North by Northwest (1959)

This is one of Hitchcock’s crowning achievements where he perfected the picaresque pursuit as a flat-out entertainer.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Dir. Alfred Hitchcock
1959 | USA | Adventure/Mystery/Thriller | 136 mins | 1.85:1 | English
PG (passed clean) for some violence

Cast: Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason
Plot: After being kidnapped in a case of mistaken identity, a New York City advertising executive finds himself pursued across the United States by mysterious agents who will do anything to prevent him from revealing their secrets.
Awards: Nom. for 3 Oscars – Best Original Screenplay, Best Film Editing, Best Art Direction; Official Selection (Venice)
Distributor: Warner

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Normal
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream

Viewed: DVD
First Published: 16 Nov 2008
Spoilers: No

What would it be like if Hitchcock stop directing suspense dramas and work on a purely escapist flick?  The answer is North by Northwest.  

The most entertaining motion picture ever made by the legendary filmmaker, North by Northwest has an immense influence on ‘Hollywood chase films’, making them significant fixtures in contemporary cinema, from The Fugitive to the ‘Bourne’ trilogy.  

Nominated for three Oscars including Best Original Screenplay, this film ranks almost as highly as three of the director’s greatest critical achievements – VertigoRear Window, and Psycho.  

North by Northwest stars Cary Grant in a role that was originally written for James Stewart, whom Hitchcock claimed was too old for the role (ironically, Grant was four years older leading to rumors of a professional dispute between Hitchcock and Stewart).  

“That’s funny, that plane’s dustin’ crops where there ain’t no crops.”

In less than five minutes, Hitchcock remarkably establishes the plot and paints Grant’s character, Roger, as a well-dressed but fiercely sarcastic man with a strong sense of self-respect and integrity.  

It does not take long for viewers to get acquainted with him, who plummets from one perplexing situation to another as he tries to make sense of what is going on.  

By chance, he meets an icy-cold blond, Eve (played by Eva Marie Saint) whose motives appear suspect.  In a world of deceit and treachery, who is there to trust? 

North by Northwest is as much a comedy as a mystery-thriller.  Its screenplay is a delightful blend of dark humor (most of the hilarious lines are uttered by Grant) and cliffhanger moments.  

Speaking of which, the film contains two of Hitchcock’s most celebrated set-pieces – the tense crop dusting sequence, and the final Mount Rushmore climax. With this film, Hitchcock has nearly perfected one of the fundamentals of thrillers – the picaresque pursuit. 

Grade: A




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