Cary GrantLes TremayneLeo G. CarrollEva Marie Saint
North by Northwest
Medium: film
Year: 1959
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Writer: Ernest Lehman
Keywords: Oscar-nominated, action
Country: USA
Actor: Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason, Jessie Royce Landis, Leo G. Carroll, Josephine Hutchinson, Philip Ober, Martin Landau, Adam Williams, Edward Platt, Robert Ellenstein, Les Tremayne, Philip Coolidge
Format: 136 minutes
Website category: Hitchcock
Review date: 20 April 2008
Bloody hell, it's an early Sean Connery Bond film.
Every so often I buy DVDs on whims. One of those a while ago was to pick up a bunch of Alfred Hitchcock flicks, since apparently he's often felt to be Not Too Bad, All Things Considered. North by Northwest is the latest one I got around to watching and, well, it's a Bond film. Admittedly it came out a few years before Connery set the ball rolling in Dr No, but...
1. Cary Grant is in many ways a similar kind of hero, albeit a different sub-species of slippery customer. He's tall, he's good-looking and he makes an impression on women. That's the same. However he's an advertising executive rather than a professional spy, so the film takes a good 45 minutes to ease properly into Bond mode. (Don't worry, that's only the first third of the film. It's 136 minutes long, although quite fast-paced with it.) Cary Grant also is less casual than 007 in his relationships. However being an advertising man is shown to be pretty much the same as being a professional liar, so he's still pretty good at getting in and out of sticky situations, even if he's less prone to gunplay and fistfights. Of course he's played by Cary Grant, so even when lying his head off he's still a likeable everyman. Unlike Bond, you'd trust him.
2. The plot. Spies, deceit, escapes, murder attempts, action set-pieces. This is not one of Hitchcock's more heavyweight films. Apparently this was a deliberate change of pace after Vertigo for him, something light-hearted and for once not laden with symbolism. If it weren't for the thematic depth, this would be nothing but breezy fun... but of course it has that depth. I've never seen a film so thoroughly about deceit. Our lying hero gets embroiled in a web of deception and mistaken identity, in which his problem is often that people won't believe him. There's also a touch of Cold War moral relativism, which doesn't seem so remarkable today but this was the 1950s.
3. Eva Marie Saint makes most Bond girls look like Enid Blyton heroines.
4. And of course James Mason is practically a distillation of Bond villains. The voice. The urbanity. The beautifully polite drawing-room encounters with Cary Grant in which he'll congratulate him on his latest efforts before ordering his minions to kill him. He's wonderful, actually.
Random observations: Cary Grant can't do drunk acting. The editing is very occasionally odd. There's one big surprise for anyone watching in Bond Film Mode, which by that point in the film will be "everyone". Well, everyone who's ever seen a Bond film, anyway. It can also be funny. I don't really know Hitchcock's work very well, except by reputation. It's possible that I've unknowingly seen some of his work on TV, but the only films of his I've seen knowing at the time that they were by Alfred Hitchcock are Psycho, The Lady Vanishes, The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934 version) and I think a bit of Rear Window. I got me some educatin' to do.