North By Northwest
Lots of people remember Alfred Hitchcock for the classic scene in North By Northwest where Cary Grant's character is being chased by a crop duster sent to kill him, in the middle of a desolate field.
Hitchcock made many classics in his time, and is generally known as the man who captured and mastered the thriller. He thrilled us all with his earlier films such as Rebecca (1940) and Notorious (1946), and scared the daylights out of us with his gruesome later films like The Birds (1963), Vertigo (1958), Rear Window (1954). And Psycho (1960) - so I am told. Because of the film's age limit and my fear of gruesome horror films, I will be avoiding this film for as long as possible. These films were all made at similar times and seem to be part of the same genre. North By Northwest seems to have gotten accidentally caught up in this period with a load of films that seem to be of a different theme. Is this why this films sticks in our mind when thinking of Hitchcock?
North By Northwest is about an advertising man named Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) who is mistakenly identified as George Kaplan when a coincidence in a hotel luncheon room leads Kaplan's kidnappers to believe that he is Kaplan. They take him back to a Mr. Townsend's house and forcibly make him drink a large bottle of Bourbon. This "Mr. Townsend" is actually Phillip Vandamm (James Mason). Drunk and confused Thornhill (Cary Grant) is put in a car to drive home on a rocky cliff road. He manages to control the car and survive far enough to be seen by a police car. After he is bailed out of jail by his mother, a group of detectives take a look at the house and into the men who supposedly kidnapped him. They find nothing. When Roger stupidly takes a look in Kaplan's hotel room he is mistaken for him again, and he finds out that no one ever seems to have seen this man. We see the CIA talking about the situation after the murder of the real Mr. Townsend is framed on Roger Thornhill, who they know is now known as George Kaplan. They discuss how George Kaplan is a fictional character created to trap criminal, Phillip Vandamm - the now exhausted audience finally finding out who Kaplan is. Thornhill sneaks onto a train to Chicago and meets beautiful lady, Eve Kendall (Eve Marie Saint).
They fall in love and she agrees to hide him in her compartment on the train as he hasn't got a ticket. When they get to Chicago, she dresses him as a bellboy and tells him where to go. Subsequently he arrives at a bus stop in the middle of nowhere and is pursued by a crop duster (hence the legendary scene). He finds out that Eve is a spy for Vandamm who has been lying to him and reporting back to Phillip. When a CIA agent tells him the truth, that she is a double agent working for them, he realises that he has to go and save her from a fate worse that death. Said saving includes climbing down Mount Rushmore in an attempt to escape from Vandamm and his henchmen.
The final scene shows Roger pulling her up onto a bunk on a train, and the final shot is the view of the tunnel the train goes into.
One of the first things that strikes you when you watch this film (other than the genius directing, which I am saving till last), is the exquisite way that the colours have been coordinated. The main five colours in the film are red, grey, dark green, yellow and navy blue. All colours that are not part of this scheme are either shown discretely, or worn or used in a way so that it bonds with the main five colours. I have had the amazing experience to see North By Northwest on a large projector screen, making me appreciate the effort that evidently went into the art direction of this picture even more.
You can't review North By Northwest without a mention of Bernard Herman who composed the amazing score with the legendary theme making it's debut in the opening credits - which is said to be the first opening credits to use kinetic typography - and is used throughout the film as the main piece of music. When Eve and Roger are on the train Herman uses echos of music more from the romantic period (so my Dad tells me) to convey the mood.
I also really love the shot that looks like a painting, used for the scene outside The United Nations. It is so lovely, another great touch to the look of the picture.
Eve Marie Saint is really lovely as Eve Kendall. I have only seen her in one other film, The Sandpiper which I thought she was also lovely in. Her clothes! I need them. The beautiful dark blue suit she wears on the train and then later (not pictured) the stunning red dress! First I would also need her hair, but that can be arranged... My darling Cary Grant is gorgeous as always (how could one expect anything else?) and he is playing his forte, the mistaken guy who always gets blamed for things he didn't do. He apparently quarreled with Hitchcock about the wandering plot of the script, but was convinced by Hitchcock's air of wisdom.
What can I say about Hitchcock?! He is just amazing. Every tiny thing has been covered with him. The way he shoots the films is so unique to him, that my family have ended up playing a "Spot the Hitch shot" game whenever we watch one of his films. He even thought to make the house at the end look like a Frank Lloyd Wright house, as he was the most popular architect in America at the time. Without a doubt one of the best directors who ever lived. That is after all, the reason for this blogathon!
Read the 17 other great Hitchcock posts at http://clamba.blogspot.com/.
I leave you with one of my favourite moments in the movie.
Ticket Guy: "Something wrong with your eyes?"
Roger Thornhill: "Yes, they're sensitive to questions."