North by Northwest Review

Next film up is Alfred Hitchcock’s 1959 spy thriller film ‘North by Northwest’ starring Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint and James Mason.  As I’ve been watching and reviewing a lot of modern classics, I thought I would try reviewing a classic from the Golden Age of Hollywood.

North by Northwest follows the story of Roger Thornhill, (Cary Grant) who when mistaken for George Kaplan, is framed for the murder of Lester Townsend and is subsequently pursued by Phillip Vandaam (James Mason) whilst becoming romantically involved with the morally ambiguous Eve Kendall.  (Eva Marie Saint)

The script and the narrative were very good.  Whilst parts of the film might seem clichéd by today’s standards, at the time, they would have been very original.  I felt that the script was very subtle and nuanced and nothing was overdone.  Even the iconic crop-duster scene wasn’t as nearly ridiculous, as it could have been.  Plus the scenes with Grant and Saint weren’t as nearly as cheesy or forced as they could have been.  James Mason was great, as the villain, which he played with the right amount of ruthlessness and tempered anger.  I also liked Alfred Hitchcock’s cameo, which reminded me of other film directors who cameo in their films.  I’m looking at you Quentin Tarantino.

 The ending was anti-climatic and detracted from the whole film.  It was a complete let down.  After the epic climax of Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint climbing down Mount Rushmore to escape the villain who are then apprehended or killed by the police, I expected there to be a 10-15 period of denouement, where the audiences finds out how the police found the protagonists, how Vandaam would be punished and Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint riding off into the sunset.  Instead, the scene cut from Grant pulling Saint away from the edge of Mount Rushmore and into a bed compartment of a train, before the credits appear.  I felt that this ending was very rushed and left too many loose ends.

Overall, I did enjoy North by Northwest.  The subtle, nuanced narrative complemented by strong acting and an amusing cameo, yet the rushed, anti-climatic ending left something to be desired and this is why the film only received a rating of ‘good.’ Some characters could have really benefitted from the advice: “if you’re going to shoot, shoot, don’t talk.”

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