Monday, August 05, 2013

North by Northwest

Over the years I have read about, seen stills from and possibly film clips of Alfred Hitchcock's North by Northwest and so I wasn't sure going into the Embassy whether I had seen it before or not. If you think about the plot, not much of it makes sense. Luckily Hitchcock doesn't give you much time to make sense of it, throwing Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) from one outrageous encounter to another. Starting with a simple case of mistaken identity, Thornhill doesn't have time to change his yellow boxers from when his ordinary day at the office goes haywire until he is sliding down the monument at Mt Rushmore in the penultimate scene. In 1959 Cary Grant was the equivalent of George Clooney today.
Now you listen to me, I'm an advertising man, not a red herring. I've got a job, a secretary, a mother, two ex-wives and several bartenders that depend upon me, and I don't intend to disappoint them all by getting myself "slightly" killed.
From a film makers point of view North by Northwest is a series of thriller set pieces joined together by an espionage plot. There is an escalation of danger and violence about each set piece, starting with a simple abduction, followed by an elaborate con job, the potentially fatal but ultimately comic drunk driving scene and so on, including the famous crop-duster chase. Phillip Vandamm (James Mason at his cool, condescending best) like the later Bond villains comes up with various elaborate schemes to deal with George Kaplan / Roger Thornhill, which the equally cool Cary Grant naively survives. Eva Marie Saint (as Eve Kendall) possibly has the most demanding role. Part girl-next-door, part femme fatale, with ambiguous loyalties she dominates Cary Grant more effectively than James Mason.
When I was a little boy, I wouldn't even let my mother undress me.

Well, you're a big boy now.
The three lead characters would not be half so cool if it wasn't for Ernest Lehman's script that keeps the audience interested and off the more absurd bits, even during the throw away lines.
I don't like the way Teddy Roosevelt is looking at me.
It turns out that I hadn't seen the film before. But even 54 years later it has the same theme of betrayal and explores how intelligence agencies exploit the people that come within their grasp as this year's Omar.
You're police, aren't you? Or is it FBI?

FBI, CIA, ONI... we're all in the same alphabet soup.
Ian's rating 4/5 Anne's rating 4/5

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