Title: North by Northwest
Genre: Mystery, Thriller
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Writer: Ernest Lehman
Music: Bernard Hermann
Cinematography: Robert Burks
Eva Marie Saint
Jessie Royce Landis
Leo G. Carroll
An originator of the wronged-man-goes-berserk thriller, Hitchcock’s NORTH BY NORTHWEST is the ultimate heavyweight which can make its contemporaneous 007 vehicle, say GOLDFINGER (1964), embarrassingly pale in comparison.
Two of its most visually memorable and elaborately appreciated action sequences of this delectable classic are the murderous crop-dusting biplane and the final cliffhanger on the Mt. Rushmore, still full of vim and vigor upon my first viewing. But it is also a great suspenseful mystery (at least for at the first half) of a mistaken identity, the McGuffin is an agent called George Kaplan, and our innocent protagonist, an advertising man Roger Thornhill (Grant) is mistaken for him due to a rather trivial coincidence (which completely evaded me during my viewing) in the beginning.
Subsequently Thornhill is framed as a murderer wanted in every newspaper, and hunted by a foreign spy Vandamm (Mason) and his underlings, after several laborious but failed plotting to murder him, including the ill-fated deploy of a femme fatale Eve Kendall (Marie Saint) to seduce him on the overnight 2oth Century Limited, where the romance is budding profusely and the suspicion is naturally engendered.
Meanwhile audience get to know the true identity of this secretive Mr. Kaplan, who is merely a decoy concocted by secret services lead by the Professor (Carroll). Yet in their plan, Thornhill is regarded only as an unfortunate canon fodder, who they have no intention to rescue in the first place. Until Thornhill outwits Vandamm’s lame scheme and confronts him and Eve in an auction house, only at that moment, the Professor decides to give a helping hand (only because one of his double agent is in danger of being exposed). And for the same season, after knowing the entire story, Thornhill decides to keep playing Mr. Kaplan until the endgame, to seize Vandamm and his cohorts.
Initially Cary Grant is maximizing his nonchalant debonair as his usual gambit, as a mommy’s boy, his scenes with his mother Clara (a pitch-perfect Royce Landis, albeit who was only 7 years senior than him, thanks to the excruciatingly uninviting agism in the showbiz) is a hoot to enjoy, and then when peril is piling up, he becomes more alert and agitated in his desperate move to track down who is George Kaplan, although it is hard not to roll one’s eyes to the utter hokum that he can swiftly shuttle among the public place without being faintly recognized as a wanted man. Thankfully the two-hander between him and a graceful and deadly charming Eva Marie Saint shots the bull’s eye, the age-difference is glaring, but it grabs the attention with Hitchcock’s infamous blonde-fixation, Eva comes off lively in her elusive ambivalence, she is irresistible and enigmatic, not until the prompt plot twist, which degrades her into a female prey waiting to be rescued.
Mason and Landau make a solid evil pair, the former is urbanely callous while the latter is dourly menacing, but as almost all the villain in the films, their luck is leaking when the film starts, with bad choices of dispatching our hero, and unspecified missteps in the process.
I cannot claim this is my favourite Hitchcock’s film, PSYCHO (1960) is still my current pick, but it is the most entertaining and mainstream fare in his oeuvre, Hitchcock is a master of intrigues, and the film is an enthralling roller-coaster ride in 136 minutes with fun and delight galore.