Monday, March 20, 2006

North by Northwest (Movie Review)

"In the world of advertising, there's no such thing as a lie. There's only expedient exaggeration." ~Roger Thornhill in North by Northwest (1959)

Replete with hokey (but nevertheless risque) love scenes and countless "goofs," there's still something about Alfred Hitchcock's North by Northwest (1959) that makes it fun to watch. The action derives from a decent story line that pertains to an old irrational fear of mine: that I'll one day be accused of being someone I'm not (or just as bad, of doing something I didn't do).

For big city advertising executive, Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant), this equates to a comedy of errors when a big-time racketeer mistakes him for being a secret agent. To make matters worse for this ill-fated protagonist, the government knows he's been mistakenly fingered as the (fictitious) agent, but won't step in to clear his name — or protect him from further harm — out of fear of compromising the real agent. He's hunted by police and mobsters alike, as a result, and even his one ally (Eve Kendall, played by Eva Maria Saint) isn't all she appears to be.

There are some great scenes in this film that, even if you haven't seen it in full, you've likely caught in "film highlights" or seen on vintage posters. From Grant diving under a crop dusting plane in Indiana, to the chase at Mt. Rushmore, there are some intense, well-shot moments (when you consider this predates computer simulation, anyway).

But back to Indiana for a moment, if I may:

There are, as I said before, several "goofs" or "mistakes" in this film. When Thornhill embarks on a journey from Manhattan to Chicago to South Dakota, the big city shots seem real enough (i.e. shot on location), but the "landscape" in rural Indiana is laughable. Even if you allow that it's shot in the driest of all possible Midwestern summers, the (too) flat terrain has more dust that it does trees (I've never seen a Hoosier cornfield that doesn't have a row of deciduous oaks and maples standing behind it in the distance). In short: the scene the well-shot, but the landscape was all wrong.

Of course, with all the technology we have nowadays, even the cinematography is a joke by comparison to today's standard. But novel if you consider the time. And while I wouldn't term this a deep film that profoundly impacted my life... I was, at the very least, entertained.

Tidbit O' Knowledge: North by Northwest is number 40 on the American Film Institute's list of America's 100 Greatest Movies.


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