North By Northwest (1959)

Synopsis: A hapless New York advertising executive is mistaken for a government agent by a group of foreign spies, and is pursued across the country while he looks for a way to survive.

For more info and to watch the trailer, click here:

Who chose it: Leah

Why I chose it: I love Alfred Hitchcock movies and I knew this was one of his most highly-rated films. Plus you can’t go wrong with Cary Grant.

Brent’s Review:

Hitchcock’s “North By Northwest” is a masterclass in visual storytelling, suspenseful pacing, and classic cinema in its purest form. I wonder: did Hitchcock know he was making a classic when he helmed this picture or did it come to him later — or did that thought ever sink in? This matters little here nor there, for I have but 500 words to spare to discuss a film for which words do little justice. Nevertheless, I shall attempt it.

“North By Northwest” is a thriller about an ad executive (Cary Grant) who is mistaken for a spy who has information about the business dealings of a collector named Vandamm (James Mason). As in all Hitchcockian thrillers, not all is as it seems. The plot unfolds rapidly, hurrying us along from set piece to set piece, including pit stops at the United Nations building and Mt. Rushmore.

The film’s plot is simple in its conclusion, but Hitchcock obscures the road with enough twists and turns to keep us guessing from start to finish. For instance, the narrative is littered with double crosses, triple crosses, and — why not — even a quadruple cross (if such a thing exists)! Ernest Lehman’s script is brilliant in its simplicity, but laudable in its ability to clearly tell a story that could have easily run off the rails in a heartbeat.

I believe this clarity is heavily influenced by Hitchcock’s emphasis on visual storytelling. Oh, how I long for the days when big film releases focused on the craft of storytelling more than box office receipts. Each shot is crafted and framed precisely. The audience can see that as much care was put into crafting the iconic airplane-in-a-cornfield scene as in the lunch Grant eats on the train while talking with Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint). Visual storytelling isn’t just about the impressive set pieces; it’s about the strength of the entire package.

A spy thriller is, however, carried only by the strength of its protagonist. Cary Grant gives an excellent performance that is both likable and compelling. Despite what I’ve said about the strength of the the set pieces, the direction, the pacing, or the editing, the actors really pull this material together. I think this really speaks to the collaborative nature of filmmaking. Here we have one of the most gifted filmmakers of his era — Alfred Hitchcock — finds himself bound to a script that really can only be held together by strong performers.

How much can we invest ourselves in the plot if the actors don’t make us care about them? In the case of “North By Northwest”, how much do I really care that an airplane is trying to run down a man in a cornfield if I don’t much care about the man or why he’s there?

The truth is that films like this are still being made today — good ones, too — but “North By Northwest” reveals a truth that surpasses even that: you can’t beat the master at his own game.

Leah’s Review:

It’s a classic spy movie with a Hitchcock twist. It features subtle but brilliant humor, a gripping score, fast-paced and sexy (for it’s time) dialogue, and a plot that will keep you guessing all the way to it’s last scenes. “North By Northwest” is less the thriller/horror type-film that we are used to seeing from Alfred Hitchcock- tending more towards stylish and sleek. The cinematography, the quick-moving story and script, and of course the impeccable acting of Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint make this film a masterpiece like only Hitchcock could create.

“North by Northwest” is my fourth Hitchcock film experience- and he always manages to surprise me. Here, there is no feeling of impending doom like we get in “Psycho”, “Rear Window”, or “The Birds”. It is suspenseful, to be sure. But the ever-changing turn of events makes this less of a drawn-out experience and keeps the viewer on their toes. I even knew one of the major plot twists going into watching this- but soon discovered that there was much more to be revealed! It’s an incredibly fun to watch film purely due to its brilliance and holds up to any of today’s action thrillers.

Perhaps one of the most underrated elements of this film is its score. Right from the start, the music draws you in- letting you know up front that this movie is going to be full of excitement and drama. In scenes such as the car chase- a scene that could easily be laughable because of how seemingly ridiculous it is- the music creates a nerve-wracking and exciting atmosphere and I found myself holding my breath until the scene’s resolve.

The strength of “North by Northwest” lies not only in it’s spectacular plot, but with its two lead characters. Cary Grant is perfect (as always) in his role as the unsuspecting and hapless Roger Thornhill, and Eva Marie Saint (who I had never had the pleasure of watching in a movie before) puts on a stunning performance of the smooth and secretive Eve Kendall. The two actors have an incredible chemistry. The dialogue they share is quick, witty, and pretty risque for the 1950’s (the scenes from the train are a prime example). I also really appreciate how strong Saint’s character is. She is not a piece of eye-candy and holds her own against Grant’s equally strong character – and, as you’ll discover while watching the film, she plays a crucial role to the plot. (What that role is- you’ll just have to watch for yourself and find out.)

“North by Northwest” is a film that takes the viewer many places without having to leave the comfort of their home. Alfred Hitchcock was truly a master of film- I’m not sure that any modern director can comparatively draw you into their cinematic world and get you to leave reality behind.. I really can’t say anything bad about this movie. It’s entertaining. It’s well-told. It’s suspenseful. It’s wickedly funny. It’s captivating. It’s Hitchcock.

Up next: Next up we will be checking out a film that won Best Picture at the 1980 Academy Awards — “Kramer vs. Kramer”

Peace out, kids.



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