North by Northwest
Drama, Thriller, Action, Adventure, Mystery, Romance
IMDB rating:
Alfred Hitchcock
Cary Grant as Roger O. Thornhill
Eva Marie Saint as Eve Kendall
James Mason as Phillip Vandamm
Jessie Royce Landis as Clara Thornhill
Leo G. Carroll as The Professor
Josephine Hutchinson as Mrs. Townsend
Philip Ober as Lester Townsend
Martin Landau as Leonard
Adam Williams as Valerian
Edward Platt as Victor Larrabee
Les Tremayne as Auctioneer
Philip Coolidge as Dr. Cross
Patrick McVey as Sergeant Flamm - Chicago Policeman
Storyline: Madison Avenue advertising man Roger Thornhill finds himself thrust into the world of spies when he is mistaken for a man by the name of George Kaplan. Foreign spy Philip Vandamm and his henchman Leonard try to eliminate him but when Thornhill tries to make sense of the case, he is framed for murder. Now on the run from the police, he manages to board the 20th Century Limited bound for Chicago where he meets a beautiful blond, Eve Kendall, who helps him to evade the authorities. His world is turned upside down yet again when he learns that Eve isn't the innocent bystander he thought she was. Not all is as it seems however, leading to a dramatic rescue and escape at the top of Mt. Rushmore.
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Grant + Hitchcock = Fun
Cary Grant never ceases to amaze me. Though I haven't seen a whole list of his movies (Only two: This and Charade), his wit and cool demeanor makes me realize that if I was a movie go-er in his time I'd pick him as the person I'd want to be like when I grew up. The movie's only downfall was that it seemed kind of on the long side, and once or twice I caught myself closing my eyes about 15 minutes from the end, but Grant's ability to keep me interested in this movie surpasses the idea that this was even a Hitchcock film. By the middle I'd completely forgotten, because the style seemed so different from all of Hitchcock's previous films I've seen (Psycho, Rope, Vertigo, et-al), and I was happy with the end result. A must see for fans of Bond movies, because this is the completely implausible way of telling the same kind of story.
Sexy Hitchcock thriller (spoilers throughout)
There are no two ways about it, North by Northwest is a sexy film. Just take the exchanges on the train or the film's final image or even the homoerotic banter between James Mason and Martin Landau. The whole film reeks of sex.

It's quite fun watching the film back and noticing all the subtle, and not too subtle, allusions to horizontal activity. The most explicit is the conversation between Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint. The flirty banter is superb, as is the scene that follows it. For all intents and purposes it's a sex scene, but because Hitchcock wasn't able to get away with that at that time he had to be creative, and as a result the scene is perhaps even sexier. But perhaps flying slightly under the radar is the relationship between James Mason and Martin Landau. Sure, years later, plenty of film academics have pointed out the homoeroticism that is present, but it's fun to ponder whether the original audiences picked up on it. I mean, just listen to some of the dialogue: 'call it my woman's intuition if you will.' 'Why Leonard, I do believe you're jealous! I'm actually very flattered!' And then there's the fight they have. It's like a sex scene. There are two close ups, the money shot and then one slumps down into an armchair and the other stands there, grimacing in pain and relief. But if you want to analyse it in even more depth, there's the fact that the argument starts with a gun. Only its Eve's gun and it fires blanks. The emptiness of heterosexuality, perhaps? Probably not, but like I said, it's fun to theorise. Oh, and while I'm on this train of thought, James Mason says 'Gay surroundings' with a distinct emphasis. I wonder if he's trying to tell us something?

There's also a Freudian kink to the relationship between Thornhill and his mother. She looks the same age as him and they act like a married couple. In fact, at the start of the film, is seems as if Roger can't do anything without her. She's the one he phones when he gets arrested and she's the one that he takes on his early adventures. She's only ditched when he comes across a better prospect - Eve Kendall.

But that reminds me of one of my favourite scenes. I love Cary Grant's drunk performance in the police station. It's bloody hilarious. I love the drunken conversation with his mother ('No, they didn't give me a chaser') and the drunken conversation with the doctor ('How much did you drink?' 'This much,' Grant replies with his arms stretched wide apart). Grant's comic acting is impeccable.

Another favourite comic scene is the auction scene. Again Grant's acting is magnificent. The way that he antagonises the auctioneer is superb and the fight is hilarious. And I also love the scene where Thornhill returns to the house. No one can do dignified bemusement quite like Cary Grant.

Less convincing, however, in my opinion, is James Mason. He's certainly got the urbane charm that the character of Vandamm demands but I just don't find him threatening enough. In many ways he's quite a forgettable Hitchcock villain. The only thing that makes him memorable to me is his relationship with Martin Landau.

I also find the final action scene a bit disappointing. I don't think that it quite has enough energy. Plus Mason seems nonplussed at having been caught. Yes that's his character – always cool and in control – but it does deny the audience the satisfaction of his capture. However, the film redeems itself with its final image. I can imagine Hitchcock chuckling to himself having got away with it.

But while I'm coming up with criticisms, I also have to say that the film is a little light. Certainly it's a very amusing film with some terrific dialogue, but it doesn't live as long in the memory as, say, Vertigo, Psycho, Rear Window or even The Birds. And the story, when you sit down and think about it, is completely forgettable. You remember the great scenes and the great moments, but only lip service is paid to the Cold War and the business about the microfilm. It's entirely superfluous.

However, it's easy to ignore the more forgettable elements when there is so much worth remembering. Just take the crop dusting scene, the UN murder, every moment on the train, the terrific musical score and the fantastic dialogue. It's not quite a feast but it's a damn good snack.
North by Northwest proves that great art can also be entertaining.
Alfred Hitchcock made this film at the height of his genius and also at the height of his popularity, when his television show gave him the kind of exposure and face recognition usually reserved for only the biggest stars. Hitch always maintained that great films should also entertain, North by Northwest being presented here as our star witness to prove his assertion to be correct.

Cary Grant plays Roger O. Thornhill as the slick Madison Avenue advertising man who is mistaken to be George Kaplin, a spy hot on the trail of Phillip Vandamm, played masterfully by James Mason. All we really know about Thornhill is the statement he makes to Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint) on the train from New York to Chicago that he has a mother, several bartenders and two ex-wives dependant upon him for support. The "O" used to initial his middle name stands for "nothing" and his initials, R.O.T., sum up his life. These details are revealing and the scene is beautifully crafted, showing us the apparent emptiness of his life prior to this adventure. Ernst Lehman's script is loaded with these types of gems throughout the picture.

If you're really not into excellent dialogue and clever acting and prefer that the story get on with it, this also is the movie for you, as it has two of the most memorable action sequences in the history of motion pictures. Of course I'm referring to the crop dusting sequence and the finale on top of Mount Rushmore. Those are enough to put this movie near the top of anyone's must see list.

Kudos are also due to Leo G. Carroll in one of his best character roles as The Professor, who's humble appearance belies the fact that he is the one who is responsible for manipulating much of the action behind the scenes. A young Martin Landau, as Leonard, Vandamm's "right arm", shows us in the few scenes that he's in what a capable actor he was. The music by the great Bernard Herrmann is one of the classic pieces that made him famous, starting from the clever opening title sequence to it's conclusion.

If we view this movie in its historical context of 1959, we see that it was made in the middle of the Cold War, and much of the suspense is reliant upon the audience's reality of living with the knowledge that everything could end with the press of a button (I know this is too simplistic, but many people's perception at this point in history was just that). The Professor, Vandamm, Ms. Kendall, Leonard and others are Cold Warriors, and it is Thornhill's misfortune to become swept up in it's intrigues, but our very great fortune to be able to get swept up with him and let Hitcock, the "Master of Suspense", be our guide in one of his masterworks.
One of Hitch's better flicks
Somewhat overblown suspense thriller has exciting plot twists and Cary Grant's unique screen presence to recommend it. Well directed, tells the story of an advertising man mistaken for a decoy created by the CIA, who is hunted across the nation and ends up falling for the CIA's undercover agent -- Marie-Saint. The "Open paranoia" scene in the cropdusting field is a great sequence. Here Hitchcock succeeds often in not being obvious, remaining playful, and pleasing the audience a lot.

I must respond to the comments I read on here by user "tedg" -- I did not find them illuminating. On the contrary, they seem to be the products of a confused mind, and someone who has not paid much attention to what he's saying before putting it in print. First of all, as to his complaint about the quality of the sets, they are not as he claims "junk" but actually well-made sets. I'd like to see him, or anybody, given a lot of money create a duplication of the monument in question that would look better -- it just can't be done, because the monument itself is made of stone and took decades and millions of dollars to make.

Also, "tedg" comments on the character played by Marie-Saint (hardly my favorite actress) -- he notes that she plays a "prostitute" who is turned patriotic, but he doesn't seem to have been paying enough attention to the film to notice that in the end it is revealed that she is an undercover CIA agent, and not a prostitute at all.

Users like this should definately not turn off their vcrs before the end of a movie if they're going to try to post thoughtful comments on it.
Hitchcock's "blue" movie
Picasso had his "blue" period, and blue figured prominently in some of Elvis Presley's recordings ("Blue Moon," "Blue Moon of Kentucky," "A Mess of Blues," "Moody Blue," and so on). But I don't recall hearing much about Alfred Hitchcock's blue period. Yet, the great director's "North by Northwest" is awash in that color, so much so that it must have been a deliberate, and, therefore, significant move.

Blue, and a rather unattractive pale shade of it at that, is everywhere in "North by Northwest," so damn prominent that I found myself annoyed when watching what was once one of my favorite films on video. Yes, there was so much blue that "North by Northwest" may not be one of my favorite films for long. Blue, especially that pale shade, is not my favorite color. But there's Cary Grant in a pale blue suit; the interior of the train he boards when fleeing the police is blue; the sky, of course, is blue; and, well, there just seems to be blue--that sickening pale blue--everywhere. What was Hitchcock thinking? The master of suspense was famous for planning his films down to the smallest detail, so unless I saw a bad video transfer, he must have had a reason for emphasizing that color.

Well, "North by Northwest" is still one of Hitchcock's greatest films, although what stands out after repeated viewings is not that crop duster scene, or the escape from enemy agents across the faces of Mount Rushmore, or the naughty image at the conclusion, but the music: Bernard Herrmann's score is one of the composer's most thrilling and unforgettable works.

I must say that after my most recent encounter with the blue hues of "North by Northwest," I appreciate all the more the fact that Hitchcock made his next film ("Psycho," of course) in black-and-white.
duplicity as a game...
Why can't we do that kind of movie anymore? ... a lot of tension, many humor, a little violence and great but simple story, a recipe we seem to have lost!

There is a lot of Vertigo tension and some idea of the futur humoristic ton he will use in Marnie, but there is especially one great couple of actors. One of the best acting part for Cary Grant and the villain played by James Manson is actually a nicer guy than the introducing Thornhill. There both majestic and the little blond in the middle is both a woman and a girl, adjusting the tone perfectly. The characters are full of surprises and mysteries, they all played some double game a game for freedom!

The idea is basic -some twisted identities- but the shots and the tense music are still amazing! You can recognize Hithcock work everywhere: he spends as much work on the form and the background of his movie and this is a true lesson of Cinema.

We still enjoy his movies at this point and this is quite a collection of master pieces!
Hitchcock keeps popping out the classics...
When you thought that he's all out of ideas and last minute rescues, Hitchcock comes back with more eye candy and great action. North by Northwest is sometimes called Hitchcock's last great film. Carey Grant and Eva Marie Saint have very good chemistry and the inclusion of not one, not two, not three, but severa plot twists makes this film one of Hitchcock's best.

One thing not focused on in this film is the use of camera angles. When Roger is taken to make the telegram, the camera slides from a foreground view of Roger's lunch buddies, to the two standing men in a background view. Also, when Roger awaits George Kaplan in the field, there is a great establishing shot of Roger where there is total silence and calm until the eerie plane is spotted. One last camera technique that Hitchcock perfected was when, in the final moments of the Mount Rushmore chase, Roger Thornhill and Eve Kendall were saved by the sniper. The body of the person shot was shown and then a tilt up to the sniper showed the detectives. Little snipets like these were just a few things Hitchcock did well.

Overall, this movie was one of the best I've seen ever. For a 1950s movie, it is ahead of it's time and paved the way for future films to imitate many of the innovations that the flick brought to the screen. Go out and see this movie!
The Best of the Guilty Pleasures
Although I don't think this is Hitch's best film (IMHO that's "Rear Window"), it's my favorite, partly because it features the Century Limited (which also has a featured role in "The Sting") and partly because the cast is so deep -- besides the top drawer stars (Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason, and Martin Landau) it has great supporting character actors -- Leo G. Carroll, Jessie Royce Landis, Philip Ober, Edward Platt, Ed Binns, Les Tremayne, and the uncredited Malcolm Atterbury.

The plot's merely a device to put together a string of unlikely set pieces involving Roger O. Thornhill (Grant), an advertising exec who is mistaken for a secret agent by two thugs, and taken off to meet the evil Jonathan Van Damme (Mason) masquerading as a UN Diplomat. The purpose of the charade is never explained; nor are Van Damme's contrived methods of offing Thornhill, none of which is successful. In a series of unlikely coincidences, Thornhill finds himself wanted for murder and fleeing from the police on the Century Limited, the train from New York to Chicago that saw thousands of passengers a day in its prime. Thornhill meets and seduces a beautiful young blonde on the train, who remarkably agrees to hide him from the authorities; mirabile dictu, she's Van Damme's girlfriend. But we don't care about the improbably confluence of events that drive the picture to its remarkable conclusion in South Dakota.

The first among many excellent off-screen contributions is the Bernard Hermann soundtrack, whose frequent hemiolas paint an aural picture of the jagged angles suggested by the title and the opening credits set against the facade of the UN building.

I agree with the many reviewers who put this movie at the top of their lists, and pity those who can't see the humor or suspense in this Hitch classic. One suggestion -- see this on the big screen, if you can. Just for an example, the crop dusting scene is suspenseful enough on DVD; the last time I watched it in a theater, people were ducking in their seats to get away from the plane.
Hitchcock once again
Cary Grant was certainly an excellent actor, he was able to lead some thrillers without loosing his acting humor, and "North by Northwest" is an example. Interesting that the film starts with the presence of the director Hitchcock in its first scene. Then Cary Grant became for unknown reasons a man (spy) called Kaplan, he was kidnapped at the restaurant and brought to a big house where the punishment was to get him drunk with whiskey and then left driving a car in the evening. I have no intention to give the whole story of the plot, but you may guess that after these first scenes the rest was very much complicated and if you leave the screen you risk to loose the coherence of the film and not to understand all tricky reasons given by Hitchcock. Grant had a good partner in then beautiful Eva Marie Saint, and to a lesser extent from experienced James Mason. If you wish to see an interesting film, I advise you to see this one, another Hitchcock's jewel.
Wonderful comedy thriller, not Hitchcock's best but his most sheerly enjoyable
North By Northwest is not an artistic masterpiece like Rear Window and Vertigo, but it is probably the most purely entertaining picture Hitchcock ever made. It's essentially a rehash of many of his earlier films, with a plot partially derived from The Thirty Nine Steps and the very similar Saboteur, while there are borrowings from Foreign Correspondent and Notorious, among others. However, it is all done with such style and confidence that it doesn't matter if it's essentially just a greatest hits package.

Very few other films of this kind attain the near perfect tone of this one, precariously balanced between seriousness and silliness. Sometimes this film manages the very difficult trick of being both suspenseful and comical at the same time, as in the auction house scene, or the wonderful scene in the lift when the hero's mother turns to two heavies in a lift looking menacingly at the hero and says "you gentlemen are not REALLY trying to kill my son, are you?".

Of course the famous crop dusting plane scene and the Mount Rushmore chase are terrific. The former is really more notable for the amount of time taken to build up to the action than the action itself, while the technical work on the latter still looks pretty good. In a totally different vein is the astonishingly frank seduction sequence on the train. Hitchcock takes his time here as with many of the other scenes, but the film is so crammed with memorable passages that one hardly notices it's 136 mins long.

Ernest Lehman's script is full of wonderful lines, many of them delivered so well by chief villain James Mason that at times we almost want to root for him. "Has any one ever told you tend to overplay your various roles Mr seems to me you fellows could stand a little less training from the FBI and a little more from the Actor's Studio". Cary Grant is so smooth one almost forgets he's over 50, and of course there's also Bernard Herrmann's vibrant score.

Endlessly enjoyable even with repeated viewings. How many of today's thrillers will be such fun in 25 years time?
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