Friday, January 30, 2015

North By Northwest (1959)

Of the three Alfred Hitchcock movies I've watched in the last couple of weeks, North By Northwest is the most conventional, in a Hollywood blockbuster sense (from a 1950s point of view). This is not necessarily a bad thing, as it means that it is more readily accessible and relatively action-packed (I mean, hell, there's even an explosion!) compared to Rear Window and Vertigo.

Cary Grant stars as Roger Thornhill, an advertising executive in New York City, who is unexpectedly abducted and escorted to a wealthy estate where a suspicious man by the name of Vandamm (played by James Mason) - or is it Townsend? - seems perfectly convinced that Thornhill is a secret agent working against his criminal interests. This unfortunate instance of mistaken identity instantly plunges Thornhill (like an unwitting James Bond) into the middle of an undercover operation involving international espionage, resulting in an extended chase across a portion of the American landscape.

The movie thrives on suspense and mystery, but also action, and not a few clever and daring scenes that are positively thrilling (such as the shocking United Nations setup, the iconic crop duster chase, Thornhill's ingenious and hilarious extrication from an auction house, and a climax set on the face of Mount Rushmore - though the latter drags on a bit, spectacular though it is). The movie slows down a bit when it switches gears to develop an off-the-cuff romance (the love interest played by Eva Marie Saint), but even then the danger is never very far off.

North By Northwest is another long movie, clocking in at just over two hours and fifteen minutes, but it has enough humor and thrills to make the time spent watching it sufficiently enjoyable. As I mentioned, it's more accessible than some of Hitchcock's more "specialized" films, but though it's relatively conventional in comparison, and is no less dated than any other films now over half a century old, it is nonetheless a solid demonstration of intelligent, technically proficient, and entertaining filmmaking, worthy of being called a classic.

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