North By Northwest (1959)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 4/26/21
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Music: Bernard Herrmann
Cast: Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason, Martin Landau, cameo by Les Tremayne

"That wasn't very sporting, using real bullets."

Ad-man Roger Thornhill (dashing Cary Grant) becomes the victim of mistaken identity when he's abducted by a couple of thugs and threatened by the suave and sinister Phillip Vandamm (James Mason). They try to kill Thornhill, but he miraculously manages to escape, only to blunder into more trouble. When it seems certain that he's going to be apprehended by the police, an alluring blonde named Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint) shows up to save him (and seduce him), but like many of Hitchcock's women, her motives are complicated and unclear. The majority of the film revolves around Thornhill's uncanny ability to stay alive, which reaches its climax in a deadly chase on the top of Mt. Rushmore.

While considered a lighthearted romantic adventure, director Alfred Hitchcock still manages to crank up the tension to unbearable levels. It's a slow starter that doesn't find its footing until Eva Marie Saint shows up, and that's when the plot starts to twist and manipulate the audience. A constantly befuddled Cary Grant is effortlessly charming, and many consider this to be his best film. Hitchcock manages to capture every facet of Grant's appeal, from his comedic timing and sophisticated charm to his masculine action persona and his reputation as a lady killer. He's a joker, a lover, and a fighter all rolled up into one. Eva Marie Saint is wonderful as the dangerous, soft-spoken, and beguiling love interest, although I didn't find her to be particularly attractive. Their romantic exchanges are awkwardly risqué and their lust-laden dialog makes you squirm uncomfortably.

As you would expect from Hitchcock, the film looks magnificent, although his over-reliance on rear projection is distracting. However, he uses this technique far better than most of his peers, and several instances look nearly flawless. The iconic crop-dusting chase sequence is especially impressive and highly effective. While the tense climax at Mt. Rushmore is a thrilling and inventive set piece, the visual effects fall a little short when the camera pulls back and the seams become obvious. Bernard Herrmann's fabulous music score is also worth mentioning and it does an excellent job of setting the tone and pace. It's a fun and enjoyable film that doesn't demand much from the audience, and diving too deeply just raises questions and invites criticism.