With the combination of Cary Grant and Alfred Hitchcock you can never go wrong. The 1959 suspense thriller North by Northwest was their collaboration project that made it to the big screen at this year’s TCM Film Festival and it opened to a packed house. Fans were eagerly waiting in line to see this tale of mistaken identity, espionage, and that famous airplane scene that they’ve watched countless times at home. Fifty-one years after its initial release not only does North by Northwest meet every expectation imaginable but it surpasses them.
Grant was well into his 50s and no longer able to play the young bachelor type that made him a hot commodity twenty years prior. Hitchcock took the role of Roger Thornhill (originally meant to be played by James Stewart) and presented it to him as an opportunity to tackle something new that involved plenty of action and intrigue but still allowed him to be his charming self.
The film centered on a successful ad executive who’s mistaken for a government agent named George Kaplan by one of the most dangerous criminals (James Mason) in the country. He’s abducted, drugged, shot, and framed for murder all while trying to prove his real identity. As the story progresses and more secrets are revealed Thornhill becomes more and more like his spy counterpart with each maneuver.
North by Northwest features one of the most beautifully shot chase scenes ever created that takes place on the historic Mount Rushmore. Grant along with his co-stars Eva Marie Saint and a very young and at the time unknown Martin Landau make their way through every crevice and bump of our founding father’s faces to avoid death and capture. Hitchcock was a genius when it came to this scene because without the help of CGI, he used practical effects to make the danger seem real.
The one thing that sets this film apart from any other movie screened at this year’s festival are its aerial shots. There are a lot of high angled scenes that give the illusion of a real life maze, a look we’re sure Hitchcock planned on purpose. The exiting scene from the United Nations was one of them as well as the shot in the middle of the cornfield. They only added to the paranoia and mystery that the story continued to unveil at each turn. North by Northwest is one of those films that you have to watch from beginning to end, not because it’s a chore but because it’s that damn good.