Movie #316 2020: North By Northwest (1959)

After being phenomenally gobsmacked by Rear Window, I began to realise that Alfred Hitchcock is one of my favourite directors. I’m not forgetting that his techniques were sometimes questionable, and his sets were often toxic, by the way. There’s no excuse for that. None whatsoever. But for the purposes of reviewing his filmmaking alone, there is no doubt that the man was a genius.

North By Northwest is probably one of Hitchcock’s most iconic movies, chiefly due to the sequence pictured in the still above. But what’s it about? Cary Grant plays Roger Thornhill; a powerful yet amiable advertising mogul. Just as Thornhill feels as though his life is getting a little boring, strange goings on begin to occur. It becomes apparent to our hero that he is being mistaken for a spy, and a he must do everything he can to avoid being murdered by a group of deadly assassins.

This is simply a case of an actor and a director being a match made in heaven. Cary Grant invented sarcasm and Hitchcock invented the action genre. There are so many movies even today that reference that now iconic aeroplane scene, the latest perhaps being Sam Mendes‘ multiple Oscar-winning 1917 last year. The reverberations of how this movie inspired countless directors since still ripples through the cinematic landscape, and that’s how you know he was onto something big. And just to re-iterate: it truly is a brilliant sequence.

Let’s not focus only on one small section of North By Northwest, however, Some of the shots here – even the less iconic ones – are exquisite. There’s one particular aerial/bird’s eye view shot as Thornhill flees a UN building which is utter perfection. It looks almost like a David Hockney painting with its angular and stylised art deco nature, who just so happens to be my favourite artist, so you can imagine the goosebumps that shot gave me.

Moreover, the plot is so meticulously put together, with every twist and turn being planned down to the smallest detail. No one so expertly crafts and pieces together a story quite like Alfred Hitchcock, that’s for sure. This entire story is exciting, enthralling, captivating, sinister, romantic, and genius. (I love adjectives!)

As is the case with other Hitchcock movies, this is just as vibrant in colour; it’s lovely to look at and with an over-dramatised score that is so typical of the time period. I wish I could go back to 1959 for one day purely to see this on a big screen, because the cinematography in those days was unlike anything you’ll see today.

The visual prowess doesn’t end there, either. Ornate, elaborate sets and distinctive, snappy suits set the movie’s tone immediately and fervently. It is so obvious that every single detail has been so carefully crafted in every single frame. Just wonderful to see.

Personally, I actually preferred Rear Window – that’s still one of my favourite movies of all time. However, North By Northwest is still so brilliant that giving it any less than the full 5 Qs would be an injustice to cinema.

North By Northwest is available to rent on Amazon, Apple TV and the Sky Store for £3.49 in the UK.

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