North by Northwest – Review

2 Nov

This certainly isn’t the first time that I’ve written about an Alfred Hitchcock movie, and I’m 100% sure that it won’t be the last. Hitchcock is known as the Master of Suspense, but is also one of the rare old film makers that was way ahead of the times that they were working in. Whether it’s the shower scene in Psycho, the attempted trickery of the long take in Rope, or the final showdown on Mount Rushmore in North by Northwest, the topic of this entire review. What I’m trying to say is that Hitchcock can be attributed to many of the iconic scenes in cinema, and his 1959 action thriller might in fact be the most iconic.

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Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) is an advertising executive who is completely confident in himself and the life that he’s built. That confidence is shattered when he is kidnapped one day and brought before a foreign spy name Phillip Vandamm (James Mason), who accuses Thornhill of being an American agent who knows Vandamm’s secrets. After Thornhill is next mistakenly accused for the assassination of a UN official, a chase across the United States begins with both the federal government and Vandamm hot on his trail. Along the way, Thornhill meets Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint), a beautiful woman who seems to want to help Roger clear his name, but also has motives not entirely clear.

After making Vertigo, the film that is widely considered to be Hitchcock’s best film, the Master of Suspense wanted to make a movie that wasn’t as dark as many of his other ones, prompting him to make this espionage thriller/romantic comedy. This film certainly is probably the most light hearted of Hitchcock’s most known films, but it is also one of his best, if not the best. While North by Northwest may be more light hearted and have a blockbuster sized budget, that doesn’t make this movie feel too foreign from Hitchcock’s other work. In between laughs and big actions sequences, this film is loaded with suspense, mystery, and shocking twists that would satisfy the most jaded espionage enthusiast.

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As with any Hitchcock movie you’ll see, the writing is one of the best parts of the entire film. Ernest Lehman, who also wrote films like West Side Story and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, writes a smart and funny film that succeeds in combining two genres that couldn’t be more different. Grant has some of the best lines in the film like when he explains how he’s “sensitive to questions” after being asked why he’s wearing sunglasses indoors. There’s also really funny scenes like when Grant gets himself arrested in an auction room that is surrounded by the enemy. It’s a very clever, suspenseful, yet funny way to get out of a situation. This film is a perfect collaboration between writer and director.

Finally, I have to talk about the actors. Cary Grant as Roger Thornhill may not be the easiest person to get along with, but we root for him the entire way. Grant owns the role and is only matched by Eva Marie Saint, who seems to be the only person who could defeat Thornhill in a battle of wits, which makes their scenes together so much fun. Finally, you gotta love James Mason as the villainous Vandamm. Every scene he’s in is slimy because he makes Vandamm so easy to despise with everything from his voice to his posture. Everyone really owns their roles.

North by Northwest is obviously one of Hitchcock’s best films, even though I can’t really say it’s my favorite since Rear Window proudly commands that spot. Still, it is definitely up there thanks to his expert direction, Lehman’s quick writing, and the way the actors all bring it to life onscreen. It’s an excellent combination of Cold War espionage, mystery, and a witty romantic comedy all written into one big blockbuster film. This is a film that anyone is guaranteed if they say that they enjoy movies.

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