Mona’s Movies: Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest

Roger Thornhill running for his life / Photographer: © 1959 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc

You might be reading this thinking … this is odd, why would a teenager be writing a review for an older film when there are so many great contemporaries?

There are a handful of us that can thank Mr. Austin for his selection of films in our Film as Literature course. With so many that I could choose to review, North by Northwest, starring Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint, stands out above the others. 

It is a family friendly movie; older audiences will love to watch an early film from Alfred Hitchcock’s legendary career, while the younger generation will be surprised by the romance and intrigue. Both will be enraptured by Hitchcock’s mastery of suspense. It is no surprise that so many of the elements we see in action movies today were inspired by the legendary director.

The film starts with successful advertising agent, Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant), getting kidnapped in a case of mistaken identity, which turns him into a murder suspect, running from the law. The movie came out in 1959, a time when women were still not used to seeing themselves as powerful. However, the story’s main female character, Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint), steals the show, leading the way in the unfolding conflict. She masterfully uses manipulation and role playing to protect herself and secrets. As the plot develops her feelings become mixed and we take a peek into real life romance.

We know that Mr. Thornhill is in trouble when a team of villains stage a drunk driving accident that almost ends in tragedy. At this point, Hitchcock has not revealed whether or not there is more to the kidnapping than a mistaken identity. Thornhill, played by a very stunning Grant in a suit and tie almost the entire movie, is annoyed that he is missing the theatre with his mother. His reaction to the inconvenience of kidnapping and international espionage resembles an attitude of everydayness. This allows the viewer to become very fond of Mr. Thornhill. If only we could all respond to life’s little hiccups this way. What a better world it would be. Perhaps Hitchcock was trying to make a point.

This brings up the point of the men in blue and how they are portrayed in this film. Hitchcock was known for his dislike of the prison system and definitely did not give the officers in this film much brains. In fact, there is a scene of mockery with Thornhill and the officers who escort him out of an art auction; they remain unaware that he is using them to escape bigger villains and had convinced the officers that he was a fugitive and it was their job to transport him. This seems like prison commentary and a way of showing who the idiots really are.

This movie has excellent style and action shots. The romance and architecture are classics of their time and give the movie great views. Overall, I would rate this film 4.5 out of 5 stars.

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