Roger O. Thornhill (Cary Grant)
is a twice divorced advertising executive, caring for his mother,
who has the misfortune of not only being in the wrong place
at the wrong time, but resembling a Federal Intelligence agent.
One day, as he goes about his business, he suddenly finds a
gun in his face, and is ordered into a car with some other rough
looking men. The audience then meets the evil Phillip Vandamm
(James Mason) at his grand estate, who thinks that Rodger is
really a Federal agent who can send them all to jail. After
a spirited conversation, two of Vandamm's goons, tie up Rodger
and force feed him a bottle of bourbon, stick a dead body in
his car, start the engine and force him to drive down a steep
hill, on a winding road, in a plastered state of mind. Before
he knows it, his rather dull, normal life turns into a fight
for his life as he tries to stay two steps ahead of the ring
of spies trying to kill him, the police who think he is a dangerous
killer, while he tries to find out what is going on, and find
a way to clear his name.
Soon, along the way, he "bumps"
into yet another interested party in this deadly game he finds
himself, represented by a pretty, smart blonde, Eve Kendall
(Eva Marie Saint), who seems to be at that moment the only person
he can trust. She turns out to also be a spy, with perhaps ulterior
motives in helping Thornhill. Hitchcock keeps us guessing on
what side she is playing on, whether she is really his ally
or working for the deadly killers wanting to nail him, or perhaps
another government agency which doesn't particularly have Thornhill's
welfare in mind, but their own mission, in which he happened
to be swept into by the confused villains.
Thus begins "this exciting, tongue
in cheek thriller," which is one of Alfred Hitchcock's best
films, and a favorite of many people. It is described as "the
high-gear, roller coaster ride that has breathtaking adventure,
brilliant comedy, icy villainy, and a luscious romance, with
rapid swerves into suspense produced as only Alfred Hitchcock
can do. It is considered to be a briskly paced "modern" action
adventure film with a perfect blend of comedy and action, one
of the first of its kind of entertainment.
There are some favorite action
sequences which make this film unique. A favorite one with this
reviewer and many other people has to do with an attack in the
middle of the countryside. One of Thornhill's leads is to take
a bus out to the middle of the country farmland, and get off
at a side road stop to meet someone who can help him. The audience
feels the tension developed by Hitchcock's direction as our
hero waits and waits and no one shows up to meet him. Suddenly,
he finds himself being chased by a man in a crop duster plane
shooting at him, which gets the audience breathlessly sitting
at the edge of their seats, as he must control his panic and
use his survival skills and hope his luck doesn't run out as
he once again escapes by the skin of his teeth.
Another favorite action scene takes
place on the huge presidential faces of Mount Rushmore, as Thorndike
and Kendall duke it out with the dastardly villains in the true
Hitchcock fashion, providing an entertaining action sequence
which is suspenseful and leaves the audience breathless.
Because Hitchcock had high standards,
he picked this thrilling, clever screenplay by the well-known,
talented screenwriter, Ernest Lehman, who earned the reputation
as "a champion of the well-crafted, what-happens-next screenplay."
His other screenplays include THE INSIDE STORY, EXECUTIVE STORY,
SABRINA, WEST SIDE STORY, WHO IS AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOLF?, THE
SOUND OF MUSIC, HELLO DOLLY and FAMILY PLOT.
The cast did a wonderful job bringing
their characters to life.
Cary Grant, who usually plays characters
who are always on top of things, actually becomes like a normal
person who would find himself in such a situation, yet has the
courage to fight for his life and search for answers to his
precarious situation, showing us a range of emotions as he portrays
Roger O. Thornhill, yet keeps his character's sense of humor
Eva Marie Saint does a very convincing
job in portraying Eve Kendall, a spy on an assignment who must
do some tap-dancing around the case she is working on, because
of the unexpected arrival of Rodger Thornhill and her feelings
for him, which threatens her undercover assignment.
Leo G. Carroll was perfectly cast
as the Federal Intelligence Chief, with "double-edged tactics,"
some of which Rodger doesn't appreciate much.
The dastardly villains, with no
redeeming qualities, are well portrayed by James Mason (Phillip
Vandamm) and Martin Landau (Leonard), who both had a lot of
fun using their fine acting abilities playing state secret traders
with bad attitudes.
The wonderful musical score was
done by the talented musical genius, Bernard Herrmann, with
the reputation of being one of the most original and distinctive
composers ever to work in film. Some of the film musical scores
he composed include CITIZEN KANE, JANE EYRE, THE GHOST AND MRS.
MUIR, THE WRONG MAN, THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH, PERRY MASON
(TV Series), THE TWILIGHT ZONE (TV Series), PSYCHO, CAPE FEAR,
HATFUL OF RAIN and his last film, TAXI DRIVER, 1975. He died
a few hours after recording the final musical score. His music
lives on in other films, which is a testimony to his musical
NORTH BY NORTHWEST is unrated,
but by today's rating system, it would probably get a PG, though
the action and suspense may be too scary for some children.
Should be ok for older children and up. Parents should watch
it first to see if it is too scary for their children.
Original casting... Jimmy Stewart
wanted the Cary Grant part and MGM wanted Cyd Charisse as the