Saturday, February 4, 2012

North By Northwest (1959)

North By Northwest (1959) ★★★★★ 4/5

In watching North By Northwest shortly after watching Blazing Saddles the first thing that comes to mind is that it is too bad that Mel Brooks couldn't take a cue from Alfred Hitchcock and make a simple understated cameo, rather then force himself into the film at the expense of the movie. Alfred Hitchcock makes his subtle appearance in North By Northwest as he boards a bus. There is no stage hogging or unnecessary length taken to put spotlight on the director. The focus is instead on the story of Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant).

Thornill is a well do to executive mistakenly taken for George Kaplan - a man who doesn't even exist. He is abducted in the middle of the day and taken to the country side where Phillip Vandamm (James Mason) tries to have him killed by getting him drunk and placing him in a car on a road that teeters over the ocean. Rather then meeting his death, Thornhill meets the police and is arrested. He fully intends on having Vandamm arrested for what he has done, but upon returning to the home where his intoxication was forced, he is treated as a dear friend and guest. Thornhill doesn't give up and wants to learn more about the man they mistook him for and heads back to the hotel where Kaplan was said to be staying. In doing so, he is spotted and again taken as Kaplan. From there on he essentially becomes Kaplan.

The movie slyly takes us across the country as Thornhill searches for Kaplan and Vandamm's men follow to kill Kaplan. Along the way, he meets Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint) and the underlying sexual tension predominates every scene they appear in. At times, the scenes between the two slow the movie down a bit. However these scenes are essential in building the relationship between the two.

What makes this movie so great are two particular scenes. The first being the famous scene where Grant is alone in a cornfield. He is alone and vulnerable. Only Hitchcock could take a desolate place and intensify it to the point where the viewer is on the edge of their seat. Thornhill plays a game of cat and mouse with a machine gun equipped crop duster and eventually takes it to the ground. It is a brilliant, well done scene and possibly one of the best in cinema. The second scene of interest is that of the climatic finale on Mt. Rushmore. Hitchcock was well known for taking innocent places and making them the highlight of his films. In this particular film, the United Nations, Grand Central Station and Mt. Rushmore all serve as the stage to this thrilling movie.

In not for the lag created by the romantic storyline, this movie would have easily received stars from me. I do love this movie and am completely captivated by the story. Even though I know the outcome, I still enjoy watching it and following Thornhill as if it was the first time I have seen the film. Performance wise, I think Eva Marie Saint steals the film and is quite possible one of Hitchcock's strongest leading ladies. A must see without any doubt.

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