Tuesday, October 21, 2014
North by Northwest
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock and written by Ernest Lehman, North by Northwest is the story of a man who is being pursued by government agents of a microfilm he might be carrying as he is mistaken for being a spy. The film is a thriller where a man is on the run as he is mistaken for someone else as he tries to prove his innocence in a journey all over America. Starring Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason, Martin Landau, and Jessie Royce Landis. North by Northwest is a thrilling film from Alfred Hitchcock.
The film explores the world of mistaken identity where an advertising executive finds himself mistaken for a spy by a group of corrupt government agents as he later accused of murder where he goes on the run from authorities and the people that put him into this position. It’s a film that isn’t just a suspense-thriller where this man in Roger O. Thornhill (Cary Grant) wonders why he is mistaken for being a spy as his attempts to clear his name become troubling as he gets the help of a mysterious woman named Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint) whom he would be attracted to as she knows why he’s a fugitive as more complexities emerge. Especially in her association with the man in Phillip Vandamm (James Mason) who was the person that put Thornhill in this situation.
Ernest Lehman’s screenplay doesn’t just emphasize on this idea of mistaken identity where Thornhill is baffled for being involved something like espionage over some mysterious microfilm that had been stolen. Some of the situations and Thornhill’s reactions are quite humorous as it adds to the film’s suspense as Thornhill is often baffled for being mistaken for a spy. Still, Lehman takes his time to flesh out the characters as Thornhill is just an advertising executive who is devoted to his work as this case of mistaken identity forces him to live a little dangerously but also realize that he must take drastic action into these situations. The character of Eve is a complex one as she is revealed to be a mistress of Vandamm as she would tease and flirt with Thornhill while becoming aware that he isn’t a bad guy. Especially in someone like Vandamm who is someone that wants to cause trouble as he’s a character that isn’t fully realized but rather someone that is just a villain who is sort of weak and hungry for power.
Alfred Hitchcock’s direction is quite stylish from the opening title credits sequence created by Saul Bass to play into the sense of thrill that Hitchcock would create. Much of which involves some darkly comic moments such as Thornhill driving drunk since he was forced to drink an entire bottle of Bourbon. Much of the film is shot on studio sets as it would recreate some locations in New York City and Chicago plus the climatic scene at Mount Rushmore. Hitchcock’s usage of close-ups and medium shots are quite engaging including the way the relationship between Thornhill and Eve develops with some subtle references towards aspects of that growing relationship. Even as sex is implied where it used with subtlety in lieu of the production code of those times.
Hitchcock’s approach to suspense and thrills definitely showcase a master at work such as the very famous scene of Thornhill being chased by a crop duster in the middle of a plain fields near Chicago. Hitchcock also uses some humor in a notable scene at an auction house where Thornhill decides to make an ass out of himself so he can get the attention of the authorities as he’s being watched by Vandamm’s henchmen. The film would then lead to the climatic moment at Mount Rushmore where a lot of revelations occur as well as Thornhill’s decision to really take action against Vandamm and his goons. Overall, Hitchcock creates a very sensational and engaging film about a case of mistaken identity.
Cinematographer Robert Burks does amazing work with the film‘s colorful cinematography with its use of wide shots for some of the film‘s locations as well in some of the lighting interior/exterior scenes at night. Editor George Tomasini does brilliant work with the editing with its stylish use of dissolves as well as some rhythmic cuts to play into some of the film‘s humor and suspense. Production designer Robert F. Boyle, with set decorators Henry Grace and Frank R. McKelvy and art directors William A. Horning and Merrill Pye, does fantastic work with the set pieces such as home of Vandamm near Mount Rushmore as well as the estate where Thornhill meets Vandamm.
The special effects work of A. Arnold Gillespie, Lee LeBlanc, and Doug Hubbard is terrific for the backdrops in some scenes set in cars as well as the climatic showdown at Mount Rushmore. Sound editor Van Allen James does nice work with the sound from some of the sound effects that occur including the crop dusting plane as well as some scenes where sound plays key to the story. The film’s music by Bernard Herrmann is incredible for its thrilling orchestral score with soaring string arrangements to play into its suspense and terror along with some lush themes for the dramatic moments.
The casting by Leonard Murphy is superb as it features some notable small roles from Adam Williams and Robert Ellenstein as a couple of Vandamm’s goons who would kidnap Thornhill, Josephine Hutchinson as Vandamm’s housekeeper, and Malcolm Attenbury as a man Thornhill meets at the crossroads. Leo G. Carroll is terrific as a mysterious professor Thornhill meets in the film’s third act as he is aware of Thornhill’s innocence while Jessie Royce Landis is very funny as Thornhill’s mother who believes that her son is just screwing things up as usual. Martin Landau is fantastic as Vandamm’s right-hand man Leonard as this very creepy guy who manages to take care of anything Vandamm does as it’s a very chilling role from Landau.
James Mason is pretty good as Phillip Vandamm as this antagonist who displays a sense of charm in his demeanor although he’s sort of weak as a villain where he just commands and rarely takes action into his own hands. Eva Marie Saint is brilliant as Eve Kendall as this woman who is intrigued by Thornhill as she seduces and charms him for Vandamm while eventually falling for him as it’s a role full of beauty and grace. Finally, there’s Cary Grant in a remarkable performance as Roger O. Thornhill as this advertising executive who becomes a victim of mistaken identity as he deals with his situations as there’s some humor in his performance as well as the ability to be quite tough in handling his situations.
North by Northwest is a marvelous film from Alfred Hitchcock that features great performances from Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint. The film definitely features some Hitchcock’s finest moments in suspense as well as unique approach to humor. Especially in his exploration of mistaken identity and a man’s unique reaction to his situations. In the end, North by Northwest is a tremendously exhilarating film from Alfred Hitchcock.
Alfred Hitchcock Films: (Number 13) - (The Pleasure Garden) - (The Blackguard) - (The Mountain Eagle) - (The Lodger) - (A Story of the London Fog) - (The Ring) - (Downhill) - (The Farmer’s Wife) - (Easy Virtue) - (Champagne) - (The Manxman) - (Blackmail) - (Juno and the Paycock) - (Murder!) - (The Skin Game) - (Mary) - (Lord Camber’s Ladies) - (Rich and Strange) - (Number Seventeen) - (Waltzes from Vienna) - (The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934 film)) - (39 Steps) - (Secret Agent) - (Sabotage) - (Young and Innocent) - The Lady Vanishes - (Jamaica Inn) - (Rebecca) - (Foreign Correspondent) - (Mr. & Mrs. Smith) - Suspicion - (Saboteur) - (Shadow of a Doubt) - Bon Voyage - (Lifeboat) - (Spellbound) - (Notorious) - (The Paradine Cage) - (Rope) - (Under Capricorn) - (Stage Fright) - Strangers on a Train - I Confess - Dial M for Murder - (Rear Window) - To Catch a Thief - (The Trouble with Harry) - (The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956 film)) - (The Wrong Man) - Vertigo - Psycho - the Birds - Marnie - (Torn Curtain) - (Topaz) - (Frenzy) - (Family Plot)
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