"North By Northwest" is one of Alfred Hitchcock's most
famous and heavily praised films. It is a very good film,
full of suspense and action, but it is not among his
best films. The romance between Cary Grant and Eva
Marie Saint is unintentionally amusing, and several
of the action scenes lack credibility.
Grant is a business executive who is mistaken
for a government agent by henchmen working for suave
bad-guy James Mason. Grant survives a murder attempt,
then is accused of murder himself. While on the
run, Grant romances double-agent Marie Saint. Gradually,
Grant becomes the agent that for the first half of the
film he claims not to be.
"North by Northwest" is admittedly fun to watch.
Something is always happening, and if you pretend that
the events are plausible, the film might live up
to its reputation.
"North by Northwest" has several problems with
casting and credibility. There are spoilers in the
Cary Grant is one of my favorite actors, but he was about
fifteen years too old for this part. The actress playing
his mother, Jessie Royce Landis, looks younger than Grant
and in fact is. The romance between Grant and Marie Saint
begins with laughably too-clever dialogue. Later, Grant
becomes as jealous as a schoolboy over her behaviour, at
a time when both their lives, and national security, are
The film's most famous scene has Grant being hunted
by a crop duster's plane. This scene ends with Grant
getting knocked down by a large truck, immediately followed
by the plane flying into the truck and bursting into
flames. Why would the plane do this? Wouldn't the pilot
have seen the truck? Even more surprising, Grant runs
away without a scratch.
Why does Grant follow Marie Saint to the auction,
and then confront Mason there? He is risking his and
her neck for no reason except to pick petty arguments.
I know that people dressed more formally back in the
1950s, but Grant seems bent on wearing a particular
gray flannel suit throughout most of the film. Even
when it becomes soiled, and even when there is a nationwide
manhunt for him.
Grant's transition from businessman to spy and action
hero, without any training, isn't plausible. He is able
to break into Mason's house, and the minute he arrives,
he overhears a conversation that deals with a murder plot
and where the microfilm is hidden.
In his earlier film "Saboteur", the finale involved
the hero, the bad guy, a life-risking rescue attempt,
a spectacular fall and the Statue of Liberty. "North by
Northwest" repeats the formula, only substituting Mount
Rushmore for the Statue of Liberty.
I fully admit that I am being very picky, and that
"North By Northwest" is a very good (and certainly
suspenseful and entertaining) film. I am making these
negative comments only to support my position that it
is not the outstanding film that most consider it to be.
Copyright © 1997 Brian Koller