North by Northwest began with a fascinating premise and then earned my admiration with its brilliant filmmaking. In the movie, Roger Thornhill (played by Cary Grant) is mistaken for a government agent by enemy-spy Phillip Vandamm (James Mason), who immediately hatches schemes to kill him. As Thornhill runs from these attempts on his life, he is unluckily mistaken for a murderer and the chase expands to include the police. With the help of Eve Kendall (the beautiful Eva Marie Saint), and her murky-motivations, Thornhill must stay ahead of each of his pursuers while searching for the secret agent he is mistaken to be.
I loved this film. I found it to be humorous, stylish, sexy, and brilliantly paced. It also has a soundtrack that I fell in love with (composed by Bernard Herrmann, who would do Psycho). I typically binge TV while playing games on my phone, but I was so hooked to the quick-witted dialogue and suspenseful sequences that I had to pause the film any time I were to step out of the room for a mere few seconds. I particularly liked the banter between Grant and Saint (rather spicy for 1959). Apparently the film has been called the “first James Bond” and, loving 007-flicks, I could see and appreciate this comparison.
If I wasn’t rounding up (the spreadsheet I track my viewings on requires “whole stars”), I’d probably give this movie a 4.5/5 stars. I loved everything about it except for my the finale: I didn’t find the climactic Mount Rushmore chase scene to be thrilling. The scenic backdrop couldn’t save the sequence and its resolution was a bit Deus Ex Machina (followed by a quick jump cut to a hurried “everything’s fine now” moment). I’m all for a dynamic character but Thornhill went from being a reluctant bystander to super-spy a bit too fast for me.
Still, ending aside, the film was great. It was pleasant palate cleanser and a relatively safe choice before some of the strange flicks in the coming weeks. I have two more Hitchcock films I will visit before the end of the year, so stay tuned!