North by Northwest

North by Northwest ★★★★½

There's something about North by Northwest that I just don't like. I recognize that it's a great film; it takes the same basic concept as The 39 Steps, builds it out, polishes it up, and adds Cary Grant. Sounds like a pretty foolproof recipe to me.

But both times I've seen this one, something has left me cold. I felt more that I should like it, instead of actually liking it. I think that something may be Eva Marie Saint. This film really hinges on the relationship between Roger Thornhill and Eve Kendall, and I never get to the point where I want Roger to end up with her. Whereas with The 39 Steps, I adored watching Donat and Carroll together.

So my personal quibble aside, North by Northwest is still very entertaining, very funny, very exciting. Cary Grant is at his most charming. The set pieces are bigger and the locations better. I enjoyed reading about how Hitch wasn't authorized to film at the UN, and so had to conceal a camera in the back of a truck to get some of the external footage. And the way that Hitch builds the tension in the crop duster scene is excellent - establishing time and space very clearly in order to build tension.

A quote from Hitchcock in Hitchcock - Truffaut displays his brilliance - "I'll tell you how the idea came about [for the crop duster scene]. I found I was faced with the old cliche situation: the man who is put on the spot, probably to be shot. Now, how is this usually done? A dark night at a narrow intersection of the city. The waiting victim standing in a pool of light under the street lamp. The cobbles are 'washed with the recent rains.' A close-up of a black cat slinking along against the wall of a house. A shot of a window, with a furtive face pulling back the curtain to look out. The slow approach of a black limousine, et cetera, et cetera. Now, what was the antithesis of a scene like this? No darkness, no pool of light, no mysterious figures in windows. Just nothing. Just bright sunshine and a blank, open countryside with barely a house or tree in which any lurking menaces could hide."

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