North by Northwest

Released:  1959

Cast:  Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason, Jessie Royce Landis, Leo G. Carroll, Martin Landau, Adam Williams, Robert Ellenstein

Oscar Nominations:  Best Film Editing (George Tomasini), Best Production Design (William A. Horning, Robert F. Boyle, Merrill Pye, Henry Grace, Frank McKelvy), Best Original Screenplay (Ernest Lehman)

SUMMARY:  At a meeting in a bar one evening, advertising executive Roger O. Thornhill (Cary Grant) is mistaken for a man named George Kaplan, and is kidnapped by two men, who take him to the house of Lester Townsend.  Although Thornhill tries to explain his real identity, Townsend (who is really a spy named Vandamm, played by James Mason) refuses to believe this, and makes repeated attempts to interrogate him.  Eventually Townsend and his men try to kill Thornhill, but he is able to escape.  Thornhill tries to explain what happened, and even takes police detectives to the Townsend house, but no one believes his story.

Thornhill visits Kaplan’s hotel room, only to find that Kaplan has left for Chicago.  He also learns that Townsend works at the U.N. General Assembly building, and goes there to confront him.  However, he discovers that Townsend is not the man who kidnapped and interrogated him.  Thornhill sneaks onto a train to Chicago, where he meets Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint).  Eve wins over Thornhill by helping him hide from the police:  unbeknownst to him, Eve is working for Vandamm, who is also on the train.  Once they reach Chicago, Eve arranges a meeting between Kaplan and Thornhill.

Thornhill arrives at the meeting point, where he is attacked by a crop duster plane.  This causes him to become suspicious of Eve, and follows her to an art auction, where he finds her with Vandamm.  After raising a fuss and getting ejected from the auction, Thornhill is taken to a man called the Professor.  The Professor is in charge of a government operation trying to capture Vandamm:  he created Kaplan (who doesn’t even exist) as a decoy to distract Vandamm from his real agent – Eve Kendall, who is Vandamm’s girlfriend.  As he has unknowingly put Eve in danger, Thornhill agrees to continue his charade as Kaplan.

Near Mount Rushmore, Thornhill arranges a meeting with Vandamm and Eve.  After a disagreement, Eve appears to shoot Thornhill, but the gun was loaded with blanks.  Thornhill is able to meet with Eve in a forest, where he learns that she will have to go overseas with Vandamm.  Thornhill is unwilling to accept this, and sneaks into Vandamm’s house that night.  He realizes that Vandamm is planning to kill Eve, and leaves her a secret warning message.  Eve is able to escape Vandamm and meet up with Thornhill, and the two are forced to flee Vandamm by climbing down the face of Mount Rushmore.  Just as the two are about to be killed by one of the henchmen, the Professor shows up with police, who arrest Vandamm and rescue Thornhill and Eve.

MY TAKE:  For a plot that seems pretty involved on paper, this movie is pretty easy to follow.  It’s an epic case of mistaken identity, although one is left wondering how Thornhill is mistaken for a man that no one has ever seen (because he’s not real).  Although you know it’s true, Thornhill’s story to police about getting kidnapped does seem pretty silly, especially since he was epically drunk during the supposed event.  For a man who has people trying to kill him, Thornhill is also incredibly unsuspicious of Eve Kendall, who helps him immediately, with no questions asked.  Since he is believed to be a murderer, Thornhill really should have known that Eve is too good to be true.  Of course, she’s really one of the good guys, but she WAS setting Thornhill up to be killed a few times.  It’s revealed pretty early in the movie that there is a secret agent working closely with Vandamm, and I figured out fairly quickly that it was Eve:  she’s the most unsuspicious person out of Vandamm’s associates.

Along with being one of Hitchcock’s best films, this movie is famous for two of its escape scenes:  the crop duster attack and the flight down Mount Rushmore.  Both have stood up well and are still believable and tense.  Being a Hitchcock movie, it also has some surprisingly funny moments.

RATING:  Pretty good.

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