Sunday, 8 February 2015

North by Northwest (1959) Film Review

 Fig. 1. North by Northwest poster.

Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest (1959) is a gripping mystery thriller that is filled with suspense. The master of suspense leaves the audience to sit, waiting and watching as events unfold that the protagonist is unaware of. With the charming Cary Grant who is a immediately likable actor as the lead role Roger Thornhill, All throughout Roger is mistaken for a spy called George Kaplan. This creates the basis for the story as he tries to uncover the mystery of George Kaplan, putting him in some dangerous situations.

 Fig. 2. Crop duster still.

Hitchcock creates suspense so thick you could cut it with a knife, when Roger first meets Eve Kendell, Hitchcock shows the audience that she is working with the people who are after Roger. Hitchcock then makes the audience watch and wait, as Roger carries on trusting his new love interest. Until the fateful scene in which he is told to go to a barren crossroads, where in the distance a crop duster is flying. Hitchcock makes you wait, watching intently as the protagonist stands there, unaware of the danger he is in, until he an old man gives the audience a clue that the crop duster isn’t there to dust any crops. As Nesbit mentions in his review ‘This showcases Hitchcock’s classic formula for suspense, as he lets us in on the proverbial “bomb under the table” long before Cary Grant recognizes the danger.’ (Nesbit, 2010). As Nesbit points out, Hitchcock uses his classic theory to create this suspense filled scene. By showing the audience that Eve is actually working with the villains, Hitchcock is creating suspense, much like how he would by showing the audience a bomb and then allowing them to watch as people unaware of it carry out their normal lives.

North by North-west deals with the danger an innocent man has mistakenly been placed in with a light hearted tone, at points Roger finds himself in serious danger, yet as an audience you are not made to feel as if he is ever really in any trouble. As Quinn points out ‘Written by Ernest Lehman, the movie breezes through the whole ordeal, so that even during the hairiest, scariest moments there's an unspoken sense that Grant's cool-headedness and astonishing good luck will see him through.’ (Quinn, 2009). Quinn suggests that the movie never lets you believe that the protagonist is in any real danger, it merely uses almost comedic things to lighten the mood and remove the sense of danger. This is seen right from the start of the movie, in which Roger is kidnapped yet he proceeds to communicate with his kidnappers in a light hearted manner, telling jokes.

 Fig. 3. Match case still.

Throughout the film Hitchcock puts little scenes that set up later scenes. ‘Also noteworthy is the last reel, with a chase across the face of Mount Rushmore, a cliff-hanging episode in which Thornhill and Kendall cling to the rocks of Mount Rushmore, framed by the huge faces of the presidents (carved b John Gutzon Borglum).  It’s here that Grant wisecracks: “I don’t like the way Roosevelt is looking at me.”’ (Levy, 2009). As Levy points out when Roger is first at Mount Rushmore he makes a light hearted joke about how he doesn’t like how one of the presidents is looking at him, later on he finds himself climbing along the faces of the presidents. A similar thing happens when Roger meets Eve on the train and lights her cigarette for her, he pulls out a match case that has his initials on it, and later in the film he uses the same case to send her a message to save her life.

Overall this movie is great to watch, it’s filled with moments of high suspense, yet also coated with a light hearted tone. It is definitely a charming movie that has aged well and is perfect for any Hitchcock fanatics. Once again Hitchcock demonstrates why he is the master of suspense.

Illustration List
Hitchcock, A. (1959). Figure 1. North by Northwest poster. (Accessed on 08/02/2015)
Hitchcock, A. (1959). Figure 2. Crop duster still. (Accessed on 08/02/2015)
Hitchcock, A. (1959). Figure 3. Match case still. (Accessed on 08/02/2015)

Levy, E. (2009). (Accessed on 08/02/2015)
Nesbit, J. (2010). (Accessed on 08/02/2015)

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