North by Northwest (1959)
Starring Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, and James Mason
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
The always charming Cary Grant is Roger Thornhill, an advertising exec living in New York City. While at a restaurant one evening, Thornhill is mistaken for a man named George Kaplan who happens to be an international spy. Thornhill is abducted by Philip Vandamm (James Mason) who believes that Kaplan works for the CIA and is trying to undermine his criminal plans (which I'll leave vague for the purposes of this discussion). While Thornhill escapes this initial abduction, Vandamm's men will stop at nothing to kill Thornhill whom they still believe is Kaplan. As he travels across the United States to try and evade his abductors and clear his own name which has been sullied by being set up for a murder by Vandamm's men, Thornhill meets the alluring Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint) who may or may not be aiding him in his escape.
The problem with creating a summary of North by Northwest is that the film is one of the best written screenplays of all time. A bold statement, I know, but after this viewing, I believe wholeheartedly it is true and anything I write will not give it the least bit of justice. Not only is the dialog witty, clever, and surprisingly sexy, but screenwriter Ernest Lehman is ingenious in revealing key plot points as well -- he is constantly giving the viewer little bits of information, keeping us guessing, but allowing us to decipher clues along the way. Nothing is the least bit confusing either. Yes, this flick is a spy thriller, but it never feels the least bit bogged down with unnecessary information -- everything in the movie is revealed at exactly the right time and the revelations are for the purposes of furthering the story not for shock value. The film whizzes by in a flash and considering that it's 135 minutes long that's an admirable accomplishment.
And certainly Hitchcock himself is worthy of praise for the pacing of the flick as well. There's a sense of playfulness on display in North by Northwest, and while its characters are dealing with some serious predicaments, the film has a tongue-in-cheek tone. Don't get me wrong...this isn't a comedy, but there's never a "heaviness" to the proceedings when there very well could have been.
Part of the reason for the reason for the light-hearted aire is Cary Grant. While he's still portraying the ladies' man (as he often does), he's an aged ladies' man. Graying around the edges with a wrinkled brow, Grant's Thornhill is more "everyman" than we usually get from a Grant performance. Couple that with the lovely Eva Marie Saint as Thornhill's sexy love interest who may or may not be conspiring to kill him and they are quite a duo onscreen. Grant and Saint are surprisingly smoldering in their scenes together.
While I always knew that I liked North by Northwest, I never really appreciated it the way I do now. As always, whenever I like something, I have a tendency to never give it justice as is likely the case here. Suffice it to say, if you've never watched this flick, you should. You won't be disappointed and you'll be treating yourself to one of the best movies Hitch has ever made and one of the best movies Hollywood has ever cranked out.
The RyMickey Rating: A