#37: North by Northwest (1959)


About fifteen minutes into North by Northwest, I was stunned to find that I was actually enjoying myself. You see, I usually detest Alfred Hitchcock's films - I find issue with his pacing and that hard-to-place smugness of his. Yet, North by Northwest is a
pleasure to watch; Hitchcock offers his viewers tension and suspense while for once maintaining more than just a semblance of plot progression. In fact, we have countless twists and turns, with mistaken identities, (attempted) murders, and of course the casual (and therefore all the more infuriating) Hitchcockian misogyny. 
What's it about? Madison Avenue advertising executive Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) is kidnapped after being mistaken for the elusive George Kaplan; but by whom? Well that's what Thornhill has to find out, because the police won't help him. After a bungled attempt to kill him off (in a James Bond-like, overly complicated manner which is destined to fail) Thornhill dedicates himself to discovering what on earth is going on. Along the way he is helped by the beautiful Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint), whose incredibly forward offers seem too good to be true. Grant carries the weight of the lead role well, although Thornhill is something of an underwritten every(gentle)-man; his transition from bemused businessman to determined counter-espionage agent is a little too abrupt. I could rant about Hitchcock's representation of women, but I think I'll spare you that. Suffice it to say that Kendall is not a rounded character, but more of a messy melange of pathetic/prostitute/predator that we've come to recognise in Hitchcock's films. Nevertheless, North by Northwest does thrill, as promised. There's the iconic scene in which a plane attempts to mow down Thornhill, and that of the main characters clambering over Mt. Rushmore, which both serve to even out the stodgy middle sections. 
If you profess to dislike 'old films' then you might want to consider North by Northwest. It's not black and white (if that's your issue) and it's not slow (well, for the director of Vertigo). There's plenty of material to keep you entertained, and you can always compete with me over when you figured out the plot twists (because I'd despair if you had to wait for the film to inform you itself). I don't use a star-rating system, but this is a definite recommendation.

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