North by Northwest (1959) Film Review A+

North by Northwest
Produced by Alfred Hitchcock
Screenplay by: Ernest Lehman
Cinematography: Robert Burks
Edited by: George Tomasini
Original Score: Bernard Herrmann
Distributed by: MGM
Starring: Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason, Martin Landau, Jessie Royce Landis, and Leo G. Carroll
DIRECTOR: Alfred Hitchcock
BOTTOM LINE: In New York City, a waiter pages “George Kaplan” at the Plaza Hotel’s Oak Room Restaurant after a pair of thugs presumably requests him to do so. As advertising executive Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) summons the same waiter, he is mistaken for Kaplan, kidnapped by the thugs, and brought to the estate of Lester Townsend, a United Nations diplomat. There, he is interrogated by a spy named Phillip Vandamn (James Mason) posing as Townsend. Eventually, Thornhill escapes, but when Townsend is killed by Vandamn’s men at the United Nations Building, he collapses in Thornhill’s arms just as a photograph is being taken. To prove his innocence, Thornhill has to travel north-by-northwest, first to Chicago and then to the Dakotas.
Screenwriter Ernest Lehman wrote “The Hitchcock Picture to End All Hitchcock Pictures,” another masterpiece. A tale of mistaken identity, with an innocent man (Cary Grant in his most memorable role), pursued across the United States by agents of a mysterious organization trying to prevent him from blocking their plan to smuggle microfilm (the film’s MacGuffin), which contains government secrets, out of the country. THE GREAT HITCHCOCK TEAM of the late nineteen fifties is at the peak of their artistic brilliance. Graphic Designer Saul Bass was the first to use kinetic typography on the film’s magnificent opening credits. Eva Marie Saint gives Grace Kelly in “Rear Window” a run for her money as Hitchcock’s most elegant leading lady, and the chemistry between the two leads is palpable. Eva Marie Saint’s wardrobe for the film was originally chosen by MGM. Hitchcock disliked the studio’s selections, so the actress and director went to Bergdorf Goodman in New York to select what she would wear. The gentleman knew what he liked; he had spectacular taste in everything he touched. Miss Saint’s wardrobe is one of the most memorable in Hollywood history.
Hitchcock’s cameo: 0:02:09. Missing a bus just after his credit passes off-screen during the opening title sequence.
There are some thrilling set pieces:
  • Grant is chased by an airplane in a cornfield on a beautiful day. Nothing is unusual until you begin to see the white trails of plane exhaust in a clear blue sky.
  • Grant and Saint escape from James Mason (a superb Hitchcock villain) and Martin Landau on top of Mount Rushmore.
  • The bidding scene in the Chicago auction house.
  • The gun going off in the Mount Rushmore gift shop and the little boy putting his hands to his ears a millisecond before the shot – a rare Tomasini miss that makes the film more fascinating today.
  • Grant tries to escape through a brilliant reconstruction of the United Nations since Hitchcock was not allowed to film there.
  • The final risqué shot of the train entering the tunnel as our stars finally consummate their relationship.

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