North by Northwest (1959)
By Hervé St-Louis
August 14, 2017 - 13:04
Writer(s): Ernest Lehman
Starring: Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason, Jessie Royce Landis, Leo G. Carroll, Martin Landau, Adam Williams
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Produced by: Alfred Hitchcock
Running Time: 136 minutes
Release Date: 26 September 1959
Distributors: Warner Home Video
Advertising executive Roger Thornhill is mistaken for federal spy George Caplan by thugs who kidnap him and bring him for interrogation to their boss, spymaster Phillip Vandamm. Escaping and convicted of many crimes he did not commit, Thornhill must find the real Caplan and clear his name, before the foreign spies kill him. Will the beautiful and mysterious femme fatal Eve Kendall that Thornhill meets on a train to Chicago help him or get him captured?
It was suggested to me that I revisit this classic Alfred Hitchcock spy thriller which served as an inspiration for all James Bond films because of many overlaps with my Johnny Bullet comic book. I see now that it was mandatory viewing for me. If you have seen this film, you’ll be aware of the famous chase on Mount Rushmore at the end and of the excellent jokes and performance by Cary Grant who plays the dashing and quick-witted Thornhill. Better, you’ll recall the soft voice of Eva Marie Saint (Kendall) who was neither good, neither evil, neither in love, neither a tramp. This role must have elevated her status as a leading actress at the time.
This film was a joy to watch for all the puns, verbal and visuals that kept being reused and could engender a chuckle out of the audience members who were able to see this film on a big screen. A local Toronto cinema was showing North by Northwest on the big screen which is the most complementary way to enjoy this film. Hitchcock was a master storyboarder and used the frame cautiously. Often to indicate psychological distances between actors or awkwardness, he positioned his actors to the extremes of the screen. Only in a large theatre can these extremes be appreciated beautifully.
Hitchcock used a variety of shots that gave a postwar utilitarian linear design feel to his work. Everything looks modern, like bricks and stones piled up one on top of another but overlapping instead of stacking them. This is how the film is approached by the venerable director who gives us complex overlapping three acts that create a whole architecture with the plots, visual shots, opening credits, and an incredible score that keeps viewers engaged.
I only recalled the Mount Rushmore scene probably from seeing it years ago on television. The entire movie was fresh for me and regardless of the silly moving backgrounds when characters are seated in cars, the movie has aged well.
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