Retro Movie Review: Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘North By Northwest’
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North By Northwest
Available now on Blu-ray
Written by Ernest Lehman
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Starring Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason, Jessie Royce Landis, Leo G. Carroll, Martin Landau
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)
Runtime: 136 minutes
Release date: July 28th, 1959

The Master of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock, is one the greatest filmmakers of all time. One of his classics is the 1959 mystery thriller North By Northwest starring Cary Grant, James Mason, and Oscar winner Eva Marie Saint. The film ranked 55th on the American Film Institute’s 100 years, 100 movies list as well 4th in their list of 100 Thrilling American Films. Debuting in theaters a year after Hitchcock’s classic Vertigo, and a year before he changed the game of horror with Psycho, North By Northwest in unique in the sense, the three years before James Bond burst onto the scene in Dr. No, North By Northwest created the template for the famed spy-hero. Now, thanks to Turner Classic Movies and Fathom Events, North By Northwest is in theaters for one more day as part of TCM’s Big Screen Classics series.

Introduced by Turner Classics host Ben Mankiewicz, he says screenwriter Ernest Lehman set out to make this the Hitchcock film to end all Hitchcock films. The blend of comedy, mystery, and suspense is matched by amazing set pieces and historically significant scenes. Confession time: Despite being a lifetime film buff, I had never seen North By Northwest until today. But before this afternoon, I had seen the famous scene where a crop dusting plane chases down Cary Grant. The score by longtime Hitchcock accomplice Bernard Herrmann’s score acts as a cast member, being ever present and keeping the tension at a fever pitch. The story is actually partly based on a true story from WWII, where the Allies devised a plan to invent a fake spy to trick the Nazis.

Cary Grant is perfect as Roger O. Thornhill, a New York ad executive whose evening plans get put on hold when he is kidnapped by a few goons in a case of mistaken identity. They believe he is George Kaplan, a secret agent out to stop their boss Lester Townsend (Mason). Grant is hilarious, utilizing Lehman’s Oscar nominated script to the fullest. When he denies that he is Kaplan, he is forcibly intoxicated and placed in a stolen car, with the goal of sending him to his death. That turns into an arrest for drunk driving (in 1959!) and soon Thornhill is trying to convince everyone from cops to his mother that he is the victim of a grand conspiracy. Cary Grant shows why he was such a versatile actor, drawing huge laughs from the packed crowd at one minute, and then using a combination of suave and innuendo wooing the gorgeous Eve Kendall (Saint) on a train.

But in all ways this comes across as a James Bond film. Bold action set pieces… check. Hitchcock’s classic culminates with a chase sequence atop Mt. Rushmore. A hero who has a way with beautiful women… check. Rampant use of sexual innuendo… check. The final shot of the film is not so subtle. Cary Grant truly set the template for Connery, Moore, and all the others to play the noted spy. I don’t want to spoil much more of the plot, because there are so many twists and turns along the way. I was reading in the trivia section on IMDb that Grant read through half the script and complained to Hitchcock that nothing made sense, and that was how Hitch knew the film would be a success. The film is an all time classic by one of the true greats.

North By Northwest is playing one more day, Wednesday, April 5th at 2:00pm and 7:00pm. in select theaters brought to you by Fathom Events and TCM. You can find a theater near you playing the film at Fathom Events.

Image Gallery


North by Northwest – Original Theatrical Trailer

Cary Grant teams with director Alfred Hitchcock for the fourth and final time in the superlative espionage caper, North by Northwest, judged as one of the American Film Institute’s Top 100 American Films and recipient of three Academy Award nominations. Grant stars as an innocent man mistaken for a spy in one of Hitchcock’s greatest thrillers. While leaving New York’s Plaza Hotel, advertising executive Roger Thornhill (Grant) has the misfortune of standing just as the name “George Kaplan” is paged — starting a lethal case of mistaken identity and a nonstop game of cat and mouse as he is pursued across North America by espionage agents trying to kill him… and by police who suspect him of murder.Pursued by spy (James Mason) and counterspy (Eva Marie Saint), Thornhill is variously abducted, framed for murder, chased and in another signature set piece, crop-dusted. He also holds on for dear life from the facial features of the Presidents on Mount Rushmore. It all adds up to another box-office smash from the Master of Suspense.

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