North By Northwest (1959)

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Written by Ernest Lehman

There isn’t a whole lot of original commentary I can make on the film North By Northwest, one of Alfred Hitchcock’s most celebrated films in his impressive filmography. I did have the marvelous opportunity to catch this film in a local theater as part of their Hitchcocktober series running all this month (so more Hitchcock to come). I have seen the film before, so it was not a first experience, or a first reading. Instead it was a second enjoyment, and one that was an even better experience thanks to the big screen viewing. However, there were a couple things I did notice this go around that I may not have the first. Some good, some bad, but also some that I experienced as a part of an audience, that unique theater aspect that makes seeing a movie with a group of people all the more special.

However, special may take a different meaning this go around. I had a wonderful time and think this is a fantastic film. But some of those around me, who presumably were seeing the film for the first time because it is held as such a classic, were found laughing during some of the most tense moments in the film. This irked me, but also made me realize how the expectations of a film have become connected to technological advances. Of course the production values in Nolan’s Batman’s are far better than those in Hitchcock’s film which was released 50+ years ago. So when we sit down to watch such a film, is there some kind of handicap that needs to be taken into consideration? For me, I don’t even notice these things. Perhaps adjusting for technological inflation has become second nature for me and something that I take for granted anymore. But for someone who has seen very few older films, perhaps this really is an issue. It was something I noted that I perhaps had not considered much of before.

But what makes this a great film is not the production values, though they are pretty darn good by 1959 standards as far as I am concerned. No, this is a great film in any day and age because it is a classic story. Hitchcock infuses his signature tension and suspense throughout and Cary Grant delivers an everyman sort of performance and character. He is a regular guy with plenty of flaws thrown into an impossible situation in which he must fight for his life. Upon second viewing, I liked Eve Marie Saint much less, as well as the romance between her and Grant, but then I thought of the type of character Grant is. Sure they quickly fall in love with no real circumstance other than Cary Grant is Cary Grant and Eve Marie Saint is Eve Marie Saint, so why wouldn’t they fall in love with each other. But Grant’s character is the type who has been married twice previously. What this second viewing gave me was the perspective to not think that the two ultimately remain together. Sure they fall in love and get married, but who is to say they stay together? Based on what we have in front of us, I doubt they probably do.

North By Northwest is a great film with plenty of memorable sequences and lines. One thing about Hitchcock is that he is great at merging genres and here he delivers some great comedy (courtesy Cary Grant of course), good romance, and masterful suspense as always. It is not a perfect film, and I probably enjoy it slightly less than its lofty position, but what a great experience to see on the big screen!

***1/2 – Great

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