Movie Critique - North By Northwest

For review of other books or movies by Alfred Hitchcock, go here.

Stars: 5 / 5

Recommendation: A classic mystery thriller and adventure film by a master filmmaker with some equally excellent acting skills by the cast, the film still entertains you even after 60 years since it's first release. 

North by Northwest is a 1959 American spy thriller produced and directed by Alfred Hitchcock. The lead cast includes Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint and James Mason among others. Screenplay was by Ernest Lehman. It became a box office success for 1959.

A tale of mistaken identity makes Roger O. Thornhill (portrayed by Cary Grant) a perfect patsy to be pursued across United States by a mysterious organization who is trying to stop him from foiling their plans. In this chase, Thornhill meets Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint) captured in their clutches. Now Thornhill not only want to escape their clutches, but also save Eve as well as foil their plans ever more.

This is the fourth and final film collaboration between Grant and Hitchcock. The other three films they worked together were 1941 Suspicion, 1946 Notorious and 1955 To Catch a Thief.

Hitchcock and writer Lehman takes the viewers from New York to UN General Assembly Building to Chicago and finally with a thrilling climax running across Mount Rushmore. As for costuming, Grant is seen in the same Gray suit for most of the film, at least 90% of the film, and has been copied by many actors years later.

Eva Marie's wardrobe were personally selected by her and Hitchcock himself by taking her to Bergdorf Goodman. Some of them are really beautiful and perfect for her part in the film.

The proof can be seen in the inside of her black purse.

This film also has more of James Bond-ish touch to it than keeping to usual Hitchcock's mystery, murder and psychology. The famous crop duster scene was copied into the helicopter chase in the 1963 James Bond film From Russia with Love. Here is the scene from this movie though:

Even the entrance that the antagonist Phillip Vandamm (portrayed by James Mason) gives is so very similar to most of the James Bond villains. The film has a plethora of actors in key roles or their earlier roles who later on make a name for themselves on silver screen - Martin Landau as Leonard; Leo F. Carroll as The Professor; 

Grant was already 55 years old by the time this movie was filmed, but he was playing much younger guy, who was atleast 20 years younger than his real age. Ironically, the actress Jesse Royce Landis playing the role of his mother Clara Thornhill was only seven years older than Grant. 

Hitchcock wanted to film the climax at the original location of Mount Rushmore, but he wasn’t given permission by Department of Interiors. So he got the entire thing built as a set. Even then the Department of Interiors objected for the actors to climb on the presidents faces on the staged set. So Hitchcock had to change the scene to happen between the faces but not on the faces. 

For the most part of the movie, Thornhill always appears on the left side of the screen. Certain sexual tension between Thornhill and Eve carries all through the film highlighted with an elaborate romantic scene on the train to Chicago. 

And there is a scene in the movie that has both Thornhill and Eve look at each other and say "Hello" before they continue their conversation. That beginning of the scene is a total nod to the famous "Hello" scene from the 1957 classic An Affair to Remember, which again has Cary Grant in the lead. 

As always Hitchcock makes his signature cameo appearance in the very beginning of the film where the bus door is slammed on his face while the credits appear.

A classic mystery thriller and adventure film by a master filmmaker with some equally excellent acting skills by the cast, the film still entertains you even after 60 years since it's first release. Smoke and Mirrors effectively used and thoroughly entertained, a must watch if you are a Hitchcock fan. Enjoy!

Spoiler Alerts:

1) Movie Trivia:

a. The movie was adapted to stage by Melbourne Theater Company in 2015by Carolyn Burns.

b. The third episode of Doctor Who, British science fiction television program by BBC since 1963, "The Deadly Assassin" pays a homage to this film.

c. The 1997 Murder She Wrote TV Movie, South by Southwest, emulates the title of this film, and the second half is a direct lift from North by Northwest plot. 

d. Roger Thornhill meets his friends at a club in New York City famously known as 21 Club. It still is located at 21 West 52nd Street, New York City.

e. Thornhill orders a Gibson on the train. I always wondered how does a martini taste with cocktail onions in it. 

f. Hitchcock symbolically shows the title of the movie several times, and thus having fun at it as in-jokes. First time on the newspaper article he has Thornhill's photo right above an article titled "4 Flee Blaze in Northwest, and he adds a story on the west of the photograph about "West will Remain in Berlin". The second time he shows the word "Northwest" in Chicago airport at the Northwest Airlines terminal. The third time on the plane on the tarmac when Professor and Thornhill are walking together, the way the words are placed behind them alludes to the title.

2) Grammatical / Historical / Location / Character Errors:

a. In the beginning of the film, when Thornhill and his secretary are walking out of the office building, studio lights can be seen reflecting on the walls of the lobby.

b. This same silver dressed woman with a deep v neck back passes twice beside Thornhill when he is entering the 21 Club - once in the beginning of the movie, and once when he enters with his mother after the kidnapping scene is finished. 

c. Although the story plot is supposed to be set in summer, the newspaper the professor reads from about the murder of Lester Townsend is dated November 25.

d. If you can see there is a reflection of a crew member in the lower portion of the backs of the actors.

e. In Chicago when Thornhill is captured by cops, the cop who sits to his right forgets to lean as the car takes a simulated turn. We can clearly see Cary Grant giving the actor a push in the arm to do the leaning.

f. When Thornhill writes the message on the matchbook, the number of lines it takes is different between his writing it and when Eve opens it.

g. In the struggle on Mount Rushmore, Eve slips and slides down but tears Thornhill's pant pocket. But in later scenes the pants are intact, there is no tear.


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