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North by North West

January 18, 2007

Think the Mafia, and it’s Martin Scorcese, think Westerns, and it would be John Ford, Sergio Leone think of spectacles, nothing to beat David Lean, Cecil B De Mille and of course when you hear of the word suspense thriller, one name instantly leaps to mind Alfred Hitchcock. Hitch is more than a genius director, he is an institution by himself, he is the benchmark for any aspiring thriller movie director, a man who gave a new adjective to the world of movies “Hitchcockian” which is the ultimate tribute.

Hitch produced and directed many movies which have been taken as classics in the thriller genre, Pyscho, Suspicion, Notorious, Vertigo. And one of his all time greats North by North West. The story deals with a NY ad executive Roger Thornhill( Cary Grant) who is mistaken for an agent named George Kaplan. He is seized by two enemy spies and taken to house of Lester Townsend. He is interrogated by a man claiming to be Townsend, but who in reality is Philip Vandamm( James Mason). When Thornhill denies he is Kaplan, Vandamm asks his men to get rid of him, which they do by making him drunk and make him drive. Thornhill manages to escape from their clutches, but is apprehended by cops on charges of drunken driving. In spite of his pleas of innocence, the cops, the judge and even his own mother( Jessie Landis) refuse to believe him.

In order to prove the truth, Thornhill goes to locate the real Lester Townsend, and finds him at UN General Assembly. In reality Townsend is a diplomat and is slated to deliver a speech. However on their meeting Townsend is murdered by one of Vandamm’s agents and Thornhill is blamed for the murder. Running away from the cops, he meets Eva Kendall( Eva Maria St) on a train to Chicago, who helps him to escape. Who is George Kaplan? Is Eva playing a double game with Thornhill? How is Thornhill able to prove his innocence?

Well watch the rest of the movie, as Thornhill goes on a wild goose chase with the cops and the agents chasing him, and to make matters worse nothing is what it seems. As a thriller North by North West is a classic from the word go. It has enough twists and turns to keep the viewer engrossed, and at a stage in the movie, you begin to wonder if Thornhill himself is innocent.

Hitchcock uses many of his favorite themes in the movie

Mistaken identity: Many of Hitch’s movies had the theme of the hero being mistaken for another person. The 39 Steps, The Man Who Knew Too Much are some examples. In NBNW the hero is mistaken for a secret agent George Kaplan, when in reality he is just an ordinary ad executive.

The Mysterious Female: Hitchcock often had a beautiful, attractive heroine, preferably blonde, who had more to conceal than suggests. Most of the time the females were cold, cynical and calculating. In this movie, the heroine is in fact the villian’s lover and she gets close to the hero, to get the details of the spies, which she thinks the hero has.

The Man on The Run: Another favorite Hitchcock theme, which he takes from The 39 Steps, the movie has some really great chase sequences.The hero standing in a field, waiting for a bus. A crop duster plane is in the field. A farmer standing nearby remarks, that it’s odd, because there are no crops at all. And then it becomes apparent, as the plane dives for him and attacks him. One of the most memorable sequences in movie history, which has become a part of cinematic legend.

And of course the final cliff hanger climax at Mt. Rushmore, where the hero is chased across, by the goons.One more great scene is when the hero meets the real Townsend, and shows him the photograph. He gasps and falls across, until we see that a knife is thrown into his back. Vintage Hitchcock there.

Also the opening credits, where a bizarre design is crisscrossed with the titles, and the gridwork transforms itself into a New York skyscraper.The movie also has some totally rocking dialogues

Roger Thornhill( to his secretary): Ah, Maggie, in the world of advertising, there’s no such thing as a lie. There’s only the expedient exaggeration. You ought to know that.

Eve: You are very clever with words. You can probably make them do anything for you. Sell people things they don’t need.

Of the cast Cary Grant is first rate as the man on the run. Charming, debonair and suave, Grant perfectly fits the part. Grant in fact had a succesful association with Hitchcock acting with him in 4 movies- NBNW, Suspicion, To Catch a Thief and Notorious. And it was surprising considering Hitch’s dislike of big stars.

The only other star who regularly appeared in Hitch’s movies was James Stewart( Vertigo, Rear Window). Eva Maria St makes an enchanting, sultry femme fatale, coming up with right mix of sex appeal and danger. James Mason does a good job as the cool and villianious VanDamm exuding an air of menace. All in all North by North West is a movie that has to be watched for it’s sheer breathless pace, its twists and turns, and a solid storyline. Don’t miss this movie at all.
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