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North by Northwest
Year:
1959
Country:
USA
Genre:
Drama, Thriller, Action, Adventure, Mystery, Romance
IMDB rating:
8.4
Director:
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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Reviews
Hitch's best
Hitchcock always called PSYCHO his "fun" picture. It seems to me this film, which is my favorite of his, would fit that term better (though PSYCHO, a great film, may have been more fun for him, because it was probably less of a hassle physically to shoot, and because it appealed to his warped sense of humor), since this basically kids the genre he helped invent, the suspense thriller. The plot, when you think about it, is a remake of his own THE 39 STEPS, and although I'm not a Hitchcock expert, others could probably point out echoes of other of his films in this one. At the same time, it still manages to be quite suspenseful.

Cary Grant was one of Hitchcock's favorite actors, and it's easy to see why; he lends a class and glamour to the film, yet allows himself to be put in all sorts of sticky situations which he is able to escape from, no matter how narrowly. Eve Marie Saint is one of the best leading ladies he ever had, generating not only sex appeal but mystery. Leo G. Carroll is quite good as The Professor, and I wonder if he was an inspiration for George Smiley. Martin Landau is slimy as Leonard. But besides Grant, the best performance here is by James Mason, who avoids going over-the-top to just ooze malice. I especially liked his last line; "Not very sporting, using real bullets." There are so many classic scenes it's hard to list them all, and Bernard Hermann's score is excellent as well.
1999-03-15
A top notch Hitchcock film...score: 9 (out of 10)
I am not much of a Hitchcock guru as some people are mainly because I find most of his films as being the same type of scenario - human chasing something or someone, or human being chased by something or someone. No where is this more evident than in this movie. The film opens when Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) comes out of his Madison Avenue office to attend a social gathering at a local bar. While he is in the bar, two thugs mistake him for a double agent and, of course, he is abducted. He is transferred to the whereabouts of a certain Mr. Lester Townsend (James Mason). I am not going to give out any more details except from there on out, Thornhill winds up being chased and chases the culprits, who want to see his demise, to the final scene at Mount Rushmore. Along the way, he finds time for romance with a certain lady friend (Eva Marie Saint). The best part of the movie happens when Thornhill is pursued through a cornfield by a crop duster - a classic Hitchcock scene.
1998-12-13
"That wasn't very sporting, using real bullets."
Cary Grant handles the twisted expressions of his face, his astonished look, his impulsive smile with professional self-assurance and charm while taking us right in the middle of confusion on a breathless 2000-mile cross-country chase which has its gripping showdown across the giant faces of the presidents sculptured on Mount Rushmore high above Rapid City, South Dakota…

Grant plays Roger Thornhill, a stylish publicist, mistaken for a fictitious Federal agent, plunged into a world of crime and intrigue, hunted down by villains who want to eliminate him because he seems to be on their dishonest dealings…

When questioned by bland Phillip Vandamm (James Mason), Thornhill is unable to convince him that he is a victim of a mistaken identity… His three thugs fill him with bourbon, and place him in a stolen car expecting him to have a drunken accident… After narrowly escaping death, no one believes his story including, obviously, his skeptical mother (Jessie Royce Landis).

In an effort to discover the agent he is being confused with, and using the clues he collected, Thornhill returns to the United Nations Headquarter looking for George Kaplan… There, somebody falls into his arms and unthinkingly, Thornhill draws the blade out of the victim's back and is photographed holding the weapon in mid-air… And thus became a fugitive from justice, pursued by the cops and had to skip by boarding a train to Chicago…

While on the run, he is caught by a provocative platinum blonde (Eva Marie Saint), who comes out as a glamorous woman and a delightful charmer…

James Mason, a polished mastermind spy showed too well to be threatening... His menacing henchman, Martin Landau is also convincingly hurtful...

In his fifth Hitchcock picture, Leo G. Carroll is suave and calm as the devoted intelligence chief…

Directed by a genius behind the camera, "North By Northwest" remains a genuinely exciting film for the dangerous world of spies and counterspies…
2009-01-12
Pleasant and Entertaining
No, they don't make them like this anymore, but fortunately you can still rent a copy or better yet go see it in a theater somewhere. Cary Grant is very good as the baffled ad exec being chased by, and chasing, international spies in a case of mistaken identity. He never loses his cool and manages to shift effortlessly between comic and serious, making it all look easy. Good casting all around except maybe for Jessie Royce Landis who plays Grant's mother - not that she's bad in the role, but she doesn't quite look the part owing, perhaps, to the fact that she was actually younger (by 10 months) than Grant. Movie audiences back then took Grant to be ageless, I suppose, and perhaps he was. James Mason is good as the suave villain.
2004-05-02
Simply Magical Moviemaking
Possibly the greatest ever thriller, NbNW combines terrific acting, dialogue, cinematography, music and storyline. But the real standout is the editing. If there was ever a film that merited the cliché "a nonstop thrill ride", it's this one. The pace never slackens. I particularly like how it cuts straight from the Mt Rushmore face to the train bunkbed. I hate the anticlimactic, overlong, hokey endings of most thrillers. The final scene (scenelet) is very short, romantic dénouement, à la James Bond. How refreshing.

Oh, the champagne dialogue in this movie is simply premier cru, darlings! Eve: "You don't believe in marriage." - Thornhill [indignant]: "But I've been married twice." - Eve: "See what I mean?" Or take this repartee... Vandamm: "Seems to me you fellows could stand a little less training from the FBI, and a little more from the Actors' Studio." - Thornhill: "Apparently, the only performance that'll satisfy you is when I play dead." - Vandamm: "Your very next role. You'll be quite convincing, I assure you."

The dialogue is also very risqué for a 1950s film in places. In the dining car, for example, Thornhill: "The moment I meet an attractive woman, I have to start pretending I have no desire to make love to her." This thinly-veiled propositioning of Eve/Eva for sex, which sounds banal these days, would have been outrageously shocking to its original 50s audience. Likewise, "I'm a big girl." - "Yeah, and in all the right places, too." A cliché now, but imagine its impact then. "I've heard nothing but innuendoes," says Vandamm at one stage. He's right; there are plenty in this movie's verbal and visual imagery.

This dialogue, and the general production design, conspire to create product that, unlike other Hitchcock thrillers like Rear Window and Psycho, doesn't appear dated now. The design is ultramodernist, which is reflected in the architecture of the locations like the NYC UN HQ and the Rushmore lodge.

A convoluted plot is usually the result of bad scripting or an attempt to mask a movie's deficiencies in other areas. As usual, Hitchcock keeps the plot dead simple and doesn't complicate matters by trying to explain. It's just some kind of meaningless Cold War spy thing. This perfectly suffices, for it's quite incidental to the thrilling chase that forms the core of the film. What seem like hokey, incredible contrivances, such as Eve's coming on so strong to Thornhill in the dining car (when we think her unaware that he's not a real murderer) are soon enough fascinatingly demystified. (She's in cahoots with Vandamm, or, as we later find, an undercover agent trying to expose him!)

Fantastic performances from Cary Grant, James Mason, Eva-Marie Saint and a much-underused Martin Landau. If there's one criticism, it's that Cary Grant is preternaturally unflappable as the urban sophisticate plunged into a living nightmare. He always retains his self-assured, even arrogant, panache and never panics. In fact, with that ever-present twinkle in his eye, he seems to be getting perverse enjoyment from his own misfortunes. However, his modulated performance remains just the right side of comicality.

Eva-Marie Saint is camera-loved as the lethal seductress. She seems the perfect Bond girl. Had her star risen a few years later, I'm sure she'd have been captivating Connery. In fact, this movie shows that Hitchcock could have directed James Bond. It's no secret Bond's film incarnation was modelled to some extent on Cary Grant's supersuave persona in this film.

A young-looking Martin Landau is effective as the menacing sidekick, although it's only in the final scene in the Rushmore lodge that he has any quality screen time or lines. James Mason underplays the role of the polished, oleaginous villain perfectly. His very British voice and demeanour conveys menace by suggestion, not overt declaration. He too, like Saint, would have been ideal in a Bond film. He doesn't sound ridiculous mouthing lines like, "A bit naughty, using real bullets!" [my paraphrase]

[Continuity: In the scene in Eve's hotel room, Thornhill calls for the valet to sponge and press his suit. He's told it'll take 20 minutes and a guy comes to collect the suit a minute later. He pretends to take a shower, whilst Eve absconds. Thornhill leaves immediately, and he doesn't return to the hotel. However, in the next scene, we see him wearing the same suit, perfectly sponged and pressed. There's no way he could have returned to the hotel to collect the suit.]
1999-06-05
"The Man Who Sneezed in Lincoln's Nose"
Alfred Hitchcock knew a recipe for a perfect thriller because he had made many but among his films, "North by Northwest" (1959) stands out as a great combination of suspense, sex, and humor. The film is based on a case of mistaken identity that in a course of a few days makes a likable (even if slightly arrogant) Manhattan ad-man Roger O. Thornhill (Cary Grant) the object of a cross country spy hunt. Having no clue what is happening to him, Thornhill will be kidnapped by the spies, brought to an unknown mansion and after the questioning forced to get drunk. He will get arrested for a stealing a car and drunk driving of which he has no recollection. It is just the beginning. Next, he finds himself in the UN building talking to a man who drops dead in the middle of the conversation in front of hundreds of people. The worst part – the man is murdered and Thornhill has the murder weapon, the knife in his hand. Both, the police and the spies are on his trail and his only hope is to escape NYC by train where a very sexy blonde named Eve (Eva Marie Saint) is ready to help him. Their encounter leads to one of the sexiest scenes ever filmed without any sexual act involved.

The film is packed with the witty and funny dialogs and one- liners as well as with artful and imaginative set pieces including Grant running for his life across the prairie from an evil crop-duster and the climatic chase on Mount Rushmore. Hitchcock who always wanted to make a film with two scenes – a chase on the face of a president and the attempt to wake up the Peru Ambassador during the assembly in UN who turned to be dead, had his dreams fulfilled with "North by Northwest" which he suggested should be called "The Man Who Sneezed in Lincoln's Nose". Among many of film's pleasures are Eva Marie Saint as sexy stranger on a train and James Mason and young Martin Landau as a duet of villains with a complicated relationship.
2007-03-07
One of Hitchcock's best
Aside from Psycho I haven't really been a fan of Hitchcock. I sort of enjoyed Rear Window and The 39 Steps but that was almost it.

The main plot is that a man is mistaken for a government agent by foreign agents. he must run across the country to find the real agent and at the same time not get caught. he is also accused for murdering a member of the UN (of whom he mistakes for the person that kidnaps him under the impression he is a government agent).

My only major complaint is that the romance dialogue is heavily dated. What may have come across as romantic then comes across as a little perverted now. Lines like "I'm a big girl now" "yes, in all the right places" does not work for a modern audience in terms of believable romance dialogue.

Aside from that thing in this movie were well done. Unlike The 39 Steps I could connect to the characters (at least well enough for a 2½ hour movie). The acting was good (but nothing outstanding), the writing was good. I would recommend this to people that want to see Hitchcock at his second best.
2013-02-12
Smoke and mirrors, without apologies
The one famous gaffe people point out in this film is when a small boy can be seen plugging his ears just before Eva Marie Saint brings her café conversation with Cary Grant to a sudden end. Another gaffe, just as egregious and apparent but not nearly as commented on, is when Cary and Eva, clutching an incriminating statute, are rock-climbing around a quartet of famous presidential heads until a bad guy suddenly appears and leaps upon him. Whereupon the surprised, backward-falling Cary has the presence of mind to hand the statute to Eva, who takes his from him whilst in mid-scream. Do me a favor and read that last sentence again. What director today would allow such a scene past the editing room?

But it just doesn't matter: IMDB voters at this writing have placed the 44-year-old `North By Northwest' ahead of all but 18 movies ever made, including 14 which have nothing to do with Frodo Baggins or Darth Vader. That's pretty damn impressive. What the hell were they thinking? The only Hitchcock movie they rate higher is "Rear Window;" I can think of at least seven or eight Hitchcocks I'd rank over "North By Northwest." [None of them are "Rear Window."]

The truth is this film is so popular because it is so good. Not great, but very, very good, in a way that anticipates a lot of the direction of mass entertainment to come and thus speaks to people in a way `Vertigo' or `Strangers On A Train' do not. People talk about how forward thinking "Psycho" is, and it is, but more directors took note of the just-as-clever-but-more-mainstream approach of "North By Northwest." The last four decade have been chock full of flicks serving up suspense, sex, changing locales, and plot twists that play with viewers' expectations, all the while keeping the laughs coming. It's not like "North By Northwest" invented this formula, but it perfected and distilled it into an essence that is imitated, with varying success, to this day.

Cary Grant plays slick adman Roger Thornhill, who gets mistaken for a fugitive named Kaplan and finds himself on the run from a slew of bad guys, led by James Mason at his smug and oily peak as Vandamme. Martin Landau makes his first memorable appearance as Mason's nastiest henchman Leonard (1959 was good to him, as "Plan Nine From Outer Space" premiered that year as well), suspicious, ruthless, and probably gay. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but it was 1959 and that was a little daring.

Daring also is Eva Marie Saint's Eve Kendall, a woman who uses sex, as Thornhill puts it, "the way some people use a flyswatter." Her repartee with Thornhill shows just how erotic two people just talking to each other can be. It also provides further evidence Hitchcock's writers didn't go out on many dates. (Kendall: "I'm a big girl." Thornhill: "Yeah, and in all the right places." And she KISSES him for it!)

The film does chug slowly at the outset, building suspense but also bugging you a bit as the plot gears grind while Thornhill is being pushed through his early paces, right until his moment at the UN. About the time we find ourselves with Thornhill in the cornfield, the picture starts to pick up a serious head of steam, and never loses it all the way to the final, famous tunnel shot. Actually, I like the penultimate scene between Grant and Saint, an elegant and witty way of resolving that most tried-and-true device, the cliffhanger.

As with most of Hitchcock's ‘50s fare, elegance is behind much of what makes this movie so great. `North By Northwest' manifests an elegance in dress, decor, language, music, and lighting that represents the best of its era while giving the picture a timeless character all the same. Hitchcock's camera movements are very subtle yet brilliant, as during Mason's entrance and Grant's hide-and-seek game around the train. Everyone has perfect hair, lounges about in gowns and jackets, and you never think it should be otherwise.

Grant isn't my favorite actor, but he's smooth enough for the central role when he's not doing that bad Foster Brooks impression behind the wheel of the car. [I docked the movie one point just for that.] His best scene may be at the auction, though he projects real fear in the cornfield. Saint is simply splendid, nailing every line as she walks a tightrope and plays her character's motives close to her décolletage. Hitchcock seemed to lose his ability to direct female actors, and not merely bask in them, with the advent of color, but Saint is one blonde bombshell that gives us a sense of brains and personality behind her mystery.

There's logic gaps in this movie, and bad process shots, but it's an amazing ride all the same, more amazing because it's done with smoke and mirrors and without apologies. You ask the questions and figure out the loopholes only after you walk away, because the movie doesn't let you up much while you are watching it. Hitchcock made other, more challenging movies that attested to his rare vision as an artist, but this is maybe his purest exercise in the craft of good filmmaking. That's why `North By Northwest' has remained so high in people's estimations. Whatever the errors, it's hard not feeling good about that.
2003-11-10
The Adventures Of Mr. Thornhill
My opinion of this film is mixed. At times the dialogue is clever and amusing. And the final fifteen minutes offer some genuine suspense, together with excellent visual perspective. During this final sequence, the physically risky maneuvers of the main characters, ordinary and vulnerable, contrast thematically with the stone-cold lifelessness of past characters, grand and immortal.

But oh my, the trial of having to sit through two hours getting to that last sequence. Highly contrived, the adventure plot is overblown with sequences that defy logic and scatter the location settings in a near-random manner. As such, the plot seems chaotic, disorganized, and unedited. Major sections could have been excised, or reduced in length. I think the film runs about thirty minutes too long.

Color cinematography is acceptable for the 1950s. Today, the cinematography looks antiquated and clunky, with day-for-night camera filters in outdoor scenes, and lots of rear-screen projections.

As advertising man Roger Thornhill, Cary Grant is clearly miscast, looking way too old for the role. I have no problem with the rest of the casting. And James Mason is always a delight to watch and listen to.

There are some memorable visuals in this film, like the crop-dusting sequence. But overall, "North By Northwest" offers a poor script, until near the end. Hitchcock made some really terrific films in his day. But this is not one of them.
2012-11-02
As Good As It Gets
I must have seen this movie at least 5 times. It is a brilliant drama/thriller and the whole production which includes direction, writing, music, acting, etc., is top quality. By a quirk of fate a businessman is unwittingly dragged into a deadly spy game. A whole series of adventures follow with plenty of twists and turns and surprises along the way. All the characters are charismatic, the villains are suitably bad and the hero suitably brave as well as amusing and flawed. The story is presented in a straight forward interesting way, with no unnecessary sub plots or distractions and a tour de force of a storyline with a super climax. Its over 50 years since the movie was released, and what a pity so many of today's films cannot compare to this one:

10/10
2012-01-07
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