North by Northwest (1959)

How do I know you aren’t a murderer?

Dir. Alfred Hitchcock

Runtime: 136 minutes

Rating: PG

Starring: Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason

The screenplay for this 1959 Hitchcock film was written by Ernest Lehman, who wanted to write “the Hitchcock picture to end all Hitchcock pictures“. It is a spy thriller in which the wrong man gets mixed up in things that are not normally part of his world. You may find this listed in many a top-100 list, and some people suggest that this Hitchcock’s finest film. In 1995 this was selected as an entrant to the National Film Registry by the United States Library of Congress for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant“.

Summary

A classic cases of mistaken identity as crooks capture Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) on suspicion of being the spy George Kaplan. When he escapes and tries to piece it together the authorities don’t believe him, and to further add insult to injury he’s framed for murder too. On the run from the law and a foreign spy ring, Thornhill has to stay alive while working out what’s going on. A chance encounter with Eve Kendell (Eva Marie Saint) points him in the right direction, but before too long he begins to wonder whose side she is on. Things come to a thrilling climax in front of 4 of America’s greatest presidents.


…or… here’s a summary in 180 characters of less…

Mistaken for a spy, Cary Grant has to get smart quickly is he wants to survive and clear his name. During this time he goes for a drink-drive, outruns a plane, and goes to see the Presidents of the USA.


In the lead role, this for me is Cary Grants finest performance in a Hitchcock film. His skills have been honed well over the years and he really brings Roger Thornhill to life. The character wouldn’t be that far removed from modern works of drama that we see these days. Snazzy suited, he manages to bumble his way through the film as the wrong man in the wrong place but gets better as the duration of the film unfolds, until he is believable as the person he’s mistaken for. He is stylish and suave when he needs to be delivering plenty of charisma, but he never far from a knowing smile or an emotive grimace. His drunk driving antics may be ‘over acted’ by what we are used to today, but it was fun. Co-stars James Mason and Eva Marie Saint are equally on point in this. Everybody really delivers top class performances, sometimes to the point that you have to wonder, who exactly are the good guys and bad guys.

Undoubtedly one of Hitchcock’s best films, a fast paced, commercial, spy thriller which could have been a James Bond film, before there were James Bond films. It captures zeitgeist of the time perfectly and the themes of cold war paranoia and shady double-dealing are an accurate reflection of the time. It has beautiful scenery; engaging and often witty dialogue; great delivery from the acting cast; and the general mise-en-scene makes this an absolute tour-de-force – even 50-60 years later. Lots of vivid colours and stunning visuals throughout with plenty of artistic signatures from the famed director add to vehicle of the film. Some tongue in cheek fun – when you watch it bear in mind that Hitchcock enjoyed pushing the boundaries of enjoyment for audiences, so you will see things that seem totally ludicrous – just suspend your disbelief and sit back, you’ll enjoy the film if you don’t question it.

The musical score by Bernard Herrmann is brilliant and really fits the film well. As well as being an accompaniment, at times it’s also a character into itself. If you have seen other Hitchcock films which use Herrmann’s scores you won’t be surprised by the majesty of the work here. It has been stated that Herrmann like Hitchcock were both perfectionists, and for me this is one of my top four Herrmann/Hitchcock scores out of the 8 films they worked on together (FTR – “Vertigo” (1958), “Psycho” (1960), “The Birds” (1963), and this!).

Fun Fact: Hitchcock’s signature cameo in this film is near the credits – he is about to get on a bus when the door slams shut.

Some people claim this film is the pinnacle of Hitchcock’s film making career, for me that is yet to come with “Psycho” in (1960) – but everyone is entitled to an opinion. Either way though this is a fun-filled adventure film which takes you on a tour of the USA, has some excellent cinematography, wonderfully written characters, and all the charm and motifs that you would expect to find in a Hitchcock film.

If you enjoy old-fashioned films that don’t rely on CGI then this is an absolute classic to enjoy. 8 out of 10 – a perfect wrong-man caper for a lazy Sunday.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ (8/10)

1 thought on “North by Northwest (1959)”

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