Monday, 1 August 2016
Classic Film: North by Northwest
Pairing the dashing Cary Grant with Alfred Hitchcock for the fourth and final time, North by Northwest remains one of the most exciting and captivating espionage thrillers of all time.
Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) is one of the original Mad Men; he's a slick, big city advertising executive who smokes heavily, drinks even heavier and keeps his numerous women happy through a string of expensive gifts. However, his whole life changes course in an instant when a case of mistaken identity sees Thornhill bundled into the back of a sinister sedan by two goons who believe him to be a man called George Caplan.
From there an increasingly deadly game of cat and mouse gets underway as Thornhill is framed with vehicle theft, drunk driving, and later, murder. Forced to pursue his elusive captors across the country as Caplan, Thornhill soon meets a striking blonde woman, Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint) on the train to Chicago. The two agree to work together on foiling the conspirators - but not everything about Kendall is as simple as it first seems and her involvement might prove to be Thornhill's downfall.
When it comes to crosses and double-crosses, North by Northwest delivers in spades. Constructing the intricate web of guesswork surrounding the conspiracy Thornhill finds himself in is the element that Hitchcock doesn't waste any time with. Across two tense hours, Hitchcock's chase cuts through country houses, cornfields and train carriages, culminating in a exciting chase atop Mount Rushmore. But setting aside the chase and thrilling chopping and changing, you begin to notice just how funny the film is. Hitchcock continues to sharpens his craft as a darkly comedic storyteller in North by Northwest, and a lot of his is down to the wonderful casting of his two leads.
Cary Grant is at his best here, cutting a sharp shape as the suave ad exec swept up in a whirlwind of paranoia. However, it's his dry delivery and wry wit that shine brightest in North by Northwest; the Brit wraps his mouth around some wonderful dialogue, particularly when he first meets Kendall aboard the 20th Century Limited train. It's a scene that is achingly funny and sexy as the two trade barbs across dinner; it's a scene that no doubt went on to inspire a similar set-up in the equally suave Casino Royale (2006). Saint is fantastic as Kendall too, the femme fatale role a change of pace following her Academy Award winning performance in On the Waterfront a few years previously.
By the time he set to work on North by Northwest, Hitchcock had perfected the wronged-man-on-the run plotline he’d previously wrangled with on The Lady Vanishes, Saboteur and The 39 Steps. The scope of this film is vast by comparison to some of his earlier works, infusing the sprawling American MidWest backdrop of Illinois and South Dakota with a sinister Cold War edge that almost feels like it's adapted from an Ian Fleming novel at times. Grant certainly makes a compelling case for a man who would be Bond with Marie Saint alongside as the drop-dead gorgeous girl on his arm.
North by Northwest is a really exceptional film, one of Hitchcock's finest; in fact, it might just be my favourite Hitchcock movie of the lot! Granted, the number of his films that I've dipped into during my time isn't that extensive, but of the select few I've seen, this is the one that has gripped me the most and held my interest the firmest throughout. Eve Kendall is easily my favourite of Hitchcock's lead female characters, her beautiful yet deadly femme fatale instantly adding an extra element of sexiness and danger to Thornhill's game of cat and mouse.
If you haven't already seen it or are a returning fan, make sure you check it out this weekend when it's projected onto the big screen at Windsor Cinemas - the craftsmanship remains as impressive and entertaining as ever, from the famous swooping cropduster scene to the more intimate and romantic liaisons between the enchanting lead duo.
North by Northwest is screening at Windsor Cinemas on Saturday August 6 as part of the Alfred Hitchcock Film Festival.