Starring: Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Running Time: 136 mins
North By Northwest is an American film about a New York advertising executive who becomes the victim of a relentless, yet unexplained, pursuit by foreign spies across the Northwest USA, all in a case of mistaken identity.
Well, this is just another demonstration of not only Hitchcock’s amazing directing skills, but also his flexibility in terms of making any sort of screenplay work to his mark of complete perfection.
As an example, Psycho is a thriller, relying largely on jump-scares and suspense, Rear Window and Vertigo are thrillers, building up to a dramatic climax, while also creating suspense, however this film is a constant rollercoaster ride of excitement and suspense from start to finish, that honestly reminds me a lot of the Bond series.
Now, there are a whole lot of reasons why this film is as brilliant as it is, and first of all: it’s just so clever. As well as making it unpredictable, its genius is in how subtle all of the explanations are. Throughout, you’re constantly asking yourself why this man is being so hunted, when everything seems like a mix-up, and even by the end, you still don’t get an explanation.
That’s because there is a detail so unbelievably subtle, and yet so integral to the entire storyline, that explains the entire plot in a split second, and I’m sure it takes you having to watch the film at least five times over to get that little detail.
Of course, that’s if you’re hugely curious about the whole thing, but not understanding why the whole story is going on doesn’t take anything away from the sheer entertainment and thrill of this story.
As I said, the whole thing feels quite a lot like a Bond film. You’ve got a suave and sophisticated central character, with his female sidekick alongside, and you’re jumping all over the map to uncover a perplexing mystery of international proportions, and that’s not even the half of the fun.
As well as having all of that action element to the story, it is still completely, and classically Hitchcock-ily unpredictable. You have characters that are quadruple agents, random deaths that change the whole make-up of the plot, and a hugely frightening climax atop Mount Rushmore, bringing everything to a brilliant end.
It’s not only the excitement or the unpredictability, though, that makes all of the excitement. In a surprising move for a Hitchcock film, completely unlike a great deal of his other films, this is actually quite funny to watch. Not in a laugh-out-loud way, but in a similar way to watching a suave Sean Connery move around the USA in what seems relatively farcical, in terms of the extent that this chase is being lengthened to.
Now, credit also has to go to the brilliant performances in this film, and above all, Cary Grant as Roger Thornhill, who brings a sophisticated touch to his character, making him completely supportable and credible, but also an evident feeling of being completely out of his depth in this huge pursuit across America, which perfectly captures everything of the main character.
Overall, then, this gets an 8.8, because it’s not only a thrilling Hitchcock classic from start to finish, its a genius, oddly funny, and classic story that you could honestly watch again and again and again.