Films I Love, Romance, Thriller

North By Northwest (1959)

 

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Roger Thornhill tries to hide while on the run. Screenshot by me.

For many people, North By Northwest is considered to be Alfred Hitchcock’s best film. It isn’t hard to see why this one is so beloved and highly regarded by fans and critics alike.

This film contains all of the essential elements of Hitchcock’s films; suspense, thrills, a case of mistaken identity, an innocent person wrongly accused, comedy, and a cool and beautiful blonde woman. In short, I think that this film really is the perfect Alfred Hitchcock package.

I love this film so much. This is a film in which something is always happening and I find it interesting that in this film the characters are always on the move. From the opening titles, designed by Saul Bass (and accompanied by one of Bernard Herrmann’s best scores) the characters are continuously seen being on the move, they never really stop moving until the final scene onboard the train. The film is an exhilarating thrill ride and is a great deal of fun to watch. I also love the photography by Robert Burks. I especially love the overhead shots he does during the scenes where Vandamm questions Roger, and also in the scenes at Vandamm’s mountain house.

I also like how stylish and elegant the film looks overall. The characters are so well dressed and the film transports us back to a bygone era of class, style and elegance. Part of why I love classic films so much is because they show me how past generations dressed and lived. I love the 1950’s glamour and elegance captured by Hitch and featured in this film.

There are also so many interesting and intriguing characters in this film and their presence makes this film one that I like to return to again and again.There’s plenty of twists and turns and you’re never sure who to trust or take at face value. I also love the way these characters all interact with one another throughout the film. Characters perceptions of one another also change as the film goes along and our perception of them changes too.

I like seeing Roger Thornhill start out as being in control and as being a bit self absorbed. As the film goes along he changes when he realises he’s not as in control as he once thought he was. We see him turn into a man who comes to care about someone else, we also see him realise there is more outside of the life he had been leading up to this point in time.

I also like how Roger becomes braver and more heroic as the film goes on. He is scared and confused by what is happening to him at first, but then he takes it in his stride and we see him become less and less like the self absorbed man at the start of the film. I also like how he later willingly puts himself in danger as he rescues the woman he loves from certain death. 

The scenes between Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint are very playful. Their scenes are filled with sexual tension and a great deal of warmth, fun and affection too. I especially love their dinner chat and flirting on the train. These characters and their relationship with one another are the heart of the film for me.

                                   Roger and Eve flirt over dinner. Screenshot by me.

The growing relationship between Cary and Eva’s characters is fun to watch and I find myself coming to care very much for them both. The scenes between Cary and Eva are a real highlight of the film for me. Their scenes on the train are erotic, tender, interesting and very funny. 

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Roger and Eve get intimate. Screenshot by me.

Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant)is a Madison Avenue advertising man. He has a very good life, a life that he believes he is in complete control of. His ordered life is turned on its head when he is mistaken for a C.I.A agent, called George Kaplan. Suave spy, Phillip Vandamm (a sinister James Mason) has been aware of Kaplan following him and his group for some time. He wants Kaplan dead. Thornhill can’t persuade him that this is a genuine case of mistaken identity and that he is not the man that Vandamm thinks he is.

So begins a non stop chase across the country. Thornhill tries to avoid Vandamm’s men and also tries to avoid getting arrested by the authorities, after Vandamm frames him for murder. Thornhill also tries to get someone else to believe him that Vandamm is the real villain and is trying to kill him.

Enter the resourceful, mysterious and cool blonde, Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint). Eve helps Thornhill when he gets into difficulty aboard a train that she is travelling on. A genuine bond develops between the two and they begin to fall in love, but can Thornhill trust her or not? I consider Eve to be one of the strongest and most interesting of all of Hitchcock’s leading ladies. 

A C.I.A official, known only as the professor (Leo G. Carroll), finds out about Roger Thornhill’s situation and tries to help him. The professor is also on the Vandamm case and he also has an agent of his own working right under Vandamm’s nose. Who is this agent?

I love how many things in this film actually defy logic when you think about them long enough. Somehow though you actually never seem to realise the illogic when you are watching these moments in the film. It’s only afterwards when you suddenly stop and think about some of the things you’ve just watched. I’m thinking mainly of the scene where Thornhill is forcibly made drunk in order to be got rid of. If Vandamm wants him dead so bad, why not just shoot him to make sure he is dead?

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Roger is about to be forced to drink all of this. Screenshot by me.

The same goes for the famous crop duster sequence, why not just get Roger Thornhill out to that road and shoot him and bury him somewhere, instead of chasing him with a plane? Yet the illogic of these moments actually work when you watch the film. This is a testament to Hitch I think, in that he can make you so invested in the story that certain things don’t strike you as odd until much later. I have to say that I actually think the scene where Thornhill watches that glass of booze getting poured out is quite chilling. Thornhill is going to be forced to drink such large amounts and he has no way of being able to fight back against this. That’s pretty grim when you stop to think about it for a moment.

There’s so much to enjoy about this film. From the great performances throughout, the exciting Bernard Herrmann score, and two of the most famous of all Hitchcock sequences. The crop duster chase and that suspenseful finale up on Mount Rushmore, have both gone on to become two of the most famous scenes in cinema history.

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Roger is sent to the middle of nowhere and is about to encounter a crop duster. Screenshot by me.

The crop duster sequence really builds up suspense and tension. The sequence is perfectly edited together and it is exciting, suspenseful and dramatic throughout. I like that it starts off slow and that Hitch gradually builds up the mystery and suspense. Is Roger Thornhill going to meet someone? Is he going to get attacked or killed? How will that happen if so?

The beginning of the crop duster sequence plays out almost like a silent film with Thornhill out in the middle of nowhere and us seeing what unfolds through his eyes. There is no need for any dialogue in this sequence. Then the crop duster plane is spotted and it slowly turns then it speeds towards him and begins shooting at him. That moment where it swoops towards him and he runs has become one of the most iconic scenes in film history. 

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Roger and Eve in a literal cliffhanger moment. Screenshot by me.

The Mount Rushmore sequence has me on the edge of my seat throughout because it is so suspenseful. I don’t like heights at all, and so the scenes where Roger Thornhill and Eve Kendall slip or nearly fall from that famous mountain really do make me squirm in discomfort and cry out “be careful!”. This sequence is a tie for me with the Statue Of Liberty sequence in Saboteur for the title of most suspenseful Hitchcock scene.

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Eve and Roger climb down the mountain. Screenshot by me.

The scenes in the Mount Rushmore sequence are perfectly matched to Herrmann’s score. I think that the music definitely adds even more tension and an air of danger to that which we already feel watching these moments.

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Eve falls down the mountain. Screenshot by me.

The scene where Eve’s shoe heel snaps and she falls down really makes me watch through my fingers, I really can’t stand that scene. It also makes me laugh that Eve doesn’t seem to have thought that it might be a good idea to take off those high heels before trying to climb down the mountain. LOL. Ah, only in the movies. 😉

The film also has two big twists concerning the identity of two main characters, and that really keeps you trying to figure out just who you can trust, or who you can even take at face value as the film goes on.The film is also very funny in places. I especially love the hysterical auction distraction scene “three thousand, I bid three thousand!”. Cary really gets to show off his comedy skills in this film. Cary reels off many comic lines and he also does one of the funniest and best drunk impressions I’ve ever seen on film. I love the scene where Roger is at the Police station and rings his mum. When he is on the phone to her, he tells her they forcibly made him drunk, then he delivers this sidesplitting line in response to a question from her – “No, they didn’t give me a chaser!” LOL. 🙂 

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The unsupportive Mrs Thornhill. Screenshot by me.

Jessie Royce Landis is absolutely hysterical as Roger’s mother. Mrs. Thornhill doesn’t believe her son’s story of being framed and hunted down and she has quite a few laughs at his expense.

I love the way she silently laughs at him and jokes about his stories. Some supportive mother he has!  Jessie and Cary were actually quite close in age, yet you somehow believe she is his mother in this film. 

 

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Vandamm. Screenshot by me.

James Mason is chilling, smooth and menacing throughout. He plays a character who won’t get his own hands dirty, but who has no qualms about ordering someone to be killed.

You know that he is a nasty piece of work. This is one of James’s greatest villain roles in my opinion. I like how he plays a man of great intelligence who is not to be trusted or underestimated. 

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Leonard. Screenshot by me.

Martin Landau provides solid support as Vandamm’s loyal henchman, Leonard. He lurks in the background of many scenes and you can see him desperate to start hurting Thornhill and other characters. Landau plays this guy as a real sadist.

My favourite scenes are the following. Thornhill and Vandamm’s first meeting, I love where they circle around each other sizing each other up. The Mount Rushmore finale. The entire section aboard the train. Roger and Eve’s dinner talk. The auction scene where Roger does some random bidding so he will get arrested, which then means he can get away from Vandamm. The drunk scene at the police station. Thornhill trying to rescue Eve. Eve and Roger’s goodbye at the train station. The crop duster attack. The scene in the Mount Rushmore restaurant. 

I can happily watch pretty much all of Hitch’s films again and again, but this one in particular is one that I can enjoy over and over again. It is such a good film and so seamlessly put together. It looks amazing too, from the photography, to the elegant clothes and to the use of Technicolor. Be sure to see this one on Blu-ray to see it looking crystal clear and looking its very best.
Are you a fan of this film? Please share your thoughts on the film. 

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Five Stars Blogathon

 

 

Five Stars Blogathon

Rick over at the Classic Film and TV Café is hosting this blogathon about five favourite classic era stars. I can’t wait to read all the other entries to see which actors people have chosen as their favourites.

I’ve picked five stars who each hold a special place in my heart. I’ve picked my favourite performance from each actor, and I have listed five films for them all that I highly recommend that people see. 

Maddy’s Five Favourite Classic Stars

1- Claude Rains

Born in London, in 1889, Claude went on to became one of the most talented of all the classic era screen actors. He starred in over 70 films. 

I love Claude for how he could steal any scene, often with just a look or by the way he delivered a line. He always came across as witty and classy. He made everything he did on screen look effortless.

Claude had one of the greatest voices in film history. He used this to great effect in all of his films. In The Invisible Man(1933)he particularly relies on his voice alone to convey the menace and feelings that his unseen face cannot convey. For me this is one of the greatest vocal performances in film history.

Claude died in 1967.

photo0045My Favourite Claude Rains Film Performance? Justin in The Passionate Friends (1949). Claude is excellent here as the husband who discovers his wife(Ann Todd) is having an affair with her ex(Trevor Howard). He still loves her, but can he find it in his heart to forgive her? Claude makes you really feel for Justin and gives you the impression that although not passionate, he is never the less a good man who loves his wife.

Five Must See Claude Rains films: Deception, The Passionate Friends, The Invisible Man,Casablanca, Mr. Smith Goes To Washington.

2-  Vivien Leigh

Born in India, in 1913, Vivien Leigh would go on to become one of Britain’s greatest stage actresses. Vivien was married to Laurence Olivier from 1940 to 1961 and the couple starred alongside each other in several plays and films.

Despite her great talent Vivien only ever ended up starring in 20 films. I think that is a great shame,she is someone I would dearly love to have seen more often on screen. Vivien won two Oscars for Best Actress (Gone With The Wind and A Streetcar Named Desire.)

Vivien easily rivals Ava Gardner and Elizabeth Taylor for the title of most beautiful actress of all time in my opinion.

I love Vivien for the strength, vulnerability and enchanting quality she gave to so many of her characters. Vivien is another actor who steals every scene she is in. I also admire Vivien because she continued working on stage and screen whilst struggling with her Bipolar Disorder, that cannot have been easy for her; especially in a time when mental illness had such a stigma attached to it.

Vivien died in 1967.

Photo0083My Favourite Vivien Leigh Film Performance? As the iron willed Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With The Wind (1939). Doing what she has to do to survive, even if those things make her unpopular. Scarlett is resourceful, beguiling, vulnerable and admirable. This was Vivien’s breakthrough film performance and it is the one that made her a worldwide star. Vivien makes you admire Scarlett, even when we may not agree with some of her actions.

Five Must See Vivien Leigh Films: A Streetcar Named Desire, That Hamilton Woman, Waterloo Bridge, The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone, Gone With The Wind.

3- George Sanders

Born in Russia, in 1906, George Sanders would become the go to actor for playing cads and villains. Suave, effortlessly charming and possessing one of the most distinctive voices in film history. George could often be seen playing heartbreakers and oily villains. Between 1939 and 1941, he played the heroic Simon Templar in The Saint film series; these films proved he could play a good guy and he played a similar character in The Falcon series.

I love him because he made everything he did appear effortless. He had a special way of delivering his lines, making them witty and full of dry humour.

A couple of years ago I was delighted to discover that in 1958, Sanders recorded and released a song album called The George Sanders Touch: Songs For The Lovely Lady. Having heard a few of his songs I can report that his singing voice is lovely, and I’m surprised he didn’t release more songs. I was very pleasantly surprised when I first heard his singing.

George died in 1972.

Photo0084My Favourite George Sanders Film Performance? As Addison DeWitt in All About Eve (1950). As the theatre critic with the acid tongue, he steals every scene he is in(even from Bette Davis!). Sanders looks like he is having great fun throughout, he makes DeWitt a charming friend and a dangerous enemy.

Five Must See George Sanders Films: All About Eve, The Black Swan, The Saint In London, Foreign Correspondent, The Strange Affair Of Uncle Harry.

4- Setsuko Hara

Setsuko was born in 1920, in Japan. She began working in films when she was a teenager. During the 1940’s and 50’s, Setsuko was one of the most popular stars of Japanese cinema.

Working frequently with director Yasujiro Ozu, Setsuko became synonymous with her frequent screen character Noriko. Her screen persona was often that of the dutiful and gentle daughter, putting her own desires aside for the sake of her family.

I love Setsuko because she is such an expressive actress, she really conveys the emotions of her characters in such a realistic and genuine way. Setsuko really makes you feel what her characters go through (be that happy or sad times.) She also had one of the most beautiful smiles ever to be captured on screen.

Setsuko retired from films in 1963(the same year that Yasujiro Ozu died) and she died in 2015.

Photo0085My Favourite Setsuko Hara Film Performance? As the dutiful Noriko in Late Spring(1949). Setsuko plays a daughter who is happiest at home with her father. Leaving home to get married breaks her heart. A moving portrayal of a daughter’s love for her father. Setsuko makes my heart break for her character and makes me wish her all the best for her future.

Five Must See Setsuko Hara Films: Early Summer, The Ball at the Anjo House, Late Spring, Tokyo Story, Late Autumn.

5- Cary Grant

Cary was born in Bristol, England in 1904.Cary joined a circus act in which he learnt to become a skilled acrobat and physical comic. Those skills would come in handy when they featured in several of his films. He headed to Hollywood and worked his way up from bit player to one of the most beloved stars of the classic era.

Cary was suave, charming, stylish and a highly skilled physical comic. Men wanted to be him, and women wanted to be with him.

I love him because I greatly admire how he worked his way up to become a star. Cary overcame a very sad, working class childhood and went on to become a wealthy success.

I love how he made so many of his roles fun. Cary can often be found amusingly breaking the fourth wall and looking directly at us on screen; this makes the comic situation he’s reacting too even funnier for me. 

Although best known for his romantic and comic roles, Cary was a very good dramatic actor too. I prefer him in his more serious roles, such as Notorious. I wish he had been given more dramatic roles in his career.

Cary died in 1986.

Photo0068My Favourite Cary Grant Film Performance? Peter Joshua in Charade (1963). Cary plays a spy, who may or may not be a man that Reggie(Audrey Hepburn)can trust. This role for me is the perfect combination of all his screen skills. Here Cary gets to be a man of action and be romantic, funny and serious.

Five Must See Cary Grant Films:  Only Angels Have Wings, North By Northwest, Charade, Notorious,The Awful Truth.

Well, it was tough narrowing down my favourite actors list to just five, but I managed to do it in the end. The five I chose are actors whose work I return to again and again, and who always seem natural to me in their on screen performances.

Here are ten runners up. More of my classic era favourites(five men and five women)with some must see films from them.

William Holden: Stalag 17, Breezy, Network, Paris When It Sizzles, Golden Boy.

Takashi Shimura: Stray Dog, Ikiru, Seven Samurai, Scandal, Godzilla.

Michael Redgrave: The Browning Version, Time Without Pity, Dead Of Night, The Years Between, The Lady Vanishes.

John Mills: Ice Cold In Alex, The Long Memory, Tiger Bay, It’s Great To Be Young, Ryan’s Daughter.

Stanley Baker: Hell Is A City, Zulu, A Prize Of Arms, Hell Drivers, Campbell’s Kingdom.

Margret Lockwood: The Wicked Lady, Love Story, Jassy, The Lady Vanishes, Madness of the Heart.

Dorothy Dandridge: Moment Of Danger, Carmen Jones, Tamango, Bright Road,  Island In The Sun.

Deborah Kerr: The Innocents, The Chalk Garden, Heaven Knows Mr. Allison, From Here To Eternity, The Sundowners.

Clara Bow: Call Her Savage, It, Wings, Hoop-La, Get Your Man.

Ingrid Bergman: Notorious, Stromboli, The Bells of St. Mary’s, A Woman Called Golda, Anastasia.

Thank you for reading. Be sure to check out all the other posts over on Rick’s site.

Please share your thoughts on any of the actors I’ve written about. Share your five favourites in the comments section.