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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
When you come right down to it, the title "North By Northwest" tells
you nothing about the story, but it certainly rolls off the tongue a
lot better than "The Man in Lincoln's Nose" as the movie was originally
known. The official title comes from Hamlet - "I am but mad
north-north-west". Fortunately, a scene at the airline's ticket counter
lends some semblance of credibility to the northwest connection.
What had me going was how the film managed to keep up with the pretense of a phony George Kaplan, to the point where Cary Grant's character winds up becoming the impostor. Grant was a Hitchcock favorite, and the role here was written with him in mind, even though MGM wanted Gregory Peck in the lead. I don't know if Peck could have pulled off the auction scene the same way as Grant. His roles portraying slick hustlers like Walter Burns in "His Girl Friday" or the more sinister Johnnie Asgarth in another Hitchcock effort "Suspicion", more than readied him to pull off the stunt and get away with it.
Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint) is clearly a duplicitous character, one gets the impression that maybe Roger Thornhill (Grant) is just a bit too good for her. Hitch's penchant for beautiful blonds in his films gets the royal treatment here, Saint is radiant in nearly all her scenes, made more so by the bright red of her outfit on the train.
You know, I could listen to James Mason speak all day, he's got that great resonant quality to his voice. Casting him as the villain lends immediate credibility to the bad guy cause in the story. Martin Landau appears in one of his first film roles as Mason's henchman. I always enjoy seeing Leo G. Carroll in a film, probably because of my fondness for his role in the early TV series "Topper". Here he appears cast somewhat against type as The Professor heading up an unknown agency that attempts to take down Vandamm's (Mason) subversive little clique. It was actually a bit chilling to see The Professor willing to let the cards fall as they may as relating to Thornhill's dilemma.
If done today, I'm sure the whole Mount Rushmore scene would be presented to look a lot more believable; the way Thornhill prevails requires a stretch of the imagination. But by that time, I found myself saying 'who cares', because the thrill ride was worth it to see Grant come away the hero. Hitch pulls it off with that neat device at the end of the story so we don't get caught up in the whole cliff hanger ending ordeal. It's a clever little happy ending to an espionage tale that might have suffered in less capable hands, but here director Hitchcock keeps you on your toes and the edge of your seat in a way that delivers the goods.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Having been created during one of director Hitchcock's most fertile periods, this is, as screenwriter Lehman put it, "The Hitchcock picture to end all Hitchcock pictures". The movie throws in virtually all of the legendary director's favorite types of cinematic trademarks from his own walk-on role, a man wrongly accused, an icy blonde who may be dangerous, action sequences taking place in unusual locales and a MacGuffin, to name only a few. Grant plays an ad executive who happens to attract the attention of two henchmen who mistake him for a government spy. They kidnap him and try to extract info from him. Once they realize they've chosen the wrong man, they try to kill him, but he slips away, only to come back the next day with heated accusations. Rather than let the matter rest, he starts to investigate the situation which quickly becomes deadly for him and for others. He sets out on a cross-country jaunt from New York City to Mount Rushmore with both the police and the villains nipping at his heels. Grant provides a typically charming and suave portrayal. He deftly pendulums from serious concern to humor to romance. Supplying the romance is Saint as a sexy, mysterious woman he meets on a train. She does an excellent job of portraying her character's inner turmoil as well as the light sarcasm that goes with her sophisticated persona (though it's more than a little ridiculous when she states her age as 26. She was nearly a decade past that.) The chief bad guy is Mason, in a laid-back and coolly above-it-all type of performance. He's menacing, but never breaks a sweat, preferring to let his sidekicks take care of the dirty work. His primary sidekick is Landau, who can be perceived as (and was intended to be displayed as) a homosexual, though the suggestion is fairly subtle. Landis, only several years older than Grant in real life, plays his mother in an amusing turn. Other notable cast members include the sturdy Carroll, who worked with Hitchcock in more films than anyone else, and Lang, who would later go on to rage at Tippi Hedren in "The Birds". Hutchison, best known for her role in "Harvey" plays a rather dubious mistress of the house where Grant is held and "General Hospital's" Beradino plays a cop who picks up Grant for drunk driving. The film gets off to a smashing start with the captivatingly cacophonous score by Bernard Herrman and, while long, rarely lets up in its trek from one scenario to the next. Nearly all of the set pieces are memorable, if not legendary, including the trip to the United Nations, the corn field conflagration and most importantly the chase up and down the faces of Mount Rushmore. Here Hitch indulges in another one of his favorite touches, having Saint lose piece after piece of her striking ensemble and becoming more and more disheveled. Incidentally, the director's favorite costume designer Edith Head was not part of this MGM production, leaving him without her wonderful tailoring and clean lines. He rejected the costumes offered up by the studio and purchased the bulk of Saint's wardrobe "off the rack" at Bergdorf-Goodman! Only one of the set pieces falls flat today and that is the drunken chase along a winding and perilous highway. Bad rear projection and some hammy close-ups from Grant render this one sequence less than perfect. However, that's quibbling when the rest of the film is so good. The ending (both the section involving the leads and the tag with the train) couldn't be more perfect.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This film is the most famous of all of Alfred Hitchcocks work & is the
one that more people remember Cary Grant for now. When Alfred made this
film, he had learned everything about playing the audience through a
vast experience in films, plus his TV show. It shows in this one. It is
wonderfully paced, imaginative, provocative, & suspenseful all at the
The imagination used to design this film, from using the UN Building for a murder scene to Mount Rushmore for scenery and suspense, to the barest flat farmland in the Mid-west, & then making a surprise happen at every location is just amazing. Hitchcock did a fun trailer for this movie that plays like a travel agent promo.
The plot is Grant (Thornhill) being mistaken for an imaginary spy fits perfect & the cast is perfect. James Mason is an excellent actor and performs very well as the heavy in this film. Eva Marie Saint is a hot double agent being asked to sacrifice all for her country. She lends an air of class to the proceedings. Martin Landau is fine supporting the bad guys. Leo G Carroll is excellent in support as a top US intelligence man known as the Professor who seems to be pulling all the strings.
I am not sure how this thriller could be any better & I pray no one will ever try to remake this one. Hitchcock has been copy proof as the attempts at redoing Psycho have proved. Unfortunately, I am afraid someone will try to attempt other films he did. I just pray this isn't one of them. If they do, Hitch should rise out of his grave & shoot them!
I've always considered Hitchcock one of the finest directors in the way
he can retain such versatility and have consistent quality of film
throughout his entire career. Hitchcock was a master at creating and
reviving genres; this personally never ceases to amaze me. North By
Northwest could have so easily of been a "run of the mill" thriller
that had no elements of comedy or any kind of style. Luckily it makes a
fast-paced piece of weekend entertainment.
North By Northwest turns everything upside down. The quirky story of the film reacts to the surroundings so well and the famous locations are great choices for chase scenes and adrenaline action. This was action before action was really a genre and the classy script will make the viewer feel extremely satisfied. The script adds the comedy to the film and Cary Grant's tremendous style and class A acting ability is something one can never tire of. For example, the scene in the lift where everyone is laughing, Cary Grant's expression is just priceless. Cary Grant's acting ability impresses throughout the film and remains cool and collected. Cary Grant makes a clumsy/un-predictable "James Bond" in North By Northwest and it remains one of his most iconic films that he starred in.
Some may find the film hard to take seriously because it is very different to how you'd expect a Hitchcock film to be, yet it still has his trademark written all over it. The reason for this is the fact the story is goofy. The chemistry and added romance in the film works very well with the surrounding and creates a great atmosphere. The obvious sexual tensions that are scattered throughout the film show that North By Northwest was ahead of its time. The sexual innuendo is a high point for the film and the script's fast paced rhythm is what keeps the film moving so well.
Hitchcock's direction works perfectly with the film and the vast variety of skills shows in some of the action scenes prove to be very exciting. The "mother" attitude that is scattered throughout the film remains one of Hitchcock's trademark styles, which he then uses in his latter work "Psycho". Bar none one of the highest octane and entertaining films ever made, slick, stylish, sexy and downright thrilling.
The greatness of North by Northwest may be measured in part by its
imitators. Two of my favorite movies, both made since 1959, are "Silver
Streak" and "The Sting". Both were very popular movies that borrowed
heavily from it. It is easy to look back now, see the scenes with Cary
Grant on the train, and say " I've seen this before". Sure, in "Silver
Streak", which had Gene Wilder and Jill Clayburgh trading sexual
innuendos across the dinner table ("I give great phone" was one line)
just as Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint did. Or to watch the climactic
gun battle between Robert Redford and Paul Newman in "The Sting" and
have the same reaction. Both of these movies, made in the 70's, were
big hits, but how many people knew that Hitchcock deserved half the
As I watched this movie again (hadn't seen it for a long time), I was also struck by Martin Landau's understated but captivating performance. Based on his work in this film, he would have been just right for the part of Mr Spock in Star Trek, a role that Gene Rodenberry wanted him to take. Cool and emotionless playing next to James Mason, one can definitely see the Spock in him.
One of Hitch's best and probably Cary Grant's Best. The scene in the elevator with Cary Grant and his mother and the scene at the auction are priceless. My wife and I still think that the man who Cary Grant steals the cab from later went on to play Les Nesmith in WKRP in Cincinatti. This is also a great chance to hear two of the most distinct voices in Movie history, Cary Grant and James Mason. This movie is a delight. Hitchcock also out does himself in picking of all places Mount Rushmore for the climax of the movie. It ranks right up there with the fight scene on the statute of Liberty with Bob Cummings in Saboteur. Hope you get hooked on Hitchcock like me. In conclusion, Hitchcock sets the pace for this non-stop thriller within 5 minutes of the movie and doesn't let go till after the credits. Throughout the entire movie, the one thread that holds it together is the composure of Grant through all the adversities thrown at him.
I believe that this film is one that will be watched for generations to come, and that is not something I am willing to say of many films. The fact that it remains a much-loved film by all is enough to say it has stood the test of time. I much regret that I did not have the opportunity to see it when it first came out and was groundbreaking in its complexity and brilliance. It came out in a period where the vast majorities of mystery/thrillers were neither mysterious nor thrilling, yet this proved to be both, even today. Had I seen it when it first hit the big screen, I undoubtedly would have rated it 10/10, yet the reasons for the subtraction of points are minimal and probably anal. Firstly, while the ending on the obviously green-screened Mount Rushmore is thrilling, it came off as slightly cheesy, and not exactly the dynamic finish I have witnesses in some more recent thrillers. Secondly, I think that some of the scenes between Roger (Cary Grant) and Eve (Eva Marie Saint) drag on just a little too long for my taste, and although they are entertaining, they just don't fit in with the flow of the whole. All in all, though, I would say it is a thoroughly entertaining and exciting film, well worth seeing.
Despite being in my 40s, I have only just discovered Alfred Hitchcock
and have over the last few months, started watching his films.
Initially i thought, that due to their age, they would not fare well
against more recent movies. I could not have been more wrong.
North by Northwest on a big widescreen in Dolby 5.1 surround is simply great. Sure some of the dialogue seems clumsy and dated, but you have to consider the type of censorship that would have existed when this film was released in 1959. The sort of "colourful" language we take for granted today would never have been allowed. Also some of the "special effects" are lame by today's standards. But the way in which the story unfolds is just incredible and just great fun to watch. It was simply entertaining. Something that today's special effects blockbusters often fail to accomplish. I eagerly look forward to my next Hitchcock film.
Arguably director Alfred Hitchcock's best-loved film, NORTH BY
NORTHWEST is an insanely skillful blend of action, romance, comedy, and
intrigue that never feels contrived or strained. The film was almost
instantly embraced by critics and audiences as a film masterpiece, and
it has since only grown in reputation as one of the all-time great
films of any era. Amazingly, this is certainly one case where such high
ended praise is completely deserved, and, in fact, this is one of those
rare films that have been heralded as a "classic" for decades that
truly meets such impossibly high expectations. As a matter of fact, it
very well may be impossible to say too many good things about this
Alfred Hitchcock is always a director that typically placed technical film craft over the importance of such necessary dramatic devices such as plausible plot twists and significant character development. As a matter of fact, the 1946 film Notorious (which gets my vote as the master's best film) is probably the only truly character-driven film of his career. However, the artificiality of the plot and strictly two-dimensional nature of the character is absolutely not a problem in this film, and may even be one of its strongest assets. This is because NORTH BY NORTHWEST, as with Hitchcock's 1955 picture TO CATCH A THIEF, is a total farce from beginning to end, and typically strong storytelling elements such as a clear narrative and believable characters would have only bloated the picture.
Further cementing the film's status as an unquestioned masterwork is the jaw-dropping number of eye-catching set pieces that retain in the memory even years after the picture has ended, yet somehow manage to gel into a coherent whole. Hitchcock was in the absolute peak of his technical prowess here, and each and every scene plays out with the seemingly impossible professionalism that only a truly skilled and inventive filmmaker can achieve. Sure, the now-landmark crop duster scene and the Mt. Rushmore finale are now as permanently etched in the public's collective conscious as the Nation Anthem, but virtually any other scene in the film (no matter how minor it's significance) is nearly as stunning. And Hitchcock also pulls memorable performances from Eva Marie Saint, James Mason, Jessie Royce Landis, Leo G. Carroll, Phillip Ober, and Martin Landau all whom are perfectly cast and play their intentionally thin roles with an alarming exactness.
Yet even more than Hitchcock's film-making mastery, the real reason the film is an absolute gem from beginning to end is none other than Cary Grant. At age 55 and still unnervingly handsome, Grant is perhaps Hitchcock's perfect on-screen hero as he jump-starts even the most under-developed roles with magnetic charisma, dapper humor, and an disarming sex appeal that remains absolutely effortless even in his third decade as actor. The film basically calls upon Grant to venture into practically ever screen personae that he had personified up to that time, and the dashing actor impressively never misses a beat. Although NORTH BY NORTHWEST is a film that has completely earned the title of masterpiece for many reasons, watching one of the silver screen's ultimate stars work his uncompromised magic is reason enough to hold it in high esteem.
This is a great movie, and the Mount Rushmore chase part is probably the funniest because of the 1959 special effects when one of the villain's henchmen falls off a cliff. You have to see that part to understand what I'm talking about. This movie definitely likes trains, because a lot of the main character interaction occurs on a train. And of course, the best part of the entire movie is the "cropduster" when the main character is waiting in the middle of nowhere. It's the most thrilling and best part of the movie. Alfred Hitchcock is probably the best of his class I've ever known of, because he always comes up with something new, funny, or strangely thrilling. The UN scenes are great, and the entire movie leaves a good impression.
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