Movie Review: North by Northwest (1959)

Hitchcock ThursdaysFollowing up on my Classic Movie Project, I made a list of ten Alfred Hitchcock movies I wanted to watch or rewatch. I’ll be posting reviews on Thursdays throughout the summer.

Title: North by Northwest
Release Date: July 1, 1959
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Production Company: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

North by Northwest is Hitchcock and his Hitchcockian excess.  In many ways it is a remake of The 39 Steps with an ordinary man getting swept up in the machinations of spies and getting into and out of trouble.  Cary Grant is Roger Thornhill, the “everyday” ad executive mistaken by the bad lads as a fictional spy named George Kaplan. Eva Maria Saint plays Eve Kendall, a woman who helps and seduces Thornhill on a train, who *surprise* is the real good spy.

Along his journey to escape the evil spy Phillip Vandamm (James Mason) and his henchmen, including Leonard (Martin Landau), while trying to prove his innocence Thornhill survives many dramatic set pieces. These include forcibly driving drunk on a cliffside road, a knife murder in the United Nations, getting chased by a crop duster in an Indiana cornfield, and climbing down the presidential heads on Mount Rushmore.

Grant plays Thornhill as a man who is put upon but nevertheless enjoying every minute of his adventure.  I especially like when he acts like a buffoon at an auction in order to get arrested so he won’t be captured by Vandamm and Leonard.  Saint is okay in her role but it is a flaw of 1950s chauvinism that even when she’s supposed to be a master spy she spends most of the movie as a helpless damsel in distress. I enjoyed most of the movie but by the time of the Mount Rushmore set piece, it felt overlong and over-the-top.  Some judicious editing and understatement would’ve improved this movie.

Rating: ***