Thursday, April 26, 2007

Revisit: North By Northwest

An MGM release 1959

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

Written by Ernest Lehman

A hapless New York advertising executive (Cary Grant) is mistaken for a government agent by a group of foreign spies, and is pursued across the country while he looks for a way to survive.

Working with screenwriter Ernest Lehman, Hitchcock was originally comissioned to do an adaptation of the novel The Wreck of the Mary Deare by Hammond Innes, but the two hit a road block. After scrapping the project, Lehman said that he wanted to write the ultimate Hichcock flick. The legend goes that Hichcock had always wanted to make a film featuring an intense climax atop Mount Rushmore, and within days North by Northwest was born.

In many ways, North by Northwest is the ultimate Hitchcock film. Perhaps his most well known, it features two iconic scenes in Hitch's canon - the intense plane sequence and the even more intense chase atop Mount Rushmore. As always with Hitchcock, the film is visually brilliant; beautiful high angle crane shots and quick pans give way to resounding depth. The film deals with traditional Hitchcock themes of mistaken identity, blurred reality, and doubling, and features the most pure example of the Hitchcock 'MacGuffin' (a physical object that everyone in a movie is chasing after but which has no deep relationship to the plot): the microfilm containing government secrets which the spies are attempting to smuggle out of the country.

Cary Grant supposedly felt the script was convoluted and didn't make sense, but that doesn't show in his performance, which comes across as effortless and breezy. Grant was almost entering the 'grouch' phase at this point is his career, but he's a pleasure to watch as an affable victim of circumstance.

A must see for anyone who enjoys the cinema.

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