Watching a DVD of North by Northwest last night reminded me once again how good Alfred Hitchcock could be. North by Northwest had everything going for it: suspenseful, witty script by Ernest Lehman, terrific performances by Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint, and also excellent performances by the supporting characters played by Jessie Royce Landis, James Mason, and Martin Landau.
The movie showed that people talking about sex can be more interesting than showing the act. It also proved that copious doses of profanity are totally unncecessary to telling a good story.
The urbane and sophisticated Mr. Vandamm (James Mason) up against the snappy-talking advertising man, Roger Thornhill, whom Vandamm believes is the spy, George Kaplan. The sinister Leonard (Martin Landau) is a blue-eyed menace.
Oops! Caught with a corpse! Thornhill pulls a knife out of the back of Lester Townsend at the United Nations, in front of dozens of witnesses. A typical Hitchcock “wrong man” scene. Hitchcock’s paranoid stories about men being accused of things they didn’t do became a trademark.
Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint) and Grant in a seduction scene that is sexier than most sex scenes in movies. The sexual electricity is crackling all over the actors as they play out their lines. Who could resist Eva Marie Saint at such a time? Not I. Not Roger Thornhill, either.
“I don’t like the way Teddy Roosevelt is looking at me,” says Thornhill to the Professor (Leo G. Carroll). Thornhill has been apprised of the plot, and his place in it. Using a national monument like Mt. Rushmore in which to play out the final scenes creates a lot of visual interest for the viewer.
Skulking in Vandamm’s opulent house adjacent to the monument. Are there really houses built on top of Mt. Rushmore? There are in Hitchcock’s version of reality.
Even while hanging off the monument Eve Kendall manages to keep a hold on her purse.
The precariousness of the scene on Mt. Rushmore gives way to the final romantic scene, where Thornhill pulls the new Mrs. Thornhill into the train’s sleeping compartment with him.
The movie ends with the infamous scene of the train going into the tunnel. Ho-ho. A bit of sexual symbolism that may have escaped some, like me. I saw this movie when I was 12-years-old, with my dad. Dad liked it so much we saw it again a few weeks later. All of the sexy stuff went right over my head, but he sure enjoyed it.
Mad had fun with Alfred Hitchcock’s style, including the director’s inclusion of his own image somewhere in the movie. This story is from Mad #53, March 1960.