North by Northwest (Alfred Hitchcock, USA, 1959)

Cary Grant in Alfred Hitchcock's North By Northwest (1959)
North by Northwest is by far one of Hitchcock's most well-known films. Upon its release in 1959, it was met with an excellent reception both critically and commercially, and became one of the top grossing films of the year. The screenplay, written by Ernest Lehman, was intended to be "the Hitchcock picture to end all Hitchcock pictures." While there is a great deal of action and suspense in the film - it was clearly a major influence on the earliest films of the James Bond franchise - the plot itself is fairly thin. Hitchcock and Lehman seemed much more intent here on creating set pieces that would elicit a significant response from the audience, and they succeeded. There are many iconic moments in the film, most notably the crop duster scene as well as the finale at Mount Rushmore.

Cary Grant, nearing the end of his career, is a great deal of fun as our protagonist Roger Thornhill, who in a case of mistaken identity is pursued across the country. Hitchcock did a great deal to revitalize Grant's career in the 1950s, and he convincingly plays a dashing and romantic lead against Eva Marie Saint. The real highlights however are James Mason as the sophisticated Philip Vandamm, setting a template for future James Bond villains, and his right-hand man Leonard (a young Martin Landau). The dialogue is a bit over-the-top (some of the innuendos are eye-rolling), but overall it is delivered very snappily and keeps the momentum of the film going. 

While neither the best nor the most thematically complex of Hitchcock's films, North by Northwest is still rightfully a classic and deserves repeat viewings for its set pieces alone. Hitchcock would return to bare bones on his next film Psycho. It seemed North by Northwest was a film that Hitchcock never sought to remake again in his career. 


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