North by Northwest (1959)
Updated: Dec 10, 2020
The Bernard Herrmann music, the Saul Bass titles and as those names hit the screen, Cary Grant, James Mason, Eva Marie Saint, of course Hitchcock himself, the hairs stand up on the back of my neck, as we begin the next instalment of our Lockdown Hitch Retrospective. I adore the energy of this film. Yes it’s packed with classic suspense, but it’s also a thrilling ride at quite blistering pace. We start in the hustle and bustle of the city as Ad man Roger Thornhill (Grant), gets caught in a case of mistaken identity as the wanted spy George Caplin, wanted by Phillip Vandamm (Mason), he of most wonderful voice. In fact all the voices here are rather special. Right from the get go we’re thrust into the murky world of Cold War espionage. Thornhill gets chased by goons, turns out to be an excellent drunk driver and in his attempts to figure out what’s going on, only digs himself deeper, with one suspenseful scene after another. The scenes, scenery and cinematography, oh boy! That aforementioned cliff side night time car chase, the murder at the United Nations building. Literal back stabbing and all before we get to the Prairie stop. The crop duster scene is a stone cold classic, a beautiful contrast of starkness against the otherwise majestic backdrops. Like the cafe at Mount Rushmore, Vandamm’s gorgeous home and Rushmore itself. I suppose the chase scene finale over Mount Rushmore is considered the centrepiece, but truthfully any number of locations here would be fitting of such praise. That they’re all packed into one film and so cohesively is astonishing. It does feel like it relies a lot on the stunning locations, but the plot really is fantastic. Add to that some classic 50s dialogue and genuine stars delivering it, it’s clear to see why this works so well. You forget how funny and charming it is too, Grant delivers some wonderful lines and his chemistry with Saint is pure Hollywood romance. Martin Landau as the sinister and rather bird-like Leonard, personifies the dangerous world this slick production inhabits and in any other film would steal the show. I can’t find a single flaw and nor would I want to. North By Northwest makes you want to love it... and I do.