North By Northwest: Classic Film Review

Hitchcock & Cary Grant Present Delightful Mystery

Cary Grant and Alfred Hitchcock combine in a great caper movie – maintaining just enough menace to be thrilling, whilst also featuring much comedy.

Roger Thornhill, a suave and handsome advertising executive, gets mistaken for someone else by chance and is thrown into a game of cat and mouse where the mouse doesn’t understand why it’s being hunted down. Pursued by Phillip Vandamm (Mason) and his cohorts, Thornhill must enlist the help of beautiful stranger Eve Kendall (Saint) in his quest to understand who exactly is chasing him and who they have mistaken him for.

Grant and Saint Star: Mason Provides Able Support

Starring as Roger Thornhill, a city man mistaken for someone else, Cary Grant conveys the sense of a wholly bewildered yet ingenious man caught up in something far bigger than he can imagine. The actor strongly conveys his hold on comedy, with much of the film’s witty humor and sexual charge coming from him.

Eva Marie Saint, as Eve Kendall, counteracts Grant as a strong female lead; despite initial assumptions, she’s deeper than we think, and the actress does brilliantly well to portray such a conflicted character. Her scenes with Grant present some incredibly charged encounters – some of which could clearly be seen as raunchy for the time, but perhaps less so now – a testament to her performance as well as his.

James Mason, as villain Phillip Vanndamm, exudes ruthlessness with a hint of charm, giving what could have been a stock movie villain a sense of class and ambiguity. His assistant Leonard, played by a young Martin Landau, provides a deadly and somewhat ominous performance to the movie that lends it its more sinister scenes, whilst an accomplice to Thornhill, the Professor, is played by Leo G. Carroll, who presents his character as the stereotypical old gent, but one who is, much like many other characters here, deeper than at first impressions.

Not Your Typical Hitchcock

Hitchcock crafts another hit movie with his trademark mix of tension and strong performances – and the addition of comedy to this mixture only serves to make the film stronger. Hitch presents a lighter side to his film-making here, with a movie not only shot in color but featuring much comedy and goofing around that he is not known for. However, the darker sides of his direction are not lost, and the film’s main plot holds many dark mysteries and discoveries for Thornhill.

Grant’s Thornhill gets the best lines by far; his putdowns and sarcasm towards the men mistaking him for someone else are witty and damning. Much of the suggestive dialogue between the leads is also impressive, and quite raunchy in its suggestions for its time. As with many other Hitchcock movies, Bernard Herrmann contributes the fantastic score, and the memorable theme sits alongside his past collaborations on Psycho and other such Hitch films. Shot in color, and quite often on location or in a convincing sound stage, this movie is brilliantly visualized from the opening credits onward. It’s a shame that for the final set-piece of the movie Hitchcock wasn’t allowed to shoot in the real location he wanted to; as the obvious matte paintings are pitifully fake.

One of Hitch’s Best Films

As with any Hitchcock movie, North by Northwest is filled with twists, wry humor, and a sense of mounting tension. However, including comedy into this already potent broth pays dividends for the legendary director; the movie is among his very best.

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