master at this and in North by Northwest he lets his genius shine through totally. It seems to me that whenever I watch it, everyone who made this film from Cary Grant on down had nothing but sheer fun making it. Perhaps my two favorite scenes are the infamous "crop-duster" sequence and the last twenty minutes or so at Mount Rushmore.
I must give special mention to Ernest Lehman who yet again managed to write a screenplay that totally knocks your socks off. How he came up with the idea, I've not a clue, but what an idea it is. The screenplay itself was nominated for an Academy Award that year, but lost to Pillow Talk. North by Northwest was also nominated for Best Set Decoration and Best Film Editing, but lost to Ben-Hur in both categories.
All in all, what a film. If you haven't seein it, do so ASAP. North by Northwest just reinforces my belief that Alfred Hitchcock was one of the greatest directors of all time. Period.
My rating: 4 stars
North By Northwest is not an artistic masterpiece like Rear Window and
Vertigo, but it is probably the most purely entertaining picture
Hitchcock ever made. It's essentially a rehash of many of his earlier
films, with a plot partially derived from The Thirty Nine Steps and the
very similar Saboteur, while there are borrowings from Foreign
Correspondent and Notorious, among others. However, it is all done with
such style and confidence that it doesn't matter if it's essentially
just a greatest hits package.
Very few other films of this kind attain the near perfect tone of this one, precariously balanced between seriousness and silliness. Sometimes this film manages the very difficult trick of being both suspenseful and comical at the same time, as in the auction house scene, or the wonderful scene in the lift when the hero's mother turns to two heavies in a lift looking menacingly at the hero and says "you gentlemen are not REALLY trying to kill my son, are you?".
Of course the famous crop dusting plane scene and the Mount Rushmore chase are terrific. The former is really more notable for the amount of time taken to build up to the action than the action itself, while the technical work on the latter still looks pretty good. In a totally different vein is the astonishingly frank seduction sequence on the train. Hitchcock takes his time here as with many of the other scenes, but the film is so crammed with memorable passages that one hardly notices it's 136 mins long.
Ernest Lehman's script is full of wonderful lines, many of them delivered so well by chief villain James Mason that at times we almost want to root for him. "Has any one ever told you tend to overplay your various roles Mr Kaplan....it seems to me you fellows could stand a little less training from the FBI and a little more from the Actor's Studio". Cary Grant is so smooth one almost forgets he's over 50, and of course there's also Bernard Herrmann's vibrant score.
Endlessly enjoyable even with repeated viewings. How many of today's thrillers will be such fun in 25 years time?
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The one famous gaffe people point out in this film is when a small boy can
be seen plugging his ears just before Eva Marie Saint brings her café
conversation with Cary Grant to a sudden end. Another gaffe, just as
egregious and apparent but not nearly as commented on, is when Cary and Eva,
clutching an incriminating statute, are rock-climbing around a quartet of
famous presidential heads until a bad guy suddenly appears and leaps upon
him. Whereupon the surprised, backward-falling Cary has the presence of mind
to hand the statute to Eva, who takes his from him whilst in mid-scream. Do
me a favor and read that last sentence again. What director today would
allow such a scene past the editing room?
But it just doesn't matter: IMDB voters at this writing have placed the 44-year-old `North By Northwest' ahead of all but 18 movies ever made, including 14 which have nothing to do with Frodo Baggins or Darth Vader. That's pretty damn impressive. What the hell were they thinking? The only Hitchcock movie they rate higher is "Rear Window;" I can think of at least seven or eight Hitchcocks I'd rank over "North By Northwest." [None of them are "Rear Window."]
The truth is this film is so popular because it is so good. Not great, but very, very good, in a way that anticipates a lot of the direction of mass entertainment to come and thus speaks to people in a way `Vertigo' or `Strangers On A Train' do not. People talk about how forward thinking "Psycho" is, and it is, but more directors took note of the just-as-clever-but-more-mainstream approach of "North By Northwest." The last four decade have been chock full of flicks serving up suspense, sex, changing locales, and plot twists that play with viewers' expectations, all the while keeping the laughs coming. It's not like "North By Northwest" invented this formula, but it perfected and distilled it into an essence that is imitated, with varying success, to this day.
Cary Grant plays slick adman Roger Thornhill, who gets mistaken for a fugitive named Kaplan and finds himself on the run from a slew of bad guys, led by James Mason at his smug and oily peak as Vandamme. Martin Landau makes his first memorable appearance as Mason's nastiest henchman Leonard (1959 was good to him, as "Plan Nine From Outer Space" premiered that year as well), suspicious, ruthless, and probably gay. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but it was 1959 and that was a little daring.
Daring also is Eva Marie Saint's Eve Kendall, a woman who uses sex, as Thornhill puts it, "the way some people use a flyswatter." Her repartee with Thornhill shows just how erotic two people just talking to each other can be. It also provides further evidence Hitchcock's writers didn't go out on many dates. (Kendall: "I'm a big girl." Thornhill: "Yeah, and in all the right places." And she KISSES him for it!)
The film does chug slowly at the outset, building suspense but also bugging you a bit as the plot gears grind while Thornhill is being pushed through his early paces, right until his moment at the UN. About the time we find ourselves with Thornhill in the cornfield, the picture starts to pick up a serious head of steam, and never loses it all the way to the final, famous tunnel shot. Actually, I like the penultimate scene between Grant and Saint, an elegant and witty way of resolving that most tried-and-true device, the cliffhanger.
As with most of Hitchcock's 50s fare, elegance is behind much of what makes this movie so great. `North By Northwest' manifests an elegance in dress, decor, language, music, and lighting that represents the best of its era while giving the picture a timeless character all the same. Hitchcock's camera movements are very subtle yet brilliant, as during Mason's entrance and Grant's hide-and-seek game around the train. Everyone has perfect hair, lounges about in gowns and jackets, and you never think it should be otherwise.
Grant isn't my favorite actor, but he's smooth enough for the central role when he's not doing that bad Foster Brooks impression behind the wheel of the car. [I docked the movie one point just for that.] His best scene may be at the auction, though he projects real fear in the cornfield. Saint is simply splendid, nailing every line as she walks a tightrope and plays her character's motives close to her décolletage. Hitchcock seemed to lose his ability to direct female actors, and not merely bask in them, with the advent of color, but Saint is one blonde bombshell that gives us a sense of brains and personality behind her mystery.
There's logic gaps in this movie, and bad process shots, but it's an amazing ride all the same, more amazing because it's done with smoke and mirrors and without apologies. You ask the questions and figure out the loopholes only after you walk away, because the movie doesn't let you up much while you are watching it. Hitchcock made other, more challenging movies that attested to his rare vision as an artist, but this is maybe his purest exercise in the craft of good filmmaking. That's why `North By Northwest' has remained so high in people's estimations. Whatever the errors, it's hard not feeling good about that.
I can't quite understand how anyone can dislike Alfred Hitchcock's films.
Personally, he's one of the few old school talents I find interesting and
watchable, even if his work is dated and set in its era (the era when most
sets were hopelessly phony). I guess you have to appreciate his themes -
dysfunctional relationships between a man and his mother, flawed by
essentially innocent men caught up in a web of intrigue, beautiful blonds,
comments of authority figures, black humor, etc - to really appreciate
Interestingly, James Stewart was Hitchcock's original choice for the role of Roger Thornhill, the hapless ad man who is mistaken for a spy who doesn't even exist to begin with and is chased half way across the country by villains and authorities for a murder he didn't commit. For one reason or another, Stewart was unavailable and the part went to Cary Grant instead. Grant seems better suited to the character and the situation than Stewart would have been, but I can easily picture Stewart being chased in the cornfield by the crop duster.
Like all Hitchcock films, there are hundreds of things that aren't realistic though set in the real world and lots of highly improbable stuff going on everywhere, but if you give it a chance you'll enjoy it and won't care. Don't miss Eva Marie Saint having to dub over a then lewd line about love, a full stomach and sex. The use of a crop duster may not be the most practical way to kill a man, but it's a great visual representation of the great Hitchcockian examination of "nowhere to run, nowhere to hide". The music and clinging to Mount Rushmore is also memorable. Did I mention the innuendo?
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Possibly the greatest ever thriller, NbNW combines terrific acting,
dialogue, cinematography, music and storyline. But the real standout is
editing. If there was ever a film that merited the cliché "a nonstop
ride", it's this one. The pace never slackens. I particularly like how it
cuts straight from the Mt Rushmore face to the train bunkbed. I hate the
anticlimactic, overlong, hokey endings of most thrillers. The final scene
(scenelet) is very short, romantic dénouement, à la James Bond. How
Oh, the champagne dialogue in this movie is simply premier cru, darlings! Eve: "You don't believe in marriage." - Thornhill [indignant]: "But I've been married twice." - Eve: "See what I mean?" Or take this repartee... Vandamm: "Seems to me you fellows could stand a little less training from the FBI, and a little more from the Actors' Studio." - Thornhill: "Apparently, the only performance that'll satisfy you is when I play dead." - Vandamm: "Your very next role. You'll be quite convincing, I assure you."
The dialogue is also very risqué for a 1950s film in places. In the dining car, for example, Thornhill: "The moment I meet an attractive woman, I have to start pretending I have no desire to make love to her." This thinly-veiled propositioning of Eve/Eva for sex, which sounds banal these days, would have been outrageously shocking to its original 50s audience. Likewise, "I'm a big girl." - "Yeah, and in all the right places, too." A cliché now, but imagine its impact then. "I've heard nothing but innuendoes," says Vandamm at one stage. He's right; there are plenty in this movie's verbal and visual imagery.
This dialogue, and the general production design, conspire to create product that, unlike other Hitchcock thrillers like Rear Window and Psycho, doesn't appear dated now. The design is ultramodernist, which is reflected in the architecture of the locations like the NYC UN HQ and the Rushmore lodge.
A convoluted plot is usually the result of bad scripting or an attempt to mask a movie's deficiencies in other areas. As usual, Hitchcock keeps the plot dead simple and doesn't complicate matters by trying to explain. It's just some kind of meaningless Cold War spy thing. This perfectly suffices, for it's quite incidental to the thrilling chase that forms the core of the film. What seem like hokey, incredible contrivances, such as Eve's coming on so strong to Thornhill in the dining car (when we think her unaware that he's not a real murderer) are soon enough fascinatingly demystified. (She's in cahoots with Vandamm, or, as we later find, an undercover agent trying to expose him!)
Fantastic performances from Cary Grant, James Mason, Eva-Marie Saint and a much-underused Martin Landau. If there's one criticism, it's that Cary Grant is preternaturally unflappable as the urban sophisticate plunged into a living nightmare. He always retains his self-assured, even arrogant, panache and never panics. In fact, with that ever-present twinkle in his eye, he seems to be getting perverse enjoyment from his own misfortunes. However, his modulated performance remains just the right side of comicality.
Eva-Marie Saint is camera-loved as the lethal seductress. She seems the perfect Bond girl. Had her star risen a few years later, I'm sure she'd have been captivating Connery. In fact, this movie shows that Hitchcock could have directed James Bond. It's no secret Bond's film incarnation was modelled to some extent on Cary Grant's supersuave persona in this film.
A young-looking Martin Landau is effective as the menacing sidekick, although it's only in the final scene in the Rushmore lodge that he has any quality screen time or lines. James Mason underplays the role of the polished, oleaginous villain perfectly. His very British voice and demeanour conveys menace by suggestion, not overt declaration. He too, like Saint, would have been ideal in a Bond film. He doesn't sound ridiculous mouthing lines like, "A bit naughty, using real bullets!" [my paraphrase]
[Continuity: In the scene in Eve's hotel room, Thornhill calls for the valet to sponge and press his suit. He's told it'll take 20 minutes and a guy comes to collect the suit a minute later. He pretends to take a shower, whilst Eve absconds. Thornhill leaves immediately, and he doesn't return to the hotel. However, in the next scene, we see him wearing the same suit, perfectly sponged and pressed. There's no way he could have returned to the hotel to collect the suit.]
Roger Thornhill is an advertising man. However when he is kidnapped it is
clear that he has been mistaken for someone else. When he tries to find
what's going he is framed for murder and sets out on a cross country run
survive. Along the way he meets danger, adventure and beauty in the shape
of the mysterious Eve Kendall. However when he finds the truth he is
towards a final showdown with the dangerous Vandamm.
Rightly regarded as a classic and can more than compete with today's thrillers that too often rely on special effects to make up for the lack of genuine suspense. Here the plot requires a great deal of faith, but it is brought off with such style and energy that it is totally absorbing. The action is great and the several main scenes have become part of popular culture and are regularly spoofed on TV etc. The romance works as well and Thornhill and Kendall exchange plenty of good scenes.
The dialogue is great and the direction is faultless from Hitchcock. Many thrillers run over 2 hours - but only the good ones can stand up to repeated viewings. Northwest can take back to back viewings it is so good. The plot may have been put together as shooting went (as was the case with at least
one key scene) but it all stands together well. The acting is also perfect, Grant's rebirth as a thriller man is brilliant and is one of Hitchcock's best everyman characters. Marie-Saint is yet another dangerous blonde but is very good. James `The Voice' Mason is excellent, while Landau adds great homosexual subtext to his character. The ever present Leo G Carroll IS Mr Waverly but is still enjoyable and even support roles like Landis as Thornhill's mother is perfection!
Over 40 years on this film has barely dated. Hearing the music is enough to make me want to see it again, while the direction, set pieces, dialogue and performances are all pitch perfect. A wonderful thriller for young and old - no sex, no swearing, all thrills.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"North by Northwest" is my favorite of all Hitchcock films (a close shave
with "Rear Window"), and it permanently occupies a slot in my Personal Top
Ten Films of All Time.
Grant is terrific--funny, sexy, angry, confused, exhausted, redeemed. It is a full-bodied performance. And speaking of bodies--Eva Marie Saint is *definitely* an asset here, not just for her looks (there's that cool, blond Hitch femme fatale again) but for showing off her acting chops as well.
James Mason is a consumate actor, and Hitch gives him a vehicle to enter one of his finest performances. Martin Landau, too, is appropriately chilling.
Favorite scenes? The crop-dusting sequence is certainly a classic. But I love the scenes with Roger and his mother, dickering over his "drunkenness." And the auction is Hitch in his element: the scene plays tense and terse but also funny.
I can quibble with this film: The blue-screening looks a bit cheesy nowadays. And the movie opens with a huge plot hole (when the page is searching for George Kaplan and Thornhill grabs his ear for a quick question, Mason et.al. believe Thornhill to be their man, setting off the entire plot. However, shouldn't the page have continued searching the room, calling for Mr. Kaplan? And shouldn't the villains have heard him continue to page, knowing that Thornhill wasn't who they assumed he was? Ahh, but that would blow the whole movie!).
This film also contains the best "naughty joke" Hitchcock ever devised. The final sequence is Eva Marie Saint and Grant pulling each other into bed. The jump cut is to a train entering a tunnel. You figure it out.
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