Many years before the first James Bond film made its way into the theaters, Alfred Hitchcock directed a film called North By Northwest which in many ways started the genre of films which would in the future be known as the James Bond type of films. North By Northwest is an example of how to make your audience lose their breath by merely seating in their seats and watching a film. The film’s protagonist is an individual from the advertising industry known as Roger Thornhill. Roger as he sways through his day with eh usual swagger lands up in a hotel and gets mistaken for a somebody named George Kaplan who has been working as an agent for the government.
Now some very powerful people who are international spies take the matter very seriously and kidnap Roger to clean him up. They down a whole bottle of Bourbon on him and then try to willfully get him in an accident. Roger survives and returns to find himself a convict in a case for drunk driving and embarrassed. He tries to clear his name by exposing the real culprits but is unable to prove anything as all proofs of his kidnapping are all but gone. As he digs deeper and deeper into the matter, he finds himself accused of murder and then gets embroiled in a matter which needs his help to save a damsel in distress. How he achieves that is what the film is all about.
Let us start with the script. North By Northwest is easily one of the best screenplays of a chase thriller ever written for the screen. The film builds up from the very first scene and never let’s go of you throughout the screening. There are generous spats of comedy and romance thrown in to make the narrative s juicy as it can be. What works well for the story is that it constantly keeps you at the edge of your seats. This is one of the most potent qualities that a thriller can have and North By Northwest is all about it. The characters are very real and they induce life into the narrative with their superb act.
Leading from the front is Cary Grant who turns in a performance which is ranked by many as his finest for a Hitchcock film. He looks dashing in his part both in terms of his performance and also figuratively speaking. He skillfully brings out the haplessness of his character. Even though he is on the run from the law and has spies in his rear, Roger never loses his demeanor especially when he is romancing Eva Marie Saint’s Eve Kendall. Saint’s character is both intriguing as well as charming. One cannot guess which way she is headed until the very end which also ups the ante on her character and its effect on Roger’s life. James Mason is the suave and utterly in control Philip Vandamm who would stop at nothing to kill Roger. Owing to his utterly cool persona and devilish charm, the audience will at many junctures personify with his character and might even root for him.
The film also boasts of some of the most electric action and chase sequences. Considering the handicaps of its time, the film’s action and chases are no less than stupendous. Ditto can be said about George Tomasini‘s editing which is clearly used as a tool to make some dramatic impacts at crucial junctures. Bernard Herrmann’s score is another extremely potent element to convey emotions as it pops up in the right moments and then weathers out without ever being a tingler. Robert Burks is exemplary. The film smoothly shifts between close-ups and long shots and some super long shots. The scene where Roger escapes from the UN building is a fine example of the deft touches of the man behind the camera.
North By Northwest is a film which can be watched and enjoyed by anyone who enjoys art as that is what it is , “a piece of art”. Hitchcock’s best is attributed to be Psycho, which he made right after this one. I for once have a feeling that this is a far better film than psycho for many reason and entertainment being the primary. It also has a broader canvas than Psycho and also a happy ending to keep everyone happy. If you have not seen this film than you have not seen the beginning of the Chase-Thriller genre. Missing this film is not an option.