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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
Classic Hitch.
A classic film of a classic 'Hitchcockian' case of mistaken identity, this is essentially a remake of THE 39 STEPS - but considerably expanded to make use of glorious technicolour and to emphasize the paranoia that can develop from a man feeling pushed to his very limit by events and circumstances maliciously controlled by others. As usual, Hitch has a cameo in his own film: #Man Missing Departing Bus, at the very beginning!

Overgrown mummy's boy but successful advertizing executive Roger O. Thornhill (Cary Grant) is mistaken for 'George Kaplan,' a CIA-created 'legend' (the intelligence community's jargon for the name and biography invented to hide operatives' real identities) designed to decoy Van Dam (James Mason), agent provocateur of an unspecified foreign power, away from their genuine agent's activities. To prove his innocence, Fairburn must be 'Kaplan' so as to draw Van Dam and his men out and expose them. Nevertheless, 'the memorable scenes' are indeed memorable: the cropduster and the dénoument dangling off Mount Rushmore.

Glamour is provided by the very fine Eve Marie-Saint, who demonstrates that 'they just don't make 'em like they used to' ... women simply do not have that glamorous mystique anymore (nor do cameramen have soft-focus lenses, apparently); nowadays, what you see is what you get: very little subtlety, but a lot of bare flesh and squelchy kissing. Come on, film-makers, do leave us something to the imagination - that's what the nickelodeon chaps made films to be all about, remember!

I first saw this film when I was 13, in a hotel in St. Dogmaels in Wales. A boy & girl combo came into the TV room and the film managed to desist their squelchy kissing. An elderly couple entered during the ad-break and the chap rather pompously asked if we could switch over for The News. The rest of us thereupon trooped down to the cellar-room, where, unheated (this was still Britain in the 1970s), the remainder of the film was viewed and thoroughly enjoyed. In fact, the cold probably added to the film's atmosphere ...

Stalwart and calm Leo G. Carroll, the 'professor,' played this same sort of rôle again the followed decade, as 'General Waverley,' stalwart and calm commander of the United Network for Communications & Law Enforcement - "When one has manners, one need never apologize ..." Quite so!
2003-02-16
Please excuse me while I commit cinematic sacrilege
As it is clearly demonstrated even in this forum, many, many people love this movie. I just finished viewing it myself for the first time, and frankly, I can't say that I agree. Am I nuts? Maybe. All I know is I'd like to put my two cents in, for what it's worth.

For an espionage tale like this, I would have preferred an approach more based on grim realism. Instead, the narrative seemed a bit too convenient and contrived, as if Old Hitch was trying to make the ends meet at the last minute. Somehow, I never felt the `taut' tension of his other films that I've immensely enjoyed (Dial M for Murder, Rear Window, Psycho, The Wrong Man, Vertigo, to name but a few). It certainly doesn't help that the film contains too many scenes that verge on the `fantastical' level. For example, there's a scene in which a gun goes off in the living room of a house. Eva Marie Saint comes out of her room and asks, `What was that noise,' to which James Mason replies, `We were just wondering about that.' Martin Landau just gives a little shrug and all is forgotten. I mean, come on! I'd say it's pretty hard to mistake a gunshot for, say, somebody dropping a glass on the floor. As I mentioned, there are many more scenes like this during the course of the movie, and every single one of them acts as a ‘decelerator' of the narrative. Also, the overall performance of the cast struck me as rather underwhelming, especially when we're talking about some of the finest actors ever to grace the silver screen. James Mason, in particular, sleepwalks his way through, though I can't blame him, given the fact that his character was so painfully underwritten. The bit when Cary Grant acts like he's drunk was pretty difficult to sit through. Humor is fine when it works on, again, a believable level.

I like the idea of having a normal Joe get tangled up in a case of mistaken identity/international espionage. Also, it does feature some memorable scenes, especially the famous crop field/airplane sequence (it really does deserve all the praise it has received) But again, it just proves to me that even a seemingly sure-fire combo like Ernest Lehman-Alfred Hitchcock can still come up short on the goods.

The second 007 adventure, `From Russia with Love', received some hounding because people thought it was basically a rip-off of this movie (there are some obvious similarities), but in this madman's humble opinion, `From Russia with Love' is the one that achieves a better telling of a spy story.
2001-06-06
Fun thriller done with aplomb
I went to see this movie with expectations. After all it's bouncing around (currently) at #20 in the IMDB website. Surely that says a lot? Well, yes it does and I did enjoy this piece (although not to a #20 extent).

Plot? As usual with Hitchcock we have our bit of intrigue and shenanigans. Cary Grant is Roger Thornhill who is, alas for him, mistaken for a spy (when in fact he's a businessman). He starts having to run across America for his life, aided only by one Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint) in an effort to understand what's happening to him, who is pursuing him, and why…

There's a certain taciturn nature to the performances in these pieces. It obviously reflects the mood of the day, and the reserved-ness of the people, but at times it seems to lend a `stiff' nature to what we see, when compared against the more fluid acting we see today (among those actors capable of actually acting). Still Cary Grant and Saint are perfectly good here and are able to show chemistry that doesn't need to have bodies mauling one another – their conversations can be particularly suggestive and they play off one another well. The rest of the cast, villains and whatnot, all hold to form well and are convincing in their roles (never falling to one-dimensions).

The story is good. It's probably why the script got nominated for an Oscar. Just when you think you've got it all figured out, something shifts and you're forced to think again. My only complaint is that a major plot element of what's going on is revealed to the audience far in advance of Grant's own character. This spoils a fair bit of the tension, and I can but imagine that it was added solely as a concession to producers fearful of alienating audiences. Still there's enough action in here and good lines that this detractor does not spoil the movie itself.

The direction is, again with Hitchcock, good. We get to see `tunnel vision' here (done well), and play the usual game of `spot-the-Hitchcock-cameo'. I also got to admire Hitchcock's other abilities – such as some great shots, which perfectly framed the moment, in particular his incorporation of the background into the moment. In fact there's no real complaints with his work here, and Hitchcock shows how he's able to achieve a good balance of intrigue, action, and romance without compromising the movie's integrity.

And yet, for all this, I was left somewhat disappointed by `North by Northwest'. Perhaps I had too lofty of aspirations for it. Perhaps I missed something. I enjoyed it, it was good, but the tidied ending of it, plus a few other glitches, made me feel ultimately not entirely moved by the experience. To me `Vertigo' is a much stronger piece of work. To this end I award the movie a 7.8/10…
2002-08-23
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
What an Action Thriller Should Be.
VERTIGO did nothing to advance Hitchcock's career in 1957 when he released it, and it's actually not a shame: the following year he decided to go completely against the slow-moving erotic thriller genre and do something shamelessly commercial, escapist and single-handedly create the spy movie. Ian Fleming, author of the James Bond novels, states he based his character on the physical characteristics and the suave personality of Cary Grant, as an added note. This could well amount to be the first James Bond film -- a dangerous villain complete with a sidekick, an alluring woman with a dubious nature and an enigmatic "boss," a dashing hero, lush locales setting the scene for powerful chases and escalating danger.

NORTH BY NORTHWEST has one crucial difference to any James Bond film, though: Alfred Hitchcock. While the Bond films have been seen as quintessential action fluff (although fluff of the better kind until the franchise ran out of gas in the 80s), Hitchcock, always the master of subtext as well as suspense, creates memorable scenes that balance sexual tension, sexual innuendo, comedy, and mounting suspense seamlessly. There is never the feeling of being bored as there is too much going on, especially with the sizzling chemistry of Eva Marie Saint and Cary Grant, by now a Hitchcock veteran. When they're on screen, dialog crackles and so much more is said with so little gesture -- she closes the lid on her Ice Goddess role, but gives it a nice, cheeky, knowing wink. He of course evolves from the sort of man who while looking and being slightly clumsy and under his mother's thumb -- once it becomes clear he's been marked and is a target for a sinister plot that only later becomes clear -- becomes more assertive in taking matters into his own hands. A quintessential Hitchcock Everyman, Grant has his stamp all over his role. No one can imagine anyone else running away from that crop duster in one of the movies many standout sequences, or saying the reassuring last words to Eva Marie Saint as they cuddle together in the train. When one thinks of NORTH BY NORTHWEST, one thinks Cary Grant.

Easily one of Hitchcock's best films, made while he was at the peak of his career in the bracket formed with THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH and MARNIE. Great supporting performances are all over the map, from Jesse Royce Landis as Grant's mother, James Mason as Phillip Vandamm, Martin Landau as Vandamm's protégée who might be a little more than that, and Leo G Carroll as The Professor. Doreen Lang appears early in the movie as Grant's secretary; she would of course be remembered as the woman who shrieks at Tippi Hedren in THE BIRDS and gets slapped by her as the camera holds itself tight on her face.
2005-04-11
The tale of an amnesic James Bond ... or put in other words, the consummate Hitchcock's film ...
For many years, I regarded "North by Northwest" as a chaotic assemblage of action-thriller vignettes for the sake of an unsubstantial plot, using the casting of an aging Cary Grant as a sorry excuse to grab more fans, definitely not worthy of its reputation. After a second viewing, I concede I didn't have the right mindset to appreciate the hidden brilliance of "North by Northwest".

Let's start with the plot: Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) is an advertising executive, mistaken for George Kaplan, a secret agent, in reality, only a decoy to distract the villainous mastermind Vandamm (James Mason) from the real agent who happens to be his mistress Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint). Yet for the two thirds of the film, neither Grant nor the viewers are aware of these subtleties. For all we know, Grant is the "wrong man" whose attempts to prove his innocence worsens his case even more, from driving a car over a cliff after being severely imbibed and pulling a knife out of the back of a UN diplomat who's just dropped in his arms, Thornhill is the constant victim of the most unfortunate circumstances.

Alfred Hitchcock directs the film as if understanding the plot was not a priority, he knows the mystery effectively conveys the nightmarish karma of Thornhill, the pawn of a game with unknown rules. For all we know, it's the Cold War and he's torn between two kind of secret agents, the good and the bad ones, Hitchcock doesn't embarrass himself with more details and uses the actors like living props to put in the most extreme and spectacular situations. When Thornhill confronts Vandamm, he pretends not to be 'George Kaplan', to which Vandamm, with Mason's deep and mellowest voice, answers "Games? Must we?". Thornhill is victim of the innocent-man syndrome, using the same rhetoric than a guilty one, inevitably preventing Vandamm to say more. Thornhill can't talk because he doesn't know, Vandamm can't because he doesn't believe Thornhill, at the end, it's only Hitch effectively keeping his little secret.

But this secrecy is not gratuitous either, it effectively induces the paranoid feeling of the story, tapping on one of fear's most effective forms: the fear of the unknown, reaching its thrilling paroxysm in a scene set in the middle of nowhere. For eight minutes, nothing happens, Thornhill is just waiting, for whom, for what? We don't know, and we wait. The suspense is carried by our own interrogations, until a crop-duster comes, not with the friendliest intentions, contributing to the most defining moment of the film. The nightmare goes on and gets so intense that Thornhill would rather get himself arrested by the police. He doesn't know what he's escaping from, but he knows enough about his enemies. Yet the unknown can also come in the form of a beautiful creature like Eve Kendall (Eva Maria Saint) popping out in the middle of the chase and hiding Thornhill, in her bedroom after a dinner with enough sexual innuendo to make good old Grant lower his guard.

But if one can't face the unknown, he can leave it nonetheless. And ironically, Thornhill is given a chance to leave until he's told by one of the 'good' agents, played by Leo G. Carroll, that he endangered Eve's life. Thornhill finally detaches from his passive status by becoming a player and making his own rules. The key is not to 'find the truth', at that point, we know everything, but the point is to stop being Hitch's puppet and finally act like a hero , for a last thrilling confrontation … and to get the girl in the process. No room for subtlety, this is not "Vertigo" or "Rear Window", this is pure hormonal Hitchcock. And Cary Grant is never more at ease and charismatic as during the last sequence, accomplishing the only act that could conceal the paranoia he endured for days, he doesn't escape from the enemy, he goes to it, his direction changed and so did Hithcock's.

In a nutshell, I would say "North by Northwest" is like the tale of an amnesic James Bond. And Hithcocks anticipated all the ingredients that would build the secret agent's legend : the henchmen with killing methods as sophisticated and elaborate as they're ineffective, escapist settings, car chases, a suave and distinguished villain, a sensual lady and naturally the ultimate climax in Mt. Rushmore, the very sequence that catalyzed Hitchcock's desire to make the film. Ernest Lehman, who wrote the screenplay, intended to make the "Hitchcock picture that would end all the Hitchcock pictures." (and unintentionally pave the way for James Bonds' flicks) "North by Northwest" reassembles every Hitchcockian ingredient: the blond, the mistaken identity, the villain, the paranoia induced by the enemy's invisibility, the claustrophobia, even Martin Landau as Leonard is not your typical one-dimensional hit-man and has a sort of "Rope" vibe behind his sensual eyes.

And the film magnificently concludes with one of the riskiest and most memorable ellipses of Cinema's history, the transition from Thornill trying to pull Eve from the Mt. Rushmore to the upper bunk of a train was classic enough, the icing on the cake concocted by Hitch himself was the penultimate shot of the train speeding up to the tunnel, whose symbolism needs no explanations. "North by Northwest" is undoubtedly the consummate Hitchcock movie, even more appreciated when we're familiar with his previous films. For the mark of a great director is to toy with his own trademarks and indulge himself to movies with less substance but never at the expenses of suspense and entertainment, magnificently conveyed by Bernard Herrman's theme and unforgettable opening credits.

"North by Northwest" didn't end all Hitchcock pictures but the great streak of the 50's through a triumph of spectacular entertainment, explaining why, one year after, Hitch would turn to a less ambitious format, almost B-movie like, in black-and-white, for an obscure little film called "Psycho".
2013-06-11
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.
2005-03-26
Classic 'wrong man' film by Hitch at the height of his powers
Classic Hitchcock tale of the 'wrong man'; a mild-mannered businessman (ultra-suave Cary Grant) is mistaken for a spy and kidnapped at the very beginning, and it's away we go from then on. There are so many great and iconic scenes in this film – the crop duster chase of course, and also those at the United Nations and Mount Rushmore. Hitchcock is brilliant and puts tension in scenes at each and every opportunity, as opposed to devolving a great script into silly chase scenes which lesser directors may have done. It feels like a more masterful 007 movie, and James Mason and Martin Landau are both outstanding as villains. I'm not wild about Eva Marie Saint and only feel real chemistry between her and Grant in the line "Shall I climb up and tell you why?" in response to his wondering why she's so good to him, but the final shot of the train speeding into a tunnel was a nice bit of tongue in cheek symbolism from Hitchcock. Despite a long career he was still at the height of his powers, and in the following year would make Psycho.
2016-03-30
A Real Crowd Pleaser
"North By Northwest" is an exceptionally entertaining spy thriller with something for everyone. Its heady mixture of suspense, romance, humour and intrigue make it a real crowd pleaser and its action sequences are delivered at an exhilarating pace. The wonderful locations chosen for many of the scenes are stunning and add enormously to the visual impact of the whole movie and the original screenplay by Ernest Lehman is sophisticated and witty and contains numerous quotable lines.

This is a movie which undoubtedly appeals to a broader section of the public than any of Alfred Hitchcock's other offerings and also features one of his favourite themes i.e. a man who's falsely accused of something and then finds that his life descends into chaos as a consequence. Its story of mistaken and shifting identities is particularly engaging to audiences as it depicts how an ordinary man copes in a number of extraordinary circumstances and how he manages in a number of very dangerous predicaments from which there often appears to be no way out.

Cary Grant is superb as the suave, fast talking Roger Thornhill who's kidnapped, jailed, framed for murder and made the victim of a number of attempts on his life. His skills are so versatile that he's equally convincing whether he's involved in a dramatic scene, an action sequence, a comic episode or even the type of risqué dialogue that he indulges in with Eva Marie Saint's character.

Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint) is an elegant looking woman who makes both Roger and Vandamm (James Mason) very suspicious of her and also on some occasions finds herself in extreme danger. Eva Marie Saint projects Eve's mixture of mystery, humour and vulnerability in precisely the right measure for each situation and in so doing provides a very creditable performance. James Mason is also great as the cultured but utterly ruthless Vandamm who has a marvellous capacity for remaining completely unruffled at all times.

The opening title sequence by Saul Bass is strikingly original and makes a great impact as does the use of the various high profile locations (e.g. the United Nations HQ, the Plaza Hotel in New York, Grand Central Station and Mount Rushmore) which contribute so strongly to making certain parts of the movie so memorable and so enjoyable.
2010-08-21
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.
2005-07-13
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