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|Index||531 reviews in total|
North by Northwest: The feeling I got during North by Northwest
initially wasn't a great one. I couldn't focus on what was being shown
to me on the screen, something about the story was off-putting, even
the directing didn't settle with me at first. Once I relaxed into my
chair and gave it a go, I had no regrets and enjoyed myself. As I
watched it I realized how much of an impact this single movie had on
the industry at the time of its release. Some of the stunts are
incredible and the magnitude is just bigger and better than what was in
movies at that time. It's Hitchcock's biggest film; it's not bloated,
but it covers the territory necessary to best an iconic action
thriller. Hitchcock stages everything well here, making the action feel
innocent enough to not fall into the "Action Movie" stereotypes of
today clichéd blockbusters. The roots of the action pieces are in
suspense and timing. North by Northwest had great scope with unexpected
instruments in the plot to further the film.
If you are a Hitchcock fan, as I am, then this may be the best
Hitchcock of all. "North By Northwest" has a little bit of everything:
suspense, love, mystery, thriller intrigue, danger, and justice. Eva
Marie Saint (Eve Kendall) has never been more beautiful, or more
endearing as she is in this movie.
Years ago I didn't really care for Cary Grant, but he has a way of growing on you, movie by movie, and he is never better that he is in this role as Roger O. Thornhill. I loved James Mason and a young Martin Landau in this movie as well. Well worth the 2 hours and 16 minutes of your time.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Though I may have to turn in my 007 fan card for saying so, "North by Northwest" is more riveting, classy, and funny than any Bond movie, and predates the earliest "official" Bond film by three years. Cary Grant's protagonist may be an unwilling spy, but he is a natural one, bantering confidently with baddies in posh hotels and doggedly courting a mysterious femme fatale (Eva Marie Saint). The crop duster scene is perhaps the best and most iconic action sequence that Hitchcock ever filmed. James Mason makes an ideal antagonist, dwelling in a Bond-villain-style lodge atop a famous U.S. landmark. Twists and triple-crosses make for an exciting, complex tale.
North By North West was made in 1959. You can enjoy it many ways. Let
me enumerate: 1. It a predecessor to the James bond films with oily
villains with interesting accents, and questionable sexuality out to
kill in imaginative ways, always toying with their victims rather that
simply shooting them outright. Cary Grant plays a character who likes
brave clever repartee with his captors, though he has none of Bond's
lethality, just his confidence.
2. it is a love story, with lots of clever repartee.
3. it is a comedy. Grant's cleverness and unrestrained originality at getting out of scrapes is amusing as is the existential strangeness of the predicaments.
4. It is a period drama. It was filmed in 1959 with a cast of tens of thousands, all in accurate 1959 period costumes, and accurate period cars, in accurate period hotels, restaurants, streets and taxis. All this was much cheaper to do then. It is a treat for the eye.
5. It is an adventure story with a car chase, explosions and the famous crop dusting scene, but because the special effects are somewhat dated, this aspect would not have the punch it would originally.
6. It is a mystery with all manner twists and terms making you guess who is working for whom. It would probably take at least three viewings to begin to figure out the motives for each character at each point in the film.
It is an oldie but goodie.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
For many years, I regarded "North by Northwest" as a chaotic assemblage
of action-thriller vignettes for the sake of an unsubstantial plot,
using the casting of an aging Cary Grant as a sorry excuse to grab more
fans, definitely not worthy of its reputation. After a second viewing,
I concede I didn't have the right mindset to appreciate the hidden
brilliance of "North by Northwest".
Let's start with the plot: Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) is an advertising executive, mistaken for George Kaplan, a secret agent, in reality, only a decoy to distract the villainous mastermind Vandamm (James Mason) from the real agent who happens to be his mistress Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint). Yet for the two thirds of the film, neither Grant nor the viewers are aware of these subtleties. For all we know, Grant is the "wrong man" whose attempts to prove his innocence worsens his case even more, from driving a car over a cliff after being severely imbibed and pulling a knife out of the back of a UN diplomat who's just dropped in his arms, Thornhill is the constant victim of the most unfortunate circumstances.
Alfred Hitchcock directs the film as if understanding the plot was not a priority, he knows the mystery effectively conveys the nightmarish karma of Thornhill, the pawn of a game with unknown rules. For all we know, it's the Cold War and he's torn between two kind of secret agents, the good and the bad ones, Hitchcock doesn't embarrass himself with more details and uses the actors like living props to put in the most extreme and spectacular situations. When Thornhill confronts Vandamm, he pretends not to be 'George Kaplan', to which Vandamm, with Mason's deep and mellowest voice, answers "Games? Must we?". Thornhill is victim of the innocent-man syndrome, using the same rhetoric than a guilty one, inevitably preventing Vandamm to say more. Thornhill can't talk because he doesn't know, Vandamm can't because he doesn't believe Thornhill, at the end, it's only Hitch effectively keeping his little secret.
But this secrecy is not gratuitous either, it effectively induces the paranoid feeling of the story, tapping on one of fear's most effective forms: the fear of the unknown, reaching its thrilling paroxysm in a scene set in the middle of nowhere. For eight minutes, nothing happens, Thornhill is just waiting, for whom, for what? We don't know, and we wait. The suspense is carried by our own interrogations, until a crop-duster comes, not with the friendliest intentions, contributing to the most defining moment of the film. The nightmare goes on and gets so intense that Thornhill would rather get himself arrested by the police. He doesn't know what he's escaping from, but he knows enough about his enemies. Yet the unknown can also come in the form of a beautiful creature like Eve Kendall (Eva Maria Saint) popping out in the middle of the chase and hiding Thornhill, in her bedroom after a dinner with enough sexual innuendo to make good old Grant lower his guard.
But if one can't face the unknown, he can leave it nonetheless. And ironically, Thornhill is given a chance to leave until he's told by one of the 'good' agents, played by Leo G. Carroll, that he endangered Eve's life. Thornhill finally detaches from his passive status by becoming a player and making his own rules. The key is not to 'find the truth', at that point, we know everything, but the point is to stop being Hitch's puppet and finally act like a hero , for a last thrilling confrontation and to get the girl in the process. No room for subtlety, this is not "Vertigo" or "Rear Window", this is pure hormonal Hitchcock. And Cary Grant is never more at ease and charismatic as during the last sequence, accomplishing the only act that could conceal the paranoia he endured for days, he doesn't escape from the enemy, he goes to it, his direction changed and so did Hithcock's.
In a nutshell, I would say "North by Northwest" is like the tale of an amnesic James Bond. And Hithcocks anticipated all the ingredients that would build the secret agent's legend : the henchmen with killing methods as sophisticated and elaborate as they're ineffective, escapist settings, car chases, a suave and distinguished villain, a sensual lady and naturally the ultimate climax in Mt. Rushmore, the very sequence that catalyzed Hitchcock's desire to make the film. Ernest Lehman, who wrote the screenplay, intended to make the "Hitchcock picture that would end all the Hitchcock pictures." (and unintentionally pave the way for James Bonds' flicks) "North by Northwest" reassembles every Hitchcockian ingredient: the blond, the mistaken identity, the villain, the paranoia induced by the enemy's invisibility, the claustrophobia, even Martin Landau as Leonard is not your typical one-dimensional hit-man and has a sort of "Rope" vibe behind his sensual eyes.
And the film magnificently concludes with one of the riskiest and most memorable ellipses of Cinema's history, the transition from Thornill trying to pull Eve from the Mt. Rushmore to the upper bunk of a train was classic enough, the icing on the cake concocted by Hitch himself was the penultimate shot of the train speeding up to the tunnel, whose symbolism needs no explanations. "North by Northwest" is undoubtedly the consummate Hitchcock movie, even more appreciated when we're familiar with his previous films. For the mark of a great director is to toy with his own trademarks and indulge himself to movies with less substance but never at the expenses of suspense and entertainment, magnificently conveyed by Bernard Herrman's theme and unforgettable opening credits.
"North by Northwest" didn't end all Hitchcock pictures but the great streak of the 50's through a triumph of spectacular entertainment, explaining why, one year after, Hitch would turn to a less ambitious format, almost B-movie like, in black-and-white, for an obscure little film called "Psycho".
Having seen most of Alfred Hitchcock's works I must admit that North by
Northwest has quickly become my favorite, even though it may not
possess the typical Hitchcockian motives. What's more, It could as well
be placed in the same box as the James Bond franchise, because it may
in some aspects remind of the well-known spy movies (Cary Grant could
have been a perfect 007, with his elegance, handsome face and fantastic
overall presence). However, I must say that it combines a
better-developed structure, more wit in its dialogues and greater
suspenseful sequences than any Bond movie does. Also, personally I
thought that Eva Marie Saint was much more appealing than all of the
Bond girls combined.
The main plot introduces the whole movie as a serious and thrilling mystery of a man, who is mistaken for an agent and embarks on a journey to clear his name. Still, apart from that, there are various comedic aspects of the film, along with my favorite scene in the first few minutes, when Roger Thornhill (played brilliantly by Cary Grant) is being held captive, forced to get drunk and then ride a car. As for the romantic section, there is the ongoing chemistry between the devious Eve Kendell and Thornhill.
All those aspects make up for an amazing and most enjoyable plot. The ideal mix of all the conjoint, yet rather opposing, factors marks the true genius of the director himself. Even though all of Hitchcock's pictures are undisputed masterpieces, North by Northwest captivated me the most. I haven't really seen a movie that offers so much - perfect plot-subplots combination, intelligent script, memorable scenes, many distinct sceneries, tremendous acting (great supporting roles by James Mason, Leo G. Carroll and Martin Landau) and, most importantly, the building of suspense until the very last minute. It is also the best Hitchcock- Grant collaboration you will find.
Even though the picture didn't win an Oscar in any of the three categories that it was nominated in, it surely could have won an Award for the best picture of the year. Or the decade. Or the century. Because every time you watch this fantastic movie you will be able to find a new part that will catch your attention. That is the true genius of Hitchcock. He made a movie that brings out everything that is the greatest about the motion picture industry, that is the ability to develop a masterwork that can be interesting to every single person in the world.
I must have seen this movie at least 5 times. It is a brilliant
drama/thriller and the whole production which includes direction,
writing, music, acting, etc., is top quality. By a quirk of fate a
businessman is unwittingly dragged into a deadly spy game. A whole
series of adventures follow with plenty of twists and turns and
surprises along the way. All the characters are charismatic, the
villains are suitably bad and the hero suitably brave as well as
amusing and flawed. The story is presented in a straight forward
interesting way, with no unnecessary sub plots or distractions and a
tour de force of a storyline with a super climax. Its over 50 years
since the movie was released, and what a pity so many of today's films
cannot compare to this one:
I cannot believe it has taken me so long to watch this famous film by
one of my favorite directors. It was never at the top of my 'to see'
list, but I can say that this is another incredible film by Hitchcock.
The story of North by Northwest starts off pretty simple, but make no mistake, this is probably Hitchcock's most unpredictable film (apart from everyone knowing Psycho's big twist). There are so many twists and turns in the screenplay that I could barely keep up, and it's because Hitchcock doesn't let us breathe for one second. We think we know who the bad guy is, then we are wrong. Fantastic screenplay by Ernest Lehman, with fantastic performances from Cary Grant and James Mason. Every time I saw Eva Marie Saint on screen I thought it was Betty Draper (January Jones from Mad Men) running around with another man. I'm telling you, January Jones looks just like her. Now if they make a remake (hopefully not, but we never know) they know who to cast.
Overall, fantastic film. Probably a masterpiece in it's great story- telling, and possibly Hitchcock's 2nd best after Psycho.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
North by Northwest (1959)
Perhaps a perfect movie, and a perfectly Hitchcock movie. This has great sets (including a mock up copy of Mt. Rushmore and the real United Nations exterior, shot by stealth from a car). And it has three great performances from two great actors and an actress who rises to her best for this demanding role. This would be of course Cary Grant at his middle aged peak of handsome easy charm, James Mason at his middle aged peak of handsome easy charm (and very different), and Eva Marie Saint, nearly a decade after her searing appearance in "On the Waterfront," very much a mature woman, alluring and yet knowing. You can see this is an adult film, by and for adults, including the very adult Hitchcock, who seems to be having the time of his life making it.
The plot itself propels, scene to scene to scene, as if we are in on the chase, and yet it stops for some genuine laughs, hilarious moments snuck between the layers of cold war chill. That seems a contradiction, in a way, since this isn't at all a comedy, in the normal sense. And there are some sexual innuendos that were subtlety working around the fading Hays Code rules, and that now seem like pure brilliance. It's a smart, bubbly, entertaining mix.
Some people don't get Hitchcock, and I get that. I love his films more and more over the years. "North by Northwest" is characteristic of his willingness, even his insistence, on keeping the artificial edges to the movie visible, the clearest example being the runaway car early in the movie, and the famous chase over our dead white presidents at the end. It's as stylish and entertaining as a movie can be, from the costumes (Grant's legendary grey suit and Saint's gorgeous dresses, picked up at Bergdorf's) to the interiors (not only the painted backdrop of the U.N. building but Grand Central, a couple of famous hotels, and a classic stuffy mansion).
You can moan when Grant's character, Mr. Thornhill, grabs the knife out of the man's back, or you can notice the out of order backdrops out the window of the train (it moves from sunset to late evening to sunset, and the bridge appears and disappears in a blink). But that means you're in it for the wrong thing. (In the first case, you want him to grab the knife, because that's the classic mistake in thrillers. In the second, you're supposed to be watching Grant and Saint in one of the sexiest understated dialogs of all movies.)
Yes, I like this film. It is, above all, likable. It's brilliant and all that, too, but when it comes to just enjoying watching a movie, this is top shelf.
If you read the trivia section for this film you will find numerous bits of information relating to who might have been starring in this film if the circumstances had been different. For me the people who were involved were perfect. I know nothing about film making but it seems to me that the director knew what the story was and who the people were to be in the film and then he decided how to create it. And a masterpiece is what he came up with. The film will keep you transfixed because its overall message is fun. Yes there is tension, danger and some people die but if you watch the film with an open mind you will see what I and lot of other people mean by fun. Life at times can be absurd and unbelievable and there are parts of this film when you just smile because you can identify with most of what happens on screen. As far as I am aware its not a true story, its just a cinematic creation that is also a classic and will be a joy to watch again and again. This film is fifty years old but like every other great film its as enjoyable today as it was when it was made. Buy, rent or borrow the DVD and you will not be disappointed.
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