North By Northwest (1959) Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
The title North By Northwest makes me think of the Austin festival South by Southwest every time. There is really no comparison between the film and the festival. The festival is all about bumping into your biggest musical hero at breakfast, playing your own show in tiny clubs or make-shift venues, watching way too many amazing bands play in a few days, too many parties, too many margaritas and never enough Austin food or good old sleep. North By Northwest is a classic piece of über-stylish cinema with well-fitting gray suits, figure-hugging dresses, cocktail hours, rich villains and Hitchcock's realization that romance is more important than telling a believable story about crooks.
I've seen North By Northwest before and come away a little disappointed. Perhaps I felt it was all surface and nothing underneath. This time around I had no such concerns, but could enjoy the suspense and the developing love story fully. Most of all the film is lovable for its perfected aesthetics. This is one of those films that makes smoking look way too classic, and drinking too – especially on trains.
Cary Grant is great in his role as the baffled but very clever advertising man, who becomes the target of the villains and a means to an end to the FBI. Sometimes Grant can just walk through a film looking good, but here his character is developed more and it makes the actor more interesting too. Eva Marie Saint is the usual (or should I say compulsory?) Hitchcock blond, but her open need to bed Thornhill (Grant) immediately and then later her Scandinavian-like stern love for him are nicely dished out by her. I'll watch it again sometime.
The pain of being blamed for something, or some action being attributed to myself, an action which one is completely innocent of, is trying. This applies to things you might say. Only this week, a quote of mine, passed on by someone to someone else, the someone else then claiming to be the receiver of said quote, passed the quote on to someone else (2), who passed on the quote to someone else (3). By the time someone else 3 passed the quote back to me, context and meaning had completely altered. So, I had to then spend time correcting the misquote and relieving myself of any unjust cause of discontent my misquote may have caused. You see how easily things get twisted?
However much annoyance this may have caused me, it's nothing compared to the level of blame attributed to Roger O. Thornhill (Cary Grant) in North By Northwest. First, he's mistaken for someone else which leads him to being kidnapped, then he is force-fed copious amounts of alcohol and then almost murdered. Then he's wanted for a very public murder of which he's innocent, so he has to go on the run. Next Thornhill falls in love with the very forward Eve Kendall (Eve Marie Saint) who turns out to be the squeeze for the very dodgy Phillip Vandamm (James Mason) who was the guy who got Thornhill into this mess to start with. Confused? Just imagine how Roger feels, even though he is the most impeccably dressed advertising executive in the history of the movies.
So North By Northwest, on this 20th or so viewing for me, just keeps getting better. Here Hitchcock presents us the essence of his style of film making. Hitchcock's imagination has never been so well visualized on the screen, the numerous iconic set peaces including the Mount Rushmore finale and the crop duster plane pursuing Grant. Still, Hitchcock finds enough space here to include weird shot after weird shot, without disrupting the flow. The black humor (Earnest Lehman supplies Hitchcock with one of his best scripts) is always on the money, the dialogue sharp. A great Bernhard Hermann score keeps the action moving. At the center of all this is Grant, the perfect leading man who knows how to wear a suit. North By Northwest sets the standard for all action/suspense thrillers to follow, it's still king. This is pure cinema entertainment, if you've somehow missed this, do yourself a favor.