North by Northwest (Alfred Hitchcock, 1959)
A hapless New York advertising executive is mistaken for a government agent by a group of foreign spies, and is pursued across the country while he looks for a way to survive.
After the famous shower scene of Psycho, the scene of the chase of the crop duster after Cary Grant is the most recognizable Hitchcock moment. With this film, Hitchcock wanted to check many things on his long list of elements he liked and wanted to include in a film. First, the presence of Cary Grant his favourite leading man with whom he didn’t had much to ask except; be Cary Grant, a natural comic actor with a bad temper as being a prima donna. But his presence in the credits was instant box office success and he represented everything Hitchcock wanted to be: handsome, athletic, and popular amongst women.
On the level of the story, we still have the innocent man involved in a situation he doesn’t ask and/or deserved to be in. There is the mommy issue with this grown man still living with his mother and the fact that he is bored with his job. As if Hitchcock was taking every regular Joe in the audience and cast him in one of his impossible stories of chase, murder, and love with beautiful women. Lately, I was reading Patrick McGilligan’s A Life in Darkness and Light, a biography of Hitchcock that states that North by Northwest and Cary Grant himself have influenced the creation of the James Bond character. This is plausible since Grant was originally offered the role and declined because of his age. It is also very accurate since the Bond franchise stands on the fact that the stories are quite impossible.
With North by Northwest, Hitch wanted to push the story and the action ever farther on the incongruity and the absurd. Many scenes are link together with not much elements and the plot lines are simple and very efficient. Just look at the scene where Grant is in the Central station on the first page of every newspaper and got around with his shades as if he was almost invisible with sunglasses. On the comic side the whole movie stands as a joke Hitchcock is playing on the audience and he succeeds so well that the thrill is constant.
The scenes involving monuments like the Mount Rushmore are one of his trademarks and knowing he was refused to shot the film on location and recreated the entire sets is a great achievement.
For some down to earth viewers North by Northwest might be a little too much but in all his Hitchcockery, it is a great masterpiece of American Cinema. In its whole the crop duster scene stands as a short film without much dialog and a superb narrative structure. Even if the logic of the scene is absent the audience is involved and the action is perfectly built.