Suave, debonair advertising executive Roger Thornhill is mistaken for a government agent which results in a gang of foreign spies trying to bump him off whilst making it look like an accident. This doesn’t go to plan. Instead, whilst trying to prove his innocence he then gets framed for murder and has to go on the run. He meets the beautiful Eve Kendall who pledges that she will help him but Thornhill’s suspicions start to tell him that she isn’t the person she says she is.
How the blazes do you review a film that is widely regarded as one of the best movies ever made? Here goes. Here are some of my observations on rewatching this classic.
Cary Grant is the perfect leading man. Handsome and a great actor to boot when it comes to the serious scenes (check him out during the aeroplane scene) but also great when it comes to the comedy and one-liners (I loved the scenes with his mother. In fact, when she exited the film I was gutted as her pithy lines are gold).
A huge part of Hitchcock’s films are his leading ladies. It’s great to see Eve Marie Saint- another gorgeous Hitchcock female character who isn’t just eye candy.
The plot for North By Northwest is full of double-crossings and characters not turning out to be who they say they are and sometimes more than once. Things aren’t as they seem with Cold War paranoia running rampant in the narrative.
It’s so nice to revisit peak Hitchcock, with every frame looking like it’s been painted. Hitchcock’s direction is (as per) utterly spellbinding- like the frame that is shot from above the ground and looks like a civil planning diagram made flesh. I also love the scene in the railway station in which Roger is dressed as a railway worker and sinks into the crowd and the scene becomes something akin to a Where’s Wally drawing. As there are so many railway workers present all wearing the same uniform, this gives Roger a chance to escape undetected. This scene was such a great idea.
The scene in which Roger gets off the bus in the middle of nowhere is both surreal and unsettling. Thornhill is made vulnerable by the vast open space especially when being chased by a malevolent crop-dusting plane. Hitchcock delighted in depicting the everyday situations whereby people are at their most exposed and powerless. Another example is, of course, Marion Crane naked in the shower.
Mount Rushmore makes for a spectacular and audacious setting for the film’s finale. Such a locale sounds gimmicky but North By Northwest never feels showy. Hitchcock’s direction and visual touches never get in the way of his film’s plot and entertainment value that are accessible to everyone rather than just to the Film School mob.
Hitchcock himself appears in the film in a cute cameo in which he misses a bus during the opening credits of the film.
Bernard Herrmann’s score is iconic and second only to Psycho regarding his soundtracks for Hitchcock’s movies. There’s so much urgency to his score and the results are breathtaking.
I had to re-watch the scene in which Martin Landau’s character talked about his ‘woman’s intuition’. I realised that my ears hadn’t deceived me and that his character is gay. On doing some research it is mentioned in the script that his mannerisms were described as ‘effeminate’. Even though it was decades before such portrayals would be permitted in mainstream American cinema, Landau discussed with Hitchcock whether he could portray his character as homosexual. Hitchcock said for him to go for it. This was trailblazing and very daring for its time.
There’s more I could discuss about the film and its plot but I’m not going to ruin any surprises for anyone unfortunate enough to not have seen the film.
A deserved classic.
5 stars out of 5