"North by Northwest" (1959)- Movie Review

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Written by Ernest Lehman
Starring Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint and Jessie Royce Landis

 
‘A Timeless Hitchcock Classic’

 
You rarely ever see actors that are hard to replace in movies. Most of the time, you can easily imagine another performer improving on their role while in other situations, you get the feeling that they have been totally miscast as a certain character.

 
Thankfully, that is definitely not the case with Cary Grant in Alfred Hitchcock’s thoroughly exhilarating “North by Northwest”. One of the most entertaining movies I’ve ever seen, it places the actor in a role that he appears to have been born for. If he wasn’t in the film, I may have checked my watch halfway through or lost attention due to a lack of interest. With him, however, my eyes are glued to the screen and it is rather difficult to look away. How often do you come across an actor this perfectly chosen for a role?   
 
It certainly isn’t always. In most movies these days, you usually ponder over how out-of-place performers are, and wonder how the results would have been if another star portrayed their roles. With “North by Northwest”, Alfred Hitchcock directs his actors so well that you actually forget that you’re watching them act and there are many strong reasons why it is one of the best movies he has ever made.
 
Not many directors today have the extraordinary gift and talent for blending together suspense and comedy like Hitchcock did as a filmmaker. An expert at combining genres you would normally never associate with each other, he had a unique style of taking the suspense in movies to another level by adding humor.
 
By today’s standards, it is a combination that comes across as rather bizarre and strange yet in his celebrated career as a filmmaker, Hitchcock made it a trademark of his style.
 
If, by any chance, you’re a fan of his works, it can be seen in his most popular movies such as “Shadow of a Doubt” and “Strangers on a Train”. However, perhaps the most effective of them all, has always been his take on action blockbusters: “North by Northwest”.
 
A thriller set around the theme of ‘The Wrongly Accused Man’, a topic that appears in the most memorable of the filmmaker’s movies, it sees Hitchcock blending together the starkly contrasting genres of comedy and suspense in a way that would inspire one of the most popular movie series’ of all time: James Bond.
 
Though this combination, like I previously mentioned, seems strange at a first glance, the director pulls of the difficult feat of combining it as smoothly as peanut butter and jam.
 
His movie, “North by Northwest”, is at times hysterically funny to watch due to the outlandish situations it’s characters step shoes into yet also at the same time produces nail-biting suspense that keeps you at the edge of your seat. The two moods perfectly blend together, as if they were always meant to be combined, and it is all a testament to Hitchcock’s amazing guidance as a director.
 
Starring Cary Grant in one of his finest roles, the film’s story focuses on a mysterious man on the run from the law. Wrongly mistaken for a government agent by a group of international spies, he is forced to leave his hometown and travel across the world in search for survival.
 
One can easily see how such a story could inspire the many movies that would emerge out of the time period succeeding Hitchcock’s career, but for its times it was thoroughly original. The concept of a spy didn’t become entirely famous and popular, before the makings of “The James Bond” movies, which began in 1962. I have a feeling that “North by Northwest”, which was released just three years before, had an influence on them.
 
The plot involving an unpredictable yet stylish man, his sultry love interest, and a sinister villain emerges from this movie, but as a whole, it is highly inventive. It is a perfectly-paced rollercoaster ride made in the distinct style of Alfred Hitchcock.
 
The direction is phenomenal, the acting is irreplaceable and the writing is a marvel to behold. This is one of those movies that you somehow never get tired of watching repeatedly.
 
As I already stated, the way in which Alfred Hitchcock blends together genres is something that nearly none of the filmmakers living today are able to accomplish. Nowadays, directors tend to focus their attention on just one genre to avoid pitfalls that come with dealing with a variety, however, Hitchcock was one of the first to introduce a technique where they could be combined together without creating problems.
 
Having begun his career as a director of Silent films, Hitchcock was always a visionary director that placed a greater importance on visuals rather dialogue. You would remember, more so, images from his movies instead of spoken lines, yet “North by Northwest” is one of the few films in which he finds an equal balance between them.
 
It is honestly one of the most beautifully shot movies I’ve ever seen, admirably filmed with a passion and love for filmmaking that you hardly ever come across in Cinema today. Capturing a variety of settings- from vast, desert-like landscapes to tall and looming skyscrapers- the cinematography is absolutely breathtaking. Truth be told, the establishing shots in the film are as beautiful to look at as paintings. Giving the movie a mysterious mood and atmosphere, they generate your curiosity and keep you engaged in the story throughout. Despite being nearly 50 years old, the film is a visual feast and that is quite a remarkable achievement when you consider that no CGI or 3D effects were used to make it. 
 
Not often does a script enhance a movie to another level as much as it manages to do so in “North by Northwest”. Filled with witty, smart and highly entertaining dialogue, it is the kind of film where you eagerly await the words that come out of character’s mouths instead of being forced to listen to them. Aside from this, the characters themselves are larger-than-life and memorable. Even when there is little to no conflict in the film, they hold your attention and refuse to let go of it.
 
It is hard to not praise the fantastic performances from the cast. Each actor brings their A-game to the table, making the characters an absolute joy to watch.
 
Cary Grant delivers an unforgettable performance as a suspicious yet comical hero that is wrongly accused of a crime he did not commit. Charming, charismatic and bursting with energetic life in nearly every scene, his style of acting is reminiscent of James Bond heroes from Spy movies of the 1960’s. Very few actors possess the flair for expressing emotions only through facial expressions, yet Grant has a magical ability of brightening up the screen even in scenes where he doesn’t speak.
 
Eva Marie Saint is spectacular as a mysterious woman that loves to step toes into dangerous situations, no matter how deadly the consequences. In this sense, she reminded me of Angelina Jolie’s intriguing character in “The Tourist”, a woman who despite being beautiful can’t be trusted at a first sight. Like a tiger ready to attack its prey at any second, the actress steals every scene that she is in through her deceiving presence and unpredictable nature.
 
I was left rather skeptical when I first heard that “North by Northwest” would be nearly 2 ½ hours long. By having slow pacing or a lack of interesting events, movies that are this long are very rarely entertaining throughout, yet there isn’t a moment in Hitchcock’s movie where your eyes aren’t glued to the screen. As is the case with the great action movies, it catches your curiosity from the very beginning so much that after watching it, you can’t help but entertain the thought of seeing it all over again.    
 
Another element that takes the movie to another level is Bernard Herrmann’s wonderful soundtrack. Reminiscent of the music that would later go on to be used in James Bond movies from the 1960’s, it plays an important role of building tension in the film’s most suspenseful sequences yet also cheerfully complimenting the humor in the film. You don’t always come out of movies humming their music, yet over here it lingers on your mind for days.
 
Although I absolutely adore “North by Northwest”, and consider it to be one of Hitchcock’s best works to date, I don’t think that it’s a film without a problem. For me, Hitchcock has always been an expert at creating fascinating movie villains- from the psychotic Norman Bates in 1960’s “Psycho” to the twisted Bruno in “Strangers on a Train”- but with this film at times I forgot that there even was a bad guy in the first place.
 
Needless to say, if you’re a lover of movies or have always been a fan of Alfred Hitchcock, “North by Northwest” is a film that demands to be seen as soon as possible. It is truly amazing how even after 50 years, its influence and impact on Cinema, particularly the James Bond movies, still rings true.
 
It is said that, right after the movie was released, Hitchcock was offered a chance to direct the first ever Bond film. He immediately declined. One can’t help but wonder what the results would have been if he hadn’t.

5/5 stars    

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