Monday, June 10, 2013



Alfred Hitchcock. Cary Grant. Mistaken identity. 

Eva Marie Saint. Mount Rushmore. The Plaza Hotel.  

Crop Dusters. Bernard Herrmann. James Mason. Martin Landau. 

This is North by Northwest and it is my favourite film by the master, Alfred Hitchcock. It is a film I have seen many, many times, but never on the big screen and I was lucky enough to see it at the Tower Cinemas last week. It was magnificent.

Made in 1959, it has not dated in the slightest. Cary Grant, at 55, never looked better. Eva Marie Saint was a lucky girl indeed.

From Saul Bass's amazing opening credits you know you are in for a treat. Everything about this film is a masterpiece. The big and the small.

I love the character's names: Roger O. Thornhill, what does the O stand for...nothing! James Mason as the villain, Phillip Vandamm, what a great name. I love seeing Edward Platt (the Chief from Get Smart) in a small role as The Thornhill's lawyer, Victor Larrabee - also a great name, one I am certain Mel Brooks used for inspiration in Get Smart.

James Mason and a very young Martin Landau are excellent as the baddies, very menacing...even after seeing it as many times as I have.

And of course, a small cameo by the master himself, very early on in the film.

North by Northwest is suspenseful, it's classy, funny and romantic.

And what a romance! Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint...she got to star against two of Hollywood's greats in their prime, Grant in this and Brando in On the Waterfront. In both she is feminine and lovely, yet strong and their equal. A true star, she wins Grant over easily on a railway trip quite early in the film, their flirtatious dialogue is not only witty and fast paced, but very, very sexy. It's quite risqué for the period and whilst not exactly spelling out their intent, it's easily translated...blushing with envy...

Of course Eve Kendall is not all she seems, the hurt on Grant's face when he finds out is palpable, and he means business getting to the bottom of things. A formidable pair they make as the film progresses with twists and turns, in their relationship and especially in the action scenes, where Saint holds her own. And then there is the final scene, which is very cheesy, I am still unsure whether Hitchcock intended it to be subtle, it is certainly not...if you have no idea what I am talking about, I am not going to divulge it simply have to see the film.

The action is where this film is at. Beautifully done too, Grant is on the run as he has been mistaken for a man called George Kaplan. From the breath holding initial scenes, where the baddies kidnap and ply Grant with alcohol and pop him behind the wheel of a sports car around some twisty bends, you know you are going to be in for a ride. Filmed as if you were behind the wheel, you do wince with every turn of the steering wheel. Not long after he escapes his kidnappers and is trying to work out what on earth is going on, Grant witnesses a murder but is mistaken for being the murderer (in a classic plot moment), so not only are the baddies are after him but the police too!

On the run, he is trying to find the person who everyone thinks he is, George Kaplan. If he finds Kaplan, all this craziness will end! In one of the most classic action scenes of all Hitchcock films, and probably action films ever, Grant is waiting alone by the side of the road, near fields in the middle of nowhere. He is waiting for Kaplan, but it's a set up. A plane is above, 'dusting' the crops, but the plane turns and starts to hunt Grant down. This was pure exhilaration to watch on the big screen for the first time. It's iconic, clever, simple in fact, and looked timeless and brilliant!

The more grueling scene of Saint and Grant climbing over president's faces at Mount Rushmore towards the end of the film, with the baddies in hot pursuit, is also breathtaking and very clever. Using an iconic monument for an iconic scene can be common place these days, but Hitchcock made it his own in North by Northwest.

Speaking of icons, the house used by the baddies will also go down in cinematic history. Hitchcock was not allowed to film at Mount Rushmore, so they recreated the monument in the studio. And he wanted to build a Frank Lloyd Wright House on the top near the monument. Neither was possible, the grounds wouldn't take something built there, and Wright was too expensive to commission. So they built an imitation, The Vandamm House as it is known, not bad really!

Throughout the film, you are hearing the music of Bernard Herrmann, in fact, in some of the more suspenseful sections, you will hear pieces that seem like a precursor to the shrill strings that make the shower scene in Psycho so iconic.

The dialogue is great, witty and sophisticated, and from the great Ernest Lehman. It was Lehman's idea for Mount Rushmore, that was the first thing he came up with, a climatic scene atop the president's faces. His humour can be seen in many of Grant's sharp one-liners, especially when he is initially kidnapped, with his mother, and in the auction scene.

Above all, this is Grant's film, he is sharp, witty, sophisticated, masculine AND gets the girl. He has never looked better, no wonder this was his biggest box office hit.

If you have not seen this movie, go find a copy of it right now and if you ever get a chance to experience it in a cinema, go go go!

Finally, if my gushing is not enough, have a look at the trailer as narrated by Hitchcock himself! 


Simon said...

Great read, makes me want to watch it again!

Cathy said...

It really it a wonderful film, and certainly worth a re-watch. I have no idea how many times I have seen it, but easily double figures!