Film Review: North by Northwest (1959)

Also known as: The Man In Lincoln’s Nose, The CIA Story (working titles)
Release Date: July 1st, 1959 (Chicago premiere)
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Written by: Ernest Lehman
Music by: Bernard Herrmann
Cast: Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason, Jessie Royce Landis, Martin Landau

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 136 Minutes

Review:

“Now you listen to me, I’m an advertising man, not a red herring. I’ve got a job, a secretary, a mother, two ex-wives and several bartenders that depend upon me, and I don’t intend to disappoint them all by getting myself slightly killed.” – Roger Thornhill

I feel like I’ve been reviewing a lot of perfect films, lately. But it’s not because I magically stumbled upon a treasure trove of perfection. The reality is, most of these films I had planned to revisit and review anyway but since the FilmStruck streaming service is closing down Nov. 29th (this may be posted after that) I wanted to squeeze in as many movies from that service as possible. But this isn’t about FilmStruck and I’m working on an article about that anyway.

I saw North by Northwest when I was really young. And then, a few years ago, I got the pleasure of seeing it on the big screen, which is how everyone should watch this the first time, if they are presented with the opportunity to do so.

I love this movie and in some ways, it almost feels like what could have happened had Alfred Hitchcock ever directed a James Bond film in the classic era. However, this predates the James Bond movie franchise by a few years, so Hitchcock was ahead of the curve. Plus, the main character isn’t a spy but is a man that has become the victim of a mistaken identity. So it has a solid Hitchcock trope already in place and while this doesn’t globe-trot, it sees our protagonist travel to different parts of America.

The film is perfectly shot, superbly acted and everyone that comes on screen has amazing charisma and personality that is fine tuned to work within the picture but not to overpower or dilute the scenes for the sake of performance. Also, the one on one chemistry between Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint is magical.

North by Northwest boasts some top notch, high octane action sequences that were far better than anything you’d see in 1959. Between the crop duster scene and the big finale on Mt. Rushmore, this was a film ahead of its time but very grounded in the concerns and real world worries of the late 1950s.

This feels like Hitchcock’s biggest movie and in retrospect, I can’t think of one that comes off as grander in scale. Also, as great as his movies are, it’s hard to think of one that is more fun and entertaining. This really isn’t just a perfect film, it is the perfect Hitchcock film and really encompasses his best tropes, his style and everything that made his work at his peak, some of the best motion picture releases of all-time.

Movies this good are few and far between. While I love just about everything that Hitchcock has ever done, this may be the tip of his grand and near perfect iceberg.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: other Hitchcock films of the 1950s.

Film Review: To Catch A Thief (1955)

Release Date: August 5th, 1955
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Written by: John Michael Hayes
Based on: To Catch A Thief by David Dodge
Music by: Lyn Murray
Cast: Cary Grant, Grace Kelly, Jessie Royce Landis, John Williams, Charles Vanel, Brigitte Auber

Paramount Pictures, 106 Minutes

Review:

“For what it’s worth, I never stole from anybody who would go hungry.” – John Robie

This is a Hitchcock film that I had never seen and the best part is that I got to check it out on the big screen. It’s also no secret that I love Hitchcock, especially his films from this era. While this is a magnificent movie, it isn’t quite on the level of Rear Window, which came out a year earlier and also starred Grace Kelly. Still, it is a fine movie in every regard.

To Catch A Thief teams up Grace Kelly with Hitchcock favorite Cary Grant. Grant plays a famous retired jewel thief. As he pounces around the French Riviera, a new jewel thief appears and draws the ire of the law and the rich citizens of this old Mediterranean beach community. Grant wants to solve the mystery, as he is the prime suspect, and wants to continue on the straight and narrow path. Grace Kelly figures out who he is and we get a big mix up and a real whodunit mystery, as Grant races to uncover the truth behind the robberies.

While Hitchcock was a master of mise-en-scène, especially in his use of color, this is one of his more vivid looking pictures. The use of greens and the colorful flair was well executed. Hitchcock and his cinematographer Robert Burks outdid themselves in creating and capturing the majestic allure of the French Riviera. The fireworks scene is especially captivating.

The chemistry between Grant and Kelly was uncanny. Kelly is always pretty close to perfect in her work with Hitchcock and Grant was always a top notch Hollywood star that brought his charm, wit and gravitas to every role he played. The rest of the cast was also a lot of fun and had a good camaraderie with Grant and Kelly, especially Kelly’s mother, played by Jessie Royce Landis. I absolutely loved Landis in this picture.

The pace of the film is a bit shaky though. It moves along swiftly for the most part but there are a few areas in the film where it feels like the narrative is put on hold or stagnates. When you get to the end however, you realize the importance of some of these scenes. But the film does employ a lot of misdirection, which was done pretty effectively.

Compared to Hitchcock’s other work from this era, To Catch A Thief is a lightweight. It doesn’t cast a heavy and ominous shadow over the proceedings but that’s kind of what’s cool about it. The film is certainly one of Hitchcock’s funnest outings. At its core, it is a quirky romantic adventure filled with mystery and the geographical beauty of a James Bond picture. Ultimately, it is a fun and exciting movie with a lot of attractive things to be swept away by.

Rating: 8.5/10

Film Review: The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer (1947)

Also known as: Bachelor Knight (UK)
Release Date: July 24th, 1947 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Irving Reis
Written by: Sidney Sheldon
Music by: Leigh Harline
Cast: Cary Grant, Myrna Loy, Shirley Temple

RKO Radio Pictures, 95 Minutes

thebachelorandthebobbysoxerReview:

This was a movie that I found on my mum’s shelf. I thought, “Huh… I don’t think I’ve seen a Shirley Temple movie where she is a teenager.” So I naturally borrowed it. Plus, it has Cary Grant in it and if I am ever going to see his complete filmography, I have to see The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer.

This film would never fly today. Unless it was about a man’s life being ruined after being falsely accused of statutory rape and well, those films are a dime a dozen.

In this picture, we have the handsome adult artist played by Grant. It is established immediately that women will fight over his attention.

While giving a lecture on art at a high school, he unintentionally mesmerizes a 17 year-old Shirley Temple. Temple then treats her high school boyfriend like crap and obsesses over the much older Grant. At one point, she breaks into his house, where he discovers her waiting just as her older sister, a judge, is pounding on his door.

Nothing happens, Grant is an innocent man with a cute teen crushing on him. Grant goes to jail but things sort themselves out without Grant going into some database and having a sign in his front yard forever declaring him a kiddie diddling pervert.

The rest of the film deals with the two sisters fighting over Grant. Eventually, Temple moves on and learns to appreciate her high school boyfriend while the older sister and Grant find their “happily ever after” ending.

The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer was cute and enjoyable enough but it wasn’t a great picture. The acting was pretty good but the direction and the cinematography were pretty basic and straightforward. It really wasn’t that interesting of a picture.

Maybe it played better in the 1940s for teen audiences who were able to see Cary Grant through the eyes of Shirley Temple’s character. It is hard for me to say, though, as I am not a teen girl in the 1940s.