Title: North by Northwest
Year of Release: 1959
Date Viewed: November 7th, 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
When this blog was first developed, I wasn't expecting to study many "classic" films. The reason was that I felt very out of touch with the entertainment eras that I had not lived through. Therefore I wouldn't be able to offer a fair opinion or understand director's motives. It's like asking an orange expert to write a report on apples.
So it was to my relief that I was able to enjoy North by Northwest and also explain why. It also persuaded me to re-evaluate my prior reservations about exploring early Hollywood. Before I became a serious reviewer, I wasn't interested in movies as art. I was a bored young kid searching for escapism from this boring world of ours. North by Northwest reminded me of several action/adventure movies that I had grown to enjoy during my youth. Perhaps these vintage classics weren't so different after all. Ideas have to be drawn from somewhere. So it should have been no surprise to find familiarity here. Many directors claim to draw inspiration from Alfred Hitchcock and I used to think they only said that because they wanted to sound professional. North by Northwest was a nice way to be enlightened to the truth behind those statements.
Cary Grant plays an average man from Manhattan named Roger Thornhill. After finishing an ordinary day of work, he finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. A passing telegram representative calls for a "George Kaplan." Roger flags down the messenger so he can send a telegram to his mother. This draws the attention of two henchman who believe Roger was actually Kaplan answering the call. Roger is abducted and brought to a man named Lestor Townsend (James Mason) for questioning.
We learn that Townsend is in charge of a corrupt organization. He had been tracking the whereabouts of a George Kaplan; a secret agent believed to be following him. Roger tries to expose the mistake and offers up every visual piece of evidence on hand to prove his identity. Townsend doesn't buy any of it.
After surviving interrogation and escaping death, Roger's life turns from dull to overly intense. Townsend's men pull out all the stops to get their revenge by framing him for murder and covering up all the trails. Via quick wits and sheer luck, Roger manages to barely escape one sticky situation after another, always staying one step ahead of his stalkers. He's a man on the run with no one to trust. That is, until he meets the mysterious and gorgeous Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint) onboard a train to Chicago. She helps him elude the authorities, but also seems to know too much about the situation. Is Eve the answer to Roger's problem or is she part of it?
This movie never stops being entertaining. Within five minutes, the storyline is already revved up for the journey, the chaos is foreshadowed (part can be owed to an epic score by longtime Hitchcock collaborator Bernard Herrmann), Cary Grant's character is set up and it is impossible to tell what is going to happen next. Despite existing for over fifty years, the movie feels as refreshing as the day it was born, even if it doesn't look as fresh.
But hey, it does look fresh! Whadya know? Whoever was in charge of restoring the movie for the DVD format deserved a raise. Not a speck of graininess in sight save for some outdated special effects that couldn't be helped. It looked even better than most Turner Classic Movie broadcasts I've seen.
As I was saying though, the movie never stops being entertaining. It doesn't rely on dragging out events until they wear out their welcome. The story keeps on moving and doesn't stop until it needs to catch its breath. Hitchcock should have directed a movie about auto racing. He's probably the only person that can make a pit stop dramatic enough to be worth watching. Almost as if on cue, the action starts going when I desired it to and I was given enough ample time to take in the background scenery when the situation demanded it. Is it a mind reading movie or simply my kind of movie?
All of that was expected though. I knew enough about Hitchcock to recognize that he had a talent for keeping audiences in suspense. What I wasn't anticipating was how funny the movie was at times. Cary Grant plays his role like he is a distant cousin to Sean Connery's James Bond. Always trying to stay prim and proper no matter how much danger is staring at him in the face. It can almost be considered parody except that Dr. No wasn't released until three years later. Hitchcock ahead of his time again.
The movie is not afraid to be silly and proud of itself for that. Several moments, usually a key decision made by a character to escape danger, left me scratching my head and wondering if that was really the best course of action. Staunch Hitchcock devotees seem to insist that it was done intentionally as a way of livening up the fun factor. That's always okay in my book, unless reasonable alternative set-ups were available. That's the only glaring flaw in this otherwise fine product. To use one example, Roger and his love interest try to elude danger once again by climbing down the unstable terrain of Mount Rushmore. "Do we have any other choice?," he asks. Um, yes. I think you do have another choice. Run sideways around the mountain. They weren't following THAT close behind you.
That criticism is only there for the sake of objectivity. It really didn't affect my enjoyment nor did it ruin my suspension of disbelief. It's a crazy ride and one that I was happy to climb aboard for. I'll even pay for extra tickets.
It may be safe to hypothesize that all other movies that borrow the "unsuspecting ordinary man falls into a mess" storyline can owe a bit of their success to North by Northwest. Audiences eat up these sort of movies because it's all about them. For many including myself, movies are loved because they allow the willing participant to be somewhere that they're really not. On the same token, videogames allow the participant to become someone that they're not. North by Northwest offers the best of both worlds. We get to watch Roger Thornhill become someone he is not and stay right beside him the whole way through. If that's not entertainment......you know the rest.