Equal parts sly identity crisis, suspenseful cross-continental chase, and cool romance, North by Northwest is one of Alfred Hitchcock’s most enjoyable films. Done with the irreverent brand of humor that the director made his trademark, the film balances somewhere between suspense thriller and urbane comedy, its considerable wit both complementing and fueling its intrigue. As memorable for the sexy, sophisticated banter between Cary Grant and Eva Maria Saint as for the famous crop-dusting sequence or the climactic chase atop Mount Rushmore, North by Northwest is one of those films that inspires any number of readings. Chock-full of phallic references, conspiracy paranoia, Freudian subtext (made particularly apparent in Thornhill’s relationship with his mother, who in reality was played by an actress born the same year as Grant), and featuring a token sinister homosexual, watching the movie is like watching an ode to the forces at work against the single, successful white man in Cold War America. As played by the superb Grant, he’s a glib, increasingly befuddled man who perfectly represents the film’s breezy yet cautionary tone, a playboy and a mama’s boy in one charming yet vaguely troubled package. His true identity, Hitchcock seems to be saying, is as open to question as the one he is forced to assume. For her part, Saint put her stamp on the Icy Sex Goddess role as Eve, allowing just the right measure of vulnerability to melt through the character’s freeze-dried exterior. She provided an able foil for Grant, easily matching his personal brand of suave charm with her own. Their pairing was one of the most delightful in Hitchcock’s films, elegant yet with a delicate tinge of frenzy. Elegant frenzy could describe the film as a whole: stylish and taut, North by Northwest is Hitchcock at his gleeful best.
Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason, Jesse Royce Landis, Leo G. Carroll
1959, colour, 136 minutes