‘NORTH BY NORTHWEST’
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‘The Master of Suspense weaves his Greatest Tale!’
Alfred Hitchcock is regarded as one of the most highly regarded film directors of his time in the 20th century. Better known as ‘the Master of Suspense’, Hitchcock directed films such as ‘Vertigo’, ‘The Man Who Knew Too Much’ (two versions), ‘Rear Window’ and his most famous film of all…‘Psycho’!
I was introduced to Alfred Hitchcock’s films by my parents as a kid. Yeah, I know. A kid watching Hitchcock films?! 😮 Nevertheless, I saw them and enjoyed them. I have my personal favourites from Hitchcock’s line of films and one of them happens to be ‘North by Northwest’. It’s one superb movie!
‘North by Northwest’ stars Cary Grant as Roger Thornhill, a man who gets kidnapped for being a spy and is soon on the run by the police for being a ‘wanted’ man. He eventually meets Eva Marie Saint as Eve Kendal, who he falls in love with and they work together to stop the menace of James Mason.
James Mason stars as Phillip Vandamm, who may be suspected for stealing government secrets. He and his accomplice Martin Landau as Leonard mistake Roger Thornhill for being a man called ‘George Kaplan’, to which Thornhill categorically denies. They don’t believe him in spite of his claims.
I was pretty engrossed in the film from watching it as a kid. I liked how things unravelled themselves in terms of what the mystery was about and why Roger Thornhill was mysteriously mistaken for being ‘George Kaplan’. I’ve seen this film for the umpteenth time to know what’s coming next here.
I probably didn’t understand what was going the first time being a kid, but nevertheless the film held my attention throughout. ‘North by Northwest’ is cited as being a Hitchcock classic and was claimed to be ‘the Hitchcock picture to end all Hitchcock pictures’. That is…until he did ‘Psycho’ of course. 😀
In fact, it was the screenwriter Ernest Lehman who wanted to write this film as ‘the Hitchcock picture to end all Hitchcock pictures’. I’m not sure why he wanted to do that considering Hitchcock was in high demand at the time. Hitchcock is well-known for making a cameo in every film he makes.
Hitchcock was like the Stan Lee of his day in doing a cameo in every film he directs. For this film, he is seen trying to get on a bus before the door slams in his face. This happens as his director’s credit appears on the screen. It’s funny to see that after the opening credits as I watch this film every time.
Cary Grant is the star of the movie as Roger Thornhill. Usually in Hitchcock films, James Stewart would be cast in the main leading role. In fact, James Stewart was considered for the role of Roger Thornhill in this. I don’t think James Stewart would be as superb as Cary Grant is for this specific film.
I like how Cary Grant plays the ordinary man who is bemused by what’s going on with being kidnapped; getting forcibly drunk and almost killed by enemy agents. Roger Thornhill becomes increasingly curious about what’s going on, without knowing that danger is around the next corner.
Eva Marie Saint stars the leading lady of the film. Eve Kendal is a very attractive blonde-haired lady who Roger Thornhill gradually discovers is a spy working for a secret organisation. They meet on a train and instantly fall in love. Yeah. Even they admit that it’s ridiculous them falling in love in an instant.
It was interesting and tense as Roger Thornhill makes the assumption Eve Kendal is working with Philip Vandamm, feeling betrayed. But there’s a lot more to it than that. I became anxious when Eve Kendal shot with him a gun in a cafe at Mount Rushmore. But did she really kill Roger Thornhill here?
James Mason stars as the villain of the film, Philip Vandamm. He’s a mysterious character indeed here. Upon first meeting him, Thornhill assumes he’s a ‘Mr. Lester Townsend’ who lives in a big country house once he’s abducted there. But as the mystery unfolds, it turns out not to be the case.
It’s not made clear why Vandamm wants government secrets and why he would assume Roger Thornhill would be this ‘George Kaplan’ person. He’s very attracted to Eve Kendal who becomes his girlfriend in this. But once he realises she’s betrayed him, will he be allowed to live once on a plane?
Martin Landau stars as Leonard, Vandamm’s confidante and friend in the film. Martin Landau is well-known for starring in TV shows such as ‘Mission: Impossible’ and ‘Space: 1999’. It’s interesting how Leonard’s character is revealed with this hint of homosexuality especially before Vandamm and Eve.
The film also features Jessie Royce Landis as Clara Thornhill, Roger’s mother. I did find Roger’s mother was unsupportive of his son’s claims to being forcibly drunk and almost killed by evil men. She finds it absurd. I know she’s meant to be comic relief, but couldn’t she be more caring than that?
There’s also Leo G. Carroll as the Professor who’s in charge of a secret organisation working to expose Vandamm’s criminal activities. Apparently, Leo G. Carroll has been in many Hitchcock films and he would later go on to be in ‘The Man From U.N.C.L.E.’ TV series. He’s very good in this movie.
The film also features Josephine Hutchinson as ‘Mrs. Townsend’, who is actually fake and really Vandamm’s sister and there’s Philip Ober as the ‘real’ Lester Townsend. There’s also Edward Platt, who is well-known for playing the Chief of Control in ‘Get Smart’, as Victor Larrabee, Roger’s lawyer.
There’s also Adam Williams as Valerian and Robert Ellenstein as Licht, Vandamm’s henchmen who kidnap Roger Thornhill early on in the film. There’s also Les Tremayne as the auctioneer who gets frustrated by Roger Thornhill disrupting the auction taking place as he makes very confusing bets. 😀
The film is very well-written by Ernest Lehman, who provides plenty of tension and drama in this action-packed thriller. As well as the impressive plane attack sequence in the crop fields on Roger Thornhill, there’s the iconic Mount Rushmore scene where Thornhill and Eve Kendal are escaping. 😀
There’s also an impressive musical score provided by Bernard Herrmann. The music for the film’s opening credits is memorable. It’s often the signature piece for some tense and dramatic moments. This includes moments where Roger Thornhill is escaping danger and avoiding capture by the police.
The DVD special features are as follows. There’s a ‘Cast & Crew’ list; an audio commentary by screenwriter Ernest Lehman; the behind-the-scenes documentary ‘Destination: Hitchcock: The Making of North by Northwest’, hosted by Eva Maria Saint and a theatrical trailer. There’s also a stills gallery; a music only audio track by Bernard Herrmann and a TV commercial.
‘North by Northwest’ is definitely one of the best Alfred Hitchcock films ever made from 1959. It’s one of my favourites from ‘the Master of Suspense’. It’s rated very highly by critics. The film comes highly recommended with such brilliant cast performances; directing; writing; action and music score.
Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint and James Mason excel in the film. It’s amazing to look back on this film with fond childhood memories. It still impresses me to this very day and it’s one of these films that shouldn’t be forgotten. I’m pretty sure that it won’t be the case since Hitchcock’s films are the best!
‘North by Northwest’ rating – 9/10
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