North by Northwest (1959)

Never a dull moment in the life of Roger Thornhill

It was a normal day for Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant), until he was abducted by two men who believed he was somebody else. Soon he got himself caught in a counter-espionage scheme that was bigger than anything he could have imagined.

North by Northwest (1959) is basically your quintessential Hitchcock thriller. As with many other films (Strangers on a Train comes to mind), part of the movie was about our hero, in this case Thornhill, having to clear his name for a crime he didn’t commit. Even this crime wound up snowballing; initially Thornhill was simply accused of drunk driving when in reality the antagonist (James Mason) tried to kill him by pouring alcohol into him and then sending him to certain death in automobile off a cliff. Eventually, Thornhill found himself to be a fugitive on the run for murder. At the same time, Thornhill needed to find out what was going on when it became clear he was caught in the thick of the pursuit of someone selling intelligence to the Soviets.

In true Hitchcock fashion, North by Northwest was a really fun movie to watch. Also in true Hitchcock fashion, certain elements in hindsight don’t entirely make sense (How did those 2 thugs open the car door when it was locked from the inside? How did the Professor know to arrive at Mount Rushmore?), but you’re not supposed to acknowledge them in the thrill of the moment. Hitchcock was a director known for creating suspense, and he delivered here, despite the (what appears to be) inevitable ice box logic.

Cary Grant was a lot of fun to watch. One scene that came to mind was when he was at an art auction, and making a complete ass of himself purely to get himself into police custody. Admittedly, there was something almost cartoonish both in his performance and that of James Mason, but that added to what made the movie so fun to begin with. Of course, what’s a Hitchcock thriller without a beautiful blonde leading lady? In this case, it was the lovely Eva Marie Saint. I predicted her role in the movie fairly early on, but that did little to detract from my enjoyment of the movie.

While overall North by Northwest was a lot of fun to watch, I do have a few minor gripes about the movie. As I said before, the plot was a little predictable at times, particularly with regard to Eva Marie Saint’s character. Also, the years weren’t kind to the special effects, so a lot of things looked pretty obviously fake. Many of the shots involving Mount Rushmore is what I think of.

Nonetheless, North by Northwest, while not a perfect movie (many of these flaws go with the territory in the realm of Hitchcock), is definitely a classic and should be picked up by anyone looking for a thrill.

Score: 3/4

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