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North by Northwest
Year:
1959
Country:
USA
Genre:
Drama, Thriller, Action, Adventure, Mystery, Romance
IMDB rating:
8.4
Director:
Alfred Hitchcock
Cary Grant as Roger O. Thornhill
Eva Marie Saint as Eve Kendall
James Mason as Phillip Vandamm
Jessie Royce Landis as Clara Thornhill
Leo G. Carroll as The Professor
Josephine Hutchinson as Mrs. Townsend
Philip Ober as Lester Townsend
Martin Landau as Leonard
Adam Williams as Valerian
Edward Platt as Victor Larrabee
Les Tremayne as Auctioneer
Philip Coolidge as Dr. Cross
Patrick McVey as Sergeant Flamm - Chicago Policeman
Storyline: Madison Avenue advertising man Roger Thornhill finds himself thrust into the world of spies when he is mistaken for a man by the name of George Kaplan. Foreign spy Philip Vandamm and his henchman Leonard try to eliminate him but when Thornhill tries to make sense of the case, he is framed for murder. Now on the run from the police, he manages to board the 20th Century Limited bound for Chicago where he meets a beautiful blond, Eve Kendall, who helps him to evade the authorities. His world is turned upside down yet again when he learns that Eve isn't the innocent bystander he thought she was. Not all is as it seems however, leading to a dramatic rescue and escape at the top of Mt. Rushmore.
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Reviews
Please excuse me while I commit cinematic sacrilege
As it is clearly demonstrated even in this forum, many, many people love this movie. I just finished viewing it myself for the first time, and frankly, I can't say that I agree. Am I nuts? Maybe. All I know is I'd like to put my two cents in, for what it's worth.

For an espionage tale like this, I would have preferred an approach more based on grim realism. Instead, the narrative seemed a bit too convenient and contrived, as if Old Hitch was trying to make the ends meet at the last minute. Somehow, I never felt the `taut' tension of his other films that I've immensely enjoyed (Dial M for Murder, Rear Window, Psycho, The Wrong Man, Vertigo, to name but a few). It certainly doesn't help that the film contains too many scenes that verge on the `fantastical' level. For example, there's a scene in which a gun goes off in the living room of a house. Eva Marie Saint comes out of her room and asks, `What was that noise,' to which James Mason replies, `We were just wondering about that.' Martin Landau just gives a little shrug and all is forgotten. I mean, come on! I'd say it's pretty hard to mistake a gunshot for, say, somebody dropping a glass on the floor. As I mentioned, there are many more scenes like this during the course of the movie, and every single one of them acts as a ‘decelerator' of the narrative. Also, the overall performance of the cast struck me as rather underwhelming, especially when we're talking about some of the finest actors ever to grace the silver screen. James Mason, in particular, sleepwalks his way through, though I can't blame him, given the fact that his character was so painfully underwritten. The bit when Cary Grant acts like he's drunk was pretty difficult to sit through. Humor is fine when it works on, again, a believable level.

I like the idea of having a normal Joe get tangled up in a case of mistaken identity/international espionage. Also, it does feature some memorable scenes, especially the famous crop field/airplane sequence (it really does deserve all the praise it has received) But again, it just proves to me that even a seemingly sure-fire combo like Ernest Lehman-Alfred Hitchcock can still come up short on the goods.

The second 007 adventure, `From Russia with Love', received some hounding because people thought it was basically a rip-off of this movie (there are some obvious similarities), but in this madman's humble opinion, `From Russia with Love' is the one that achieves a better telling of a spy story.
2001-06-06
Quite possible Alfred Hitchcock's finest masterpiece
Masterpiece. Excellent. Brilliant. Film-making at its finest.

None of these statements do 'North by Northwest' justice. It truly is indescribable. If anyone has ever doubted Alfred Hitchcock's ability then this is the film that should surely overshadow any of those opinions.

Cary Grant plays the average man. But when he is mistaken for a spy his life spirals into an adventure that leads him to Mount Rushmore, crop fields and a beautiful woman (played ever so greatly by Eva Marie Saint).

The story is captivating, exciting and is everything a great film should be. It has scenes and lines that have become classics in the world of film and the combination of Cary Grant and Alfred Hitchcock is unmissable.

Ernest Lehmann has done an excellent job in writing the screenplay and this is by far one of his greatest achievements.

Overall, this film is a must see for everyone. Even if thrillers are not your favourite, it still provides great entertainment for all. It is by no means overrated and it hasn't been surpassed by any films since it's release.
2005-07-27
Terrific Entertainment From the Master
With everything you expect from Hitchcock and more, "North By Northwest" is terrific entertainment from the master. There are interesting characters, an exciting story with intrigue and suspense, lots of fine photography, and some of Hitchcock's best-known set pieces. It's capped off by a fine Bernard Herrmann score that is almost as good as the one he wrote later for "Psycho".

Cary Grant may be the ideal Hitchcock actor, and he is a big part of making this such great fun. As one of the man-on-the-run characters that Hitchcock loved to make movies about, Grant is entertaining and believable, maintaining good humor even as he tries to work his way out of a series of desperate situations. The other stars, James Mason and Eva Marie Saint, also are very good, and the supporting roles are all filled by good character actors.

The story is one of Hitchcock's most exciting. It's slightly longer than usual, and it occasionally stretches credibility, but it all goes by quickly because there is always something interesting going on, and there is also plenty to look at. Whether using the famous landmarks or using more everyday settings, there is always lots of good detail, and the settings complement the story nicely. At times the plot becomes somewhat fanciful, but probably deliberately so, for it only emphasizes Hitchcock's mastery of technique that he can have his characters do almost anything and make you believe it at the time.

With everything that characterizes Hitchcock at his very best, this fully deserves its reputation as one of the finest films by him or any other director. You can watch it several times and still find it just as entertaining.
2001-09-21
Better than most, but not Hitchcock's best
This is acclaimed by many as one of Hitchcock's best films, but it is also known as one of his biggest blunders. It is generally agreed that `The Master of Suspense' stumbled badly by revealing the identity of George Kaplan early in the film, in the scene where the CIA members discuss what to do about Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant).

Thornhill is a heady advertising executive who is abducted at gunpoint and taken to a man named Vandamm (James Mason) who asks him cryptic questions and keeps calling him George Kaplan. Thornhill responds that he doesn't know George Kaplan and that they are confusing him with someone else. Through this entire sequence, we are never sure whether he is Thornhill or Kaplan. The film would have been far more intriguing if this were left a mystery until the end, rather than having it cleared up twenty minutes into the plot.

It is thought that Hitchcock believed that the introduction of Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint) would replace one mystery with an even better one. However, Eve's motivations are too transparent and even of the dullest of viewers can discern that their meeting on the train is no chance encounter. Eve is far too forward and obvious, especially for the 1950's. It is hard to believe there is anyone who wouldn't be a tad suspicious at her behavior. Though we are left with more than a few questions about Eve after the love scene, imagine how wonderfully confused we would have been if Kaplan's identity weren't revealed so early in the film. We would know only what Thornhill knew about why he was being pursued and seduced, which is next to nothing.

Despite these flaws, the film is still intriguing, with a number of unpredictable twists. The second half of the film is much tighter, and the chase scene on the face of Mount Rushmore is one the classic suspense scenes in the history of film. Hitchcock tried to get permission to shoot the scene on the real Rushmore, but he was refused. Not to be deterred, he had his own Mount Rushmore set built that was indistinguishable from the original earning an Oscar nomination for set decoration.

The acting is excellent. Cary Grant is at his debonair best as the acerbic ad executive who is beguiled by Eve's beauty and charm. Eva Marie Saint is best known for her movie debut as Edie in `On The Waterfront', but she is every bit as good in this film. Hers is a very complex character, duplicitous and devious, yet vulnerable and torn, and she handles it with facility. James Mason is enigmatic and elusive as VanDamm and a youthful Martin Landau does a nice job as VanDamm's tough lieutenant.

I enjoyed this film, but I don't believe it attains the level of excellence of Hitchcock's other renowned films (`Psycho', `Vertigo' and `Rear Window'). I rated it 9/10 with a point deducted for blowing the Kaplan question. Even so, a bad day for Hitchcock is like the best day for most directors.
2001-04-21
One of the best directed thrillers of all time
Roger Thornhill (Grant) is mistaken for another man by a group of foreign spies and after a few unfortunate events, finds himself on the run.

North by Northwest is recognized as one of Alfred Hitchcock's finest films and with the adrenaline soaked narrative and a great central performance it is easy to see why.

Cary Grant (Charade) delivers a sensational portrayal of advertising executive Roger Thornhill, a simple man who is mistaken for someone else. Thornhill is wonderfully sarcastic, very charismatic and plaudits must go to Grant who has created an original hero, an ordinary man who turns himself into an action hero within a short space of time in Alfred Hitchcock's wonderfully realistic world.

Hitchcock's action styled direction is picture perfect for this fast moving thriller. The British director cements the realism down to the ground with his cutting edge close shots and the fast sweeping direction, most noticeable in the landmark plane scene in the fields.

It is easy to overdo action in modern day films and Hitchcock has expertly managed to balance the action alongside the everyday events of the protagonists.

This film is close to resembling a Bond styled genre, though obviously was made before Bond films were. The cocky yet sophisticated Thornhill is well directed by Hitchcock to create the ultimate action hero in a sharply written narrative that is more realistic and entertaining than the Bond spy genre.

The reason this 1959 thriller works is down to all the genres it covers. Through Hitchcock's action and realistic direction, viewers are thrust into action sequences, romantic moments and crime sequences to, providing viewers with the ultimate adventure. Covering different genres is not a stroll in the park as recent films show and can be appreciated here with Hitchcock's wonderful balance.

The balance of the action and romantic genres works well with the whole mystery concept of what is happening to the central character.

The settings are well executed and further add to the intensity of the plot, particularly the field and the climax on Mount Rushmore.

North by Northwest is a top notch action thriller, made so by Hitchcock's direction, great writing and a fine central character.
2008-10-29
remarkably fresh, incredibly intense, ends a bit too fast
SPOILERS Everybody loves Hitchcock. It's strange, but irrelevant of how many times you've seen his films, you always find something new in them. Whether it's Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates, Jimmy Stewart in his wheelchair, or Cary Grant scoring on a train, Hitchcock has got some of the most famous actors of the time to confirm their legend status with his films. Hitchcock's films are also remembered for the forever spoofed or replayed scenes which we know and love. The birds on the climbing frame, the shower scene, the Mount Rushmore climb, all these and many more have been given tribute by Matt Groening's 'Simpsons' and in modern culture, you don't get many higher tributes.

Written in 1959, 'North by Northwest' is one of Hitchcock's more memorable films. Remembered more for the already mentioned Rushmore scene, the film boasts some genuinely amazing performances, as well as some of Hitchcock's masterful tension. Intense and powerful, it also contains some absolutely superb lines and one of the finest train journeys of all time. It's a brilliant film, ruined ever so slightly by the final 30 seconds which feel rushed and incomplete. Still, at over two hours long, there is so much going for this film that you'll never grow tired of it.

Roger O Thornhill (Cary Grant) is just a regular, financially secure advertising executive for a major film. Accidentally mistaken for a spy, Thornhill's life takes an unexpected turn when he is kidnapped and taken to see the evil Phillip Vandamm (James Mason). Plied with alcohol and thrown into a car, Thornhill finds that staying alive has become a new chief priority. Chased by Vandamm and the police at the same time, Thornhill now must uncover the truth behind the mistaken identity and discover just what it is he is meant to know.

Led by the enigmatic Grant, 'North by Northwest' is a brilliant film for two key reasons. Firstly, the entire cast are on top notch form. As the unfortunate Thornhill, Grant is exquisite and lights up the screen for every second that he is on screen. At the same time, both Mason as the bad guy and Eva Marie Saint as the love interest fulfil their roles perfectly. They add humour, they add intensity, and most importantly they add intrigue to roles which are stunningly created by writer Ernest Lehman.

The second reason for the film's brilliance is the simple way that you are twisted and turned and completely stunned by certain key events. Times like the legendary plane chase, the magnificent realisation of the truth behind Saint's character, all add together to produce a film which is actually rather special.

In fact, aside from one or two incredibly sickening lines, the only real problem with 'North by Northwest' is that ending. Rushed and confused, it feels like Hitchcock has cut ten minutes out of the end to reduce the film's length. This is obviously not the case and it's just been written badly, but the haste with which the film just stops is a mild irritation, if purely because your so hyped up on adrenaline from the rest of the film. In a way, it's a bit like watching live sport only for someone to turn off the match with ten minutes left and tell you the final score. Sometimes a calming down period and a proper resolution are needed, and sadly in 'North by Northwest' this never appears.

In possession of some of the most famous film moments in history, Hitchcock's 'North by Northwest' is a brilliant film. Well written and acted, it is a roller-coaster ride which never lets off until it's disappointing rushed conclusion. With so much intensity throughout, it feels weird that the film does climax in such a way, but ultimately for the two hours plus before hand, you can forgive the creators for their impatience. Beautiful to watch, and powerful throughout, 'North by Northwest' is justifiably one of Hitchcock's finest.
2005-08-09
Great film that has aged well in spite of a few minor flaws.
Great roller coaster ride of a movie with a few minor flaws. First, I can't imagine a more inept criminal justice system than in Glen Cove: (a) cops crashing their car into a fleeing drunk driver (b) detectives that easily could have exposed the phony Mrs. Townsend (hard to believe they did not already know that the real one was deceased) with a few basic checks, such as the supposed arrival of Thornhill by taxi, his companions at the Oak Bar, the time and circumstances of the theft of the Mercedes, the party guest list, etc. (c) a lawyer letting his client without objection to go to trial on felony charges only one day after the preliminary hearing, and (d) a judge permitting such a quick trial, then letting Thornhill out on bail if his story was supposedly so phony. Second, the scene involving the "United States Intelligence Agency" (staying so secret by being conveniently plopped right in the middle of the National Mall with the Capitol background shot) could have been deleted, leaving the mystery of Kaplan's identity for later resolution; the plot would have been enhanced that much more. Third, the scene in the Chicago train station with the cops checking all the red caps was a bit of a stretch; my recollection of 1950's America was that most of them were of a different ethnicity than that shown in the film.

But in spite of these and the many other minor flaws and goofs that have been well documented, this is still a great film with superb acting, direction, photography, overall plot and suspense that has aged well, like fine wine. I especially liked the little non-verbal nuances, such as: (a) the expression exchange between Thornhill and the other man shaving in the train station, (b) the looks of skepticism by the New York state cop to Eve Kendall, (c) the flabbergasted look by the Chicago cop when Thornhill is suddenly whisked away by the professor at the airport, and (d) Thornhill looking at the farmer (thinking he is Kaplan) across the road, waiting for him to make the first move. The little snippets of humor in the middle of normally suspenseful or dramatic scenes further added to the enjoyment of viewing the film. How many other cops would admonish a murder suspect with "you ought to be ashamed of yourself?" Well worth the rental and viewing time for a good entertainment escape.
2005-08-14
Grant + Hitchcock = Fun
Cary Grant never ceases to amaze me. Though I haven't seen a whole list of his movies (Only two: This and Charade), his wit and cool demeanor makes me realize that if I was a movie go-er in his time I'd pick him as the person I'd want to be like when I grew up. The movie's only downfall was that it seemed kind of on the long side, and once or twice I caught myself closing my eyes about 15 minutes from the end, but Grant's ability to keep me interested in this movie surpasses the idea that this was even a Hitchcock film. By the middle I'd completely forgotten, because the style seemed so different from all of Hitchcock's previous films I've seen (Psycho, Rope, Vertigo, et-al), and I was happy with the end result. A must see for fans of Bond movies, because this is the completely implausible way of telling the same kind of story.
2005-03-26
Up And Upwest
Alfred Hitchcock dished something up more then fifty years ago that would change the way cinema looked today. North By Northwest was that film, and whilst at the time I can only imagine it was fantastical, it still holds up today, trumping most films that come out in the twenty first century. It's fast paced action, it's mystery and twists and turns and all the charm from its actors are what carry this film into cinematic history.

North By Northwest is one of the greatest films ever made, both for its historic placement and it's utterly great story. It proves to be something more then a film, it's more of an adventure for the audience; we travel with Roger through this fantastic thriller, becoming apart of his venture. Possibly the greatest action adventure film ever made.
2015-10-20
A towering achievement.
This is Hitchcock's best film – quite an accomplishment, considering how many great films he created. And after half a century, "North By Northwest" holds up beautifully. This film has it all: suspense, glamour, humor, and images that capture the imagination and remain etched in memory. The legendary crop-dusting sequence alone is a master class in the art of pure cinema. Like the rest of the film, it's brilliantly conceived and brilliantly executed. All the elements come together to produce the finest form of entertainment. Bernard Herrmann's frantic fandango captures the complexity and pace of the action. Ernest Lehman's script is full of sophisticated dialogue. Performances are spot on. Has Cary Grant ever been more engaging? Is James Mason the ultimate in charming villains? And Eva Marie Saint's allure is multi-faceted. Movies just don't get better than this.
2008-04-23
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