The greatest Hitchcock film, stunning and perfect
12 December 2017
This film is probably where Hitchcock's genius rose to its greatest height. I have seen it several times over the years, and it keeps getting better and better. Now we have a Blu-ray remastered version, so I have seen it again, all crisp and new. A large part of the success of this film is due to Ernest Lehman, who wrote the screenplay. He was one of Hollywood's top screenwriters and his skills were crucial in making this story work. The film is gripping from the first scene to the last, and never loses its tension for a moment. Cary Grant's somewhat weird personality was perfect for the lead role in this tale of mysterious intrigue. The combination of his droll insouciance and dry humour with his expressions of continually surprised astonishment is just the right mix. I can't think of any other actor who could so perfectly have compounded the variegated tinctures of ambiguity into this sublime decoction of suspense. (What do you mean, that last sentence was affected?) As for Eva Marie Saint, never was she so glorious as in this picture. She has just the right mix as well. And those two mixes went well together, and are the very opposite of oil and water. Or to put it another way, everything gells. And then there is James Mason as the unctuous smoothie bad guy. He really knew how to be convincing at that, and the way he puts his hand on Eva Marie Saint's shoulder in the auction room, to say 'you are mine', is done so delicately but so emphatically. He was always the master of understatement, Every gesture, every grimace is perfectly planned and plotted. Hitchcock was passionate about story-boarding all his films, and this one is a living story-board. Not one thing is out of place, the film was perfectly executed according to plan. It ticks better than any Swiss watch in history. Tick, tick, tick, and the wheels go round and things happen relentlessly, all precisely timed. The most famous episode in this film is probably when Cary Grant gets off a bus in the middle of a corn field in absolutely nowhere and a crop-spraying plane comes after him, trying to kill him. Who says such things never happen? I saw it with my own eyes, in a Hitchcock film, so it must be true.
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