#67: North By Northwest (1959)

When and how did I watch this?

December 14th, 2016, on DVD.

Had I seen this film already?

Yes, but only once.

What did I know about the movie before watching it?

I watched this with my wife while I was dating her.  I don’t think I was paying too close of attention to the film, as one might imagine.  I remember the iconic plane scene.

What do I know about it now?

North by Northwest is the antithesis of Vertigo. Where Stewart and Novak are wholly unfunny and range from romantic to neurotic, Cary Grant is often humorous, Eva Marie Saint goes from seductress to the eventually revealed Agent 99/Girl Friday, and the perilous and tense moments akin to Hitchcock’s work are more apparent.  The film still ventures into romantic territory — I’m starting to believe Hitchcock had a thing for blondes — letting some of the on-screen time take away from the action and plot at hand.  But one brilliant cinematographic moment (among many in this film) reminds us of what Hitchcock does best.  Thornhill (Grant) is sitting on a train with this not-so-chance romantic encounter, and while he continues flirting with Eve Kendall (Saint), the police pursuing him are seen through a window, entering the train one car back.  The tension exists in our eyes, but our protagonist is at first uninformed, and we want to yell for him to MOVE, DANG IT, but he only does so at Eve’s warning. More of this exists, particularly in the auction scene, a tense finale on the face of Mt. Rushmore, and an even more tense sequence at the antagonist’s cabin. The villains are cartoony at times, but so is Grant.  This is demonstrated to a high degree when he hilariously puts himself in police’s hands to escape an auction surrounded by Vandamm’s cronies, making outrageous bids and delivering the Cary Grant expressions viewers fell in love with a-la “Arsenic and Old Lace.” It’s a serious film at times — the U.N. advisor’s sudden demise and the literal cliffhanger at the film’s conclusion — but it is at its utmost entertaining.

What are some themes in the film?

U.S. politics/FBI operations, deceit, the pursuit of truth, love and sacrifice, pride/humility

Did this affect me personally?

The moments listed above are all memorable.  I found myself laughing chiefly, more so than being stricken by terror or being emotionally yanked around.

Why is this ranked #67?

It’s another iconic Hitchcock film, and rightfully ranked just above Vertigo, mostly due to Grant’s excellent performance and more smart cinematography.

Did my wife watch/like it?

I think my wife was doing something else during most of the film.

Would I watch it again?

Definitely.  It’s more fun watching this one with friends.

Would I recommend it to a friend?

I think Rear Window is the definitive Hitchcock film to watch.  This is 2nd place for me.

Does it deserve to be on this list as one of the greatest films of all time?

This film is outstanding on several levels.  It does all of the Hitchcockian things, but also features superb acting and some breathtaking longview camera angles exclusive to this film. Everyone loves the plane scene — and indeed, the sequence deserves its own merit (how we have to wait along with him, and then the unexpected arrival) — but what makes the film captivating is not complicated.  Despite its brilliance, the film is simply entertaining and memorable.

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