Movie Review: No 38. North by Northwest

Movie Review: No 38. North by Northwest

Ahh Cary Grant – the George Clooney of the fifties and sixties. Frankly, I don’t understand the appeal of either of them.

Hitchcock’s North by Northwest was disappointing. With the film billed as “Hitchcock’s Masterpiece,” I suppose I expected more. The story is very Bond-esque, which is probably why I didn’t like it. James Bond and Fantasy are my two least favourite film “genres”.

Fans of ‘Mad Men’ would probably love this film. The story centres around a Madison Avenue advertising executive who is mistaken for a government agent by a group of foreign spies during the Cold War era.  Supposedly they are after some microfilm. (This microfilm is a plot device known as a “MacGuffin“, which is a fancy term for what I would simply call a “plot flaw”. In other words, whenever you’re too lazy to string a story together properly, just throw a red herring in there and no one will notice! Well, I noticed).

Look, the movie wasn’t all bad. I did find myself laughing out loud a number of times. But then, I laughed out loud during “Dude, Where’s my Car?” so that’s not much of an achievement. The drink driving scene is possibly the most hilarious driving scene of any film ever, and there are plenty of chases to keep you on your toes. The tiny guns are amusingly non-threatening and the police “car phone” is a classic blast from the past. The auction scene is fantastic, as is the scene where Thornhill re-enters the hospital through an unsuspecting (and lonely) patient’s window.

The settings are great too – Grand Central Station, the Plaza Hotel, Mount Rushmore – I felt like I was watching a Macaulay Culkin movie (which, frankly, I would have preferred).

There are some classic lines, like fugitive Thornhill’s remark, “Does anyone mind if I sit down? I’ve been running all day”, or “I’ve got a job, a secretary, a mother, two ex-wives and several bartenders that depend upon me, and I don’t intend to disappoint them all by getting myself “slightly” killed”.

From a slow start, the film builds like no other I’ve seen. Had the whole film moved at the pace of the last quarter, I think I would have given it a much higher score. Nevertheless, the plot holes and clumsy acting left me “whelmed”.

The female lead, Eve Kendall, is probably the saving grace of the film. Anyone who can scale Mount Rushmore in a dress and heels with handbag in tow gets my seal of approval! She’s not backwards in coming forward, and there is a very interesting play-off between her overtly fliratious behaviour (“using sex like some people use a flyswatter”) and her demure 1950s female persona (“I’m Eve Kendall. I’m 26 and unmarried. Now you know everything”… as if that’s all there is to know about a woman).

Again, Hitchcock’s love story is unconvincing. You might say it’s not exactly his strong suit. While he is up there as my favourite director, I once watched a documentary about his attitude towards women that I found disturbing, and only too reminiscent of Norman Bates’ character in ‘Psycho’. As I understand it, Hitchcock hated women and would use opportunites during filming to humiliate and almost torture them. One famous example was leaving Janet Leigh under freezing cold running water for hours filming that famous shower scene. This story was later disputed, but nevertheless it is hard to argue that there’s not something freakishly Freudian going on with that man.

It’s no surprise then, that he is unable to carry off a romance with any level of sincerity. In this example, from one night stand on a train to marriage proposal, Roger Thornhill is one fast mover:

Roger Thornhill: When we get out of this, you can ride the train with me again.
Eve Kendall: Is that a proposition?
Roger Thornhill: It’s a proposal, sweetie!

Cut to the next scene and he’s already calling her “Mrs Thornhill”!

(Maybe he could give Andy some tips?)

The film quickly closes with that infamous “train entering tunnel” double entendre that you, like me, may better remember from The Simpsons. If you don’t laugh immaturely at that scene you probably need to get your funny bone checked.

7.5 pumpkins.

Have you seen ‘North by Northwest’? Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments below.

8 responses »

    • Initially I gave it a 5, but when I compared it to my other ratings I had to up it! I guess it was disappointing more because I was expecting a “10”. I suppose I’d rate the first half a 5 and the second half a 10, so it kinda works out.

      The plot sucked but the one-liners and scenery brought the score up.

      What would you rate it?

  1. I actually enjoyed the drunk driving scene; I thought it was quite believable! The plot and script suffered from many of the same issues as Vertigo, especially as you have said, regarding the love story. The best thing about the movie though is how it looks. Lots of great locations and well shot. I laughed out load at the closing train shot as well!

    • I’m pleased to know you are as immature as I am!

      The drunk driving scene was an absolute classic, although I don’t know how he managed it at all after a whole bottle of bourbon! I thought sending him off drunk was a very interesting tactic on the part of the spies – of course no one will believe his stories when he turns up stinking of booze! It is genius in its simplicity!

  2. I think I’ve seen the ending of this movie about twenty times and the whole thing only once. It appears as Saturday afternoon filler about once every three months on TV. I rate it one and a half sweet potatoes.

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