Thursday, March 31, 2011
Movie of the Week
NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959)
Starring- Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason, Martin Landau
There are five or six Alfred Hitchcock films that are better than the rest, and I can safely say that this one is in that distinct group. North by Northwest is more light hearted and fun than some of Hitchcock's other works and was an intentional departure from the dark, moody story that marked his previous film, Vertigo. While this movie is has less symbolism and overt psychological mind games, it is still a suspenseful thriller that keeps the audience on the edge of its seat until the very end.
Madison Avenue advertising executive Roger Thornhill (Grant) is just going about his day when he is mistaken for the unknown George Kaplan and taken by force to the home of diplomat Lester Townshend. There he is interrogated by a mysterious man who turns out to be Philip Vandamm (Mason). When they don't get the information they need from Thornhill they attempt to kill him, but he escapes. The trail then leads Thornhill to the United Nations building and then on the run from the law after he is suspected of murder. While on the run he meets cool blonde Eve Kendall (Marie Saint) on a train, and she helps him piece together the mystery of his mistaken identity.
The plot twists and turns until the audience isn't sure who to trust and Thornhill is asked to play the part of the man he was mistaken for in the beginning in order to help capture the sinister Vandamm. It all ends in a brilliantly shot and choreographed chase/fight atop Mount Rushmore that is one of Hitchcock's most enduring scenes. Grant is charming as always, and gets off some great lines that keep the mood of the film witty amidst the ever present Cold War suspense and the race for one of his most prevalent MacGuffins. James Mason is a good foil for Grant and exudes charm while maintaining an air of menace, and Eva Marie Saint is the classic Hitchcockian 'cool blonde.'
Film students are asked to study this film because of its iconic scenes, and the use of techniques that Hitchcock honed and made his own. One of the best and most overlooked moments is when the thing that the villains are after is explained in detail, but it cannot be heard by the audience because of the sound of an airplane motor. It is classic Hitchcock all the way. Movies don't get much more fun, thrilling and scenic than this.
Things to watch for-
The cool Frank Lloyd Wright-esque house
Watch out for crop dusting planes
The phallic final shot
Hitchcock misses the bus
"Now you listen to me, I'm an advertising man, not a red herring. I've got a job, a secretary, a mother, two ex-wives and several bartenders that depend upon me, and I don't intend to disappoint them all by getting myself "slightly" killed."