Monday, 11 February 2008

North By Northwest - the Hitchcock picture to end all Hitchcock pictures

There are few Hitchcock movies that feature so many iconic images as his 1959 thriller North by Northwest. There's Saul Bass' famous title sequence; Bernard Herrmann's fandango inspired theme; Robert Burk's glorious cinematography; Cary Grant being buzzed by a Crop Duster; the Mount Rushmore finale and the cheeky end coda where the train euphemistically enters a tunnel as Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint get cozy in the railway carriage!

Written by the great Ernest Lehman, North by Northwest is a classic tale of mistaken identity, with Cary Grant as Roger O. Thornhill, an innocent man on the run from the authorities and a secret organisation led by James Mason and his rather fey assistant played by Martin Landau. Whilst being pursued across America, Thornhill encounters the sexy Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint) a government agent in the employ of Leo G. Carroll as the Professor - a sort of proto Mr Waverley from The Man From UNCLE.

Cary Grant is his usual debonair self with sensational shades and a suit that is almost as cool as Connery's silver grey number in Goldfinger. Eva Marie Saint looks gorgeous and James Mason provides a performance so iconic that Eddie Izzard employed it in his stage act.

Composed and orchestrated in 51 days, Bernard Herrmann's soundtrack is part of movie score legend and needs no introduction. The theme's unusual adoption of South American rhythms must have seemed strange at the time for a thriller set entirely in North America. However the urgent dancing rhythms perfectly convey the film's driving chase theme. Elsewhere Herrmann's signature low register reeds and brass create a tense and atmospheric backdrop accented by his shrill slicing strings immortalised in Psycho.

There's little to fault North by Northwest and it is understandably considered Hitchcock’s greatest film. Although it never won any awards, North By Northwest is number 40 on the American Film Institute's all time top 100 list and is a much loved favourite by film fans worldwide.

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