Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Essentials- "North By Northwest" (1959)

The Essentials-#32

North By Northwest
When we look back at the best films by Alfred Hitchcock, which films come to mind? "Vertigo?" "Psycho?" "The Birds?" "Rear Window?" "The Man Who Knew Too Much?" Hitchcock had a lengthy, successful career and he has many hits on his resume. However, one film that always seems absent in the discussion of the best Hitchcock films is "North By Northwest." That to me is a little sad.

When it comes to my personal favorite mysteries or my personal favorite thrillers, I love the "whodunit?" movie, I love the mistaken identity movie. I love it when it seems like the whole world is against one individual, and that individual has to find out why. I love it when individuals have to overcome seemingly impossible odds just to clear his name. That is the setup for Cary Grant in "North By Northwest," easily Hitchock's most underrated film. I bet if I took a poll, most filmgoers would recognize the photo above. A great "Family Guy" episode parodied this movie very well. Yet, why isn't the movie talked about more?

Cary Grant plays Roger Thornhill, a advertising executive who gets mistakenly kidnapped by two henchmen working for Lester Townshend. It turns out that Townshend is actually a spy named Phillip Vandamm (James Mason.) It seems Vandamm wants a man named George Kaplan for unknown reasons. But Thornhill isn't Kaplan, he's Thornhill. This leads Thornhill into a nightmare of near deaths, double-crossings and fake identities. The film gets especially tense when Thornhill is framed for murder.

What makes Hitchcock's film so engrossing is that a lot of stuff is never explained. What Hitchcock masters is throwing certain specifics out the window and focusing Thornhill's survival. But that doesn't mean the film features plot holes or isn't well written. Hitchcock makes every corner of his world matter, and because of that, everything matters to the audience. The film features a very good performance by Grant, but the whole cast is equally solid. The film also features great use of scenery and monumental locations. (And I definitely mean monumental in every aspect of the word!)

Plus, its Hitchcock, which means you need to see this before you die.

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