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North By Northwest

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: North By Northwest

Starring: Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Rated: NR
RunTime: 136 Minutes
Release Date: July 1959
Genres: Classic, Drama, Suspense, Mystery

*Also starring: James Mason, Jessie Royce Landis, Martin Landau, Leo G. Carroll, Philip Ober, Adam Williams, Josephine Hutchinson

Review by Brian Koller
3 stars out of 4

"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 following analysis.

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 in danger.

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

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