SYTYCR Round 1.3: Your Accomplice… VS. Med School… (North By Northwest)

by Nick Jobe · July 8, 2012 · So You Think You Can Review · 2 Comments

(If you have no idea what this is, please click here and here.)
Wow! I did not see that coming! The last battle was surely an interesting one! It was a tight race early on, and then it seemed The Crazy 88 had a pretty strong lead for quite a while and was going to easily win the battle. But then in the last few hours, Macaulay Connor caught up from behind and took the lead. And with a whopping total 54(!) votes, the second battle was quite a success. Macaulay Connor moves on to the next round to face Rick von Sloneker. As for this next battle, we’re going to be looking at our first actual classic, Hitchcock’s North by Northwest. Read, vote, enjoy! You have until Tuesday. Below is the updated bracket. Click to make it bigger.

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Review #1
By Your Accomplice in the Wood Chipper
Is it really possible for North by Northwest to live up to its hype? It’s rare to find a Top Films list deprived of its inclusion, it features scenes that have become the stuff of legend, that also tend to top Best Scene lists, and it’s one of the greatest movies ever made by one of the greatest directors who ever lived.
If you haven’t seen it yet, then I strongly advise you to stop reading anything about it and go and watch it now, for North by Northwest is truly a tremendous film that is best enjoyed with as little outside knowledge as possible. When Cary Grant’s Roger O. Thornhill quips shortly after being kidnapped into the back of a car, “Don’t tell me where we’re going, surprise me,” this is not merely Hitchcock’s intentions for Thornhill, but for all of us watching as well.
There’s really no weak link in the film. From the opening Saul Bass title sequence, utilising the receding parallel lines of a Madison Avenue skyscraper’s windows to perch the credits atop as they rush off into the distance, down to the ever so cheeky closing train tunnel metaphor, every second oozes entertainment. Alfred Hitchcock’s longest film, and his fourth and final with fellow English-born collaborator Cary Grant, is also his most unashamedly fun. There are many people who have an issue with some of the more fantastical elements of the plot – to be fair, a cropduster is hardly the most effective method of assassination – but these people are preventing themselves from what is a truly thrilling experience. And after all, who is watching Hitchcock for realism? The master has always admitted that, whilst some films are a slice of life, his tend to be a slice of cake, and this one has the richest, creamiest filling, not to mention icing, a cherry and some rainbow-coloured sprinkles to boot.
Cary Grant is on his finest, suavest form as New York ad man Roger O. Thornhill, stepping straight from Mad Men into a classic Hitchcock mistaken identity caper. Thornhill is an egotistical chauvinist, totally in control of his superficial advertising world, yet within Grant’s capable hands he remains not simply likable, but enviable. Who wouldn’t want to fill out a suit like that, and have such a wide and successful array of quips and zingers at their disposal? For though he is constantly befuddled and bemused by the adventure he has innocently become swept along in, there is no circumstance that leaves him wanting for a one-liner. Here, Grant perfects the art of the stern expression and the furrowed brow, eternally caught between confusion and frustration, with merely a hint of excitement as his journey takes him across America in the effort to clear his name of a wrongfully accused murder. The role was originally offered to Hitch’s other great collaborator, James Stewart, after the two did such sterling work on Vertigo together, but as soon as Grant became available Stewart was dropped, in favour of a man Hitch believed would not be dwarfed by the extraordinary events going on around him. Whilst Stewart has often been remarkable in his everyman roles, it’s fair to say that Thornhill would not have been the right fit for him.
Such a masculine protagonist would be lost without a suitably feminine love interest, and Eva Marie Saint fits that job nicely as Eve Kendall, a typically beautiful Hitchcock blonde whose porcelain doll exterior hides her ability to use sex like some people do a flyswatter, and she holds her own against the likes of Psycho’s Janet Leigh, Rear Window’s Grace Kelly and Vertigo’s Kim Novak as she dabbles in some of the most forward repartee since Bacall taught Bogart how to whistle.  Hitch always preferred the more beautiful but subtly sexy female leads, as he took great pleasure in uncovering their more alluring qualities than he would have with the more self-promoting individuals like Monroe. As with all of Hitchcock’s birds (pun intended) Saint is meticulously and beautifully dressed in every scene. Legend has it that the great director paid her wardrobe so much attention that Grant petulantly demanded advice on what he should be wearing, and was simply told to “Dress like Cary Grant.”
Released three years before Dr. No, this film clearly set the template for almost every Bond movie. With its dashing, smooth talking hero with an easily recognisable voice, the woman who falls for him within seconds of meeting, a villain’s lair in an impressive yet remote location (here James Mason’s Vandamm lives in a condo atop Mount Rushmore), an evil sidekick (Martin Landau, with a severe case of Henchman’s Eyebrow) and a fast-paced, stunt-riddled adventure taking in major cities around the world (or at least central and north-east USA). Thornhill even has the ability to make perfect strangers throw themselves at him; just wait for the reaction from the woman in his neighbouring hospital room. It’s no surprise to learn that Grant himself was an original candidate for what was to eventually become Sean Connery’s Bond.
Even from the trailer, this is one of the most comical of Hitchcock’s endeavours. Speaking directly to the audience, Hitch himself appears, advising the viewers on how to take the perfect vacation without leaving the cinema, keeping his tongue firmly planted in his cheek throughout (“You don’t find a tasteful murder on every guided tour, do you?”). It’s on Youtube, go check it out. Ernest Lehman’s Oscar-nominated script (tragically losing out to Pillow Talk) is full of far too many quotable lines to give justice to here, but it contains more than enough for even three films. My personal favourite? Saint declaring she’s a big girl, followed by Grant’s perfectly timed, effortless rebuttal of “and in all the right places.” The police station phone call is yet another example of solid gold. Occasionally the steady slew of insinuations and double entendres becomes a little cringeworthy, especially when Grant tells Saint he likes her flavour, but that’s a rare misstep for a script that otherwise never puts a foot wrong. There’s far too much excellence on hand to make you forget these, and the film will never fail to raise a smile with every viewing.
It isn’t just the dialogue though; the scenes without any discussions are often just as amazing, if not more so. Early on, after being forcibly imbibed with the best part of a bottle of bourbon, Thornhill is unleashed behind the wheel of a car, in an attempt to instigate his demise. Upon realising what’s going on he awakes in a drunken stupor and does his utmost to keep his car on the increasingly blurred and merging roads in front of him. Grant makes for an amusingly intense drunk, persistently blinking, squinting and staring bug-eyed at the cars he races past, made all the more dramatic by Bernard Herrmann’s  stupendously engaging score. Of course, there’s also the hallowed cropduster chase, as Thornhill, having been lured to the middle of nowhere to meet the man he’s been accused of being, finds himself battling the more painful end of a plane’s propeller. One of the few scenes not set to music – to better emphasise the relentless whirring of the plane and the lack of assistance Thornhill is likely to receive with the matter at hand – the scene is worth watching as a standalone segment. Equal parts exhilarating, terrifying and fun, it’s made all the more hilarious for the entire time Grant dives through dirt and hides amongst crops he is wearing his increasingly worn yet perfectly tailored grey flannel suit, clean shaven and with immaculate hair.
Hitchcock’s regular cinematographer, Robert Burks, excels himself in a manner that by this film is surely only to be expected. The shot of Thornhill fleeing the UN building to a waiting cab is stunning, captured from high above and angled down the side of a skyscraper, a shot I’d happily have framed on my wall, and the revealing shot of a gun hidden in a purse is sly enough to almost go unnoticed, but is sure to pay off later. Hitch ticks off almost all of his standard tropes – a wrongfully accused man on the run, maternal issues (Jessie Royce Landis, who plays Thornhill’s mother, was in real life only 8 years older than Grant), spies, deception, train journeys, height-based peril, an all-but-unnecessary MacGuffin (a statue full of microfilm), bumbling policemen, a tense finale set atop a famous landmark and, of course, an icy blonde. All that’s missing is a self-deprecating scene in a cinema.
When compared to modern day blockbusters, this picture more than holds up. Its unstoppable, kinetic nature will keep fans of both classic cinema and present day fare glued to the screen and on the edge of their seats for the entire 136 minute runtime. Filled with glamour, wit, excitement and big scenes on a large canvas, there’s something here to please everyone, as long as they like really great films. Does it live up to the hype? Yes, and more so.
5/5
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Review #2
By Med School Movie Fanatic
In this 1959 Hitchcock thriller, fast-talking Madison Ave. advertising exec Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) is thrown into a world of lies, deceit, organized crime, and murder when he is mistaken for a man by the name of George Kaplan.
Hey guys, how’s it going? This review marks a couple of milestones for me: the first review I’ve written in a LONG time and the first I’ve written anonymously, so please don’t be shy in your criticisms, comments, praises, suggestions, etc. But as this review is for a competition, something tells me that you may be wondering why I’m even bothering to ask about this at all. I may not be a professional but I do understand that the review is not for me, it’s not for the people running this competition, it is for you, the person reading this. So please, any way to better my writing for YOU, the reader, please don’t be afraid. Anyways, allons-y!
This movie marks a momentous occasion for me as a movie lover and film critic but also a very sad one. This is the 1st Hitchcock movie I have ever seen in its entirety and it was fantastic. The other problem with this is that even though it is MY introduction to Hitchcock, it is his 47th feature film, so there may have been many nuances that I missed in watching it or maybe some running thematic elements that he keeps putting in his films, but I shall do my best.
This movie does what I wish a lot of movies nowadays (especially sci-fi) would do which is instead of having a full 15 minute introduction to the characters and their personalities and morals, etc., you’re just thrown in the middle of the story as Roger Thornhill himself is. The reason why this is beneficial to the audience is that it has them asking questions about what is going on and who is this person and that person and why are they doing that which peaks and maintains their interest. It allows the filmmakers to pose all of these questions that they want and answer them without spelling it out for you as how the character moves through the story tells you exactly what you need to know to figure it out yourself.
The only problem I really have with the story is that it has a few moments of Deus Ex Machina, which for those of you who don’t know is Latin for “God from the Machine”. This is “a plot device in which a seemingly unsolvable problem is suddenly and abruptly solved with the contrived and unexpected intervention of some new event, character, ability, or object” (Wikipedia). The major example of this for me is near the beginning of the movie where Roger Thornhill is placed in a car drunk off a bottle of bourbon and sent to his death when he miraculously drives with what I am dubbing the “skill of an F1 driver” narrowly avoiding death numerous times which I just found completely and utterly ridiculous.
Apart from his super driving skills, Cary Grant does a great job as Roger Thornhill aka George Kaplan. He is completely believable as the fast-talking ad exec who uses his skills to get what he needs throughout the movie. The rest of the cast did a good job but were completely overshadowed by Grant’s performance. What I found really interesting about his character though, was not part of the performance. In the course of the movie we find out that his middle name starts with ‘O’ givig him the initials ROT. Now, I may be reading a bit deep into this but the word rot is defined as the process of decaying which I think mirrors the status of his life as the movie progresses. He starts out in an amazing life position and ends up having to hide from the conductors on a train due to his deteriorating reputation.
Another thing I may be reading a bit too deep into is the name of the character Cary Grant is mistaken for: “George”. In English mythology, St. George fought a dragon that was symbolic of the devil and I think that this is a metaphor in relation to George Kaplan’s original purpose as explained in the film.
Now I may get a little technical here when it comes to camerawork and sound mixing and what not but I promise I won’t stay long on it. The camerawork in this movie is fantastic. The use of panning shots, follow shots, and long takes gives the audience a constant feeling as if they are looking in on the story as it is unfolding instead of being in it as most movies nowadays try to do. For example, a conversation is going on between two people in a room. At the beginning of the conversation they are right beside each other so the camera focuses on the two men. But soon enough one man walks to the other side of the room while he I talking and instead of cutting away to a different angle, the camera just pans to follow him as if you were in the room and turning your head to follow his movements.
However, my favourite technical detail of this movie is not the camerawork, or the acting, the story or the dialogue, but it is the score. It is appropriately ominous from the moment the MGM logo leaves the screen until the end of the credits. And what I really enjoyed is how the score was cleverly turned down at certain points to facilitate the increase in the ambient noise that covers up dialogue that would (I assume) make the movie’s plot too obvious.
The last thing I would like to talk about in relation to this movie is the action set piece that takes place on Mt. Rushmore. It was great. Compared to nowadays movies, there was barely any action in it but the way it was filmed and the score make it just as exciting and even more so to watch 4 people climb down Mt. Rushmore than see robots fighting in the Transformers franchise and that just made me love the movie even more.
In conclusion, I’d say that this is a great movie for anyone willing to watch a movie made before Y2K.
IMDB says 8.6/10
RT says 100%
I say 9.5/10
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Now Vote!

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2 Responses to SYTYCR Round 1.3: Your Accomplice… VS. Med School… (North By Northwest)

  1. Well done, both! This is far and away my favorite Hitchcock, and I’m so glad both reviewers enjoyed it!

  2. Bubbawheat says:

    Tough choice, while I’d like to see Med School move on, Wood Chipper actually made me more interested in watching the movie for the first time, so that’s who got my vote.

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