Danger: Beware of Spoilers!
For me, my fascination with Alfred Hitchcock first started with my sister having the flu. My big brother let me stay up with him to watch Strangers on a Train—half of it anyway, once Mom put me back to bed. But it was like a “gateway drug” for movie fans, and the biggest score of all was North by Northwest! It all began when composer Bernard Herrmann (On Dangerous Ground; Vertigo; Psycho) introduced his friend, screenwriter Ernest Lehman (Sweet Smell of Success; West Side Story; Sabrina), to director Alfred Hitchcock. As Lehman explained, “I sat in my office, trying to construct a story which began at the United Nations…I said, ‘I want to make the Hitchcock picture to end all Hitchcock pictures. Something that has wit, sophistication, glamour, action, and lots of changes in locale…And that’s when I started writing.” Well, Lehman did all that and then some, in my absolute favorite film of all time, which also happens to be my favorite Alfred Hitchcock film: North by Northwest (1959). When there weren’t enough Hitchcock movies available in theaters or on home video (remember Blockbuster and such?), I filled the gap as best I could with Stanley Donen’s own delightful comedy-thrillers: Charade; Arabesque; Mirage; and Who is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe?, also penned by Peter Stone. Silver Streak was also a favorite of mine during its original theatrical run, when I was a fresh-faced lass of 13. I was eager to see more of Hitchcock’s own films, but at that point in time, few if any of us Average Joes and Josies owned VHS players, and DVDs weren’t even a twinkle in technology’s eye yet. Therefore, if I wanted to watch honest-to-goodness classic Hitchcock movies, I had to wait for them to turn up on TV, often in the wee hours of the night , or sometimes I’d be lucky enough to find them playing at one of the many revival theaters operating in my hometown of New York City back then.
|Mr. Thornhill, your horoscope predicts|
you'll have a most unusual day!
|See no evil, drink no evil, frown no evil!|
|You’ve got me all wrong, fella, I’m a teetotaler!|
|Even Hitch can't control NYC traffic!|
The opening credits alone sweep us viewers into the action before the bad guys even show up. Saul Bass’s sleek opening credit sequence works beautifully with Bernard Herrmann’s fandango-style opening theme, swirling tempestuously along as Manhattan’s bustling citizens rush into subways and taxis—except for that distinguished, imposing gent who’s just missed the Fifth Avenue bus. Yep, it’s Hitchcock himself, literally trying to catch up with the credits. This is New York City, all right, with its boisterous, cocky attitude, like this dialogue from Eddie, the elevator operator:
Roger: “Say good night to the missus.”
Eddie: “We’re not talkin’!”
|Strangers on a train, exchanging cigarettes!|
|What’s the world coming to when even your mom, Cyrano Jones, |
the Chief of CONTROL, and the SIA won’t believe your life is in danger?
Just as well Hitchcock's cameo came early, because our hero gets few opportunities to relax and enjoy the film’s fabulous locations, what with the wringer he’s about to be put through! Talk about Mad Men: as Roger Thornhill, the ad man who became a bewildered red herring, Cary Grant’s romantic panache and flair for comedy perfectly suits our literally dashing hero, Roger O. Thornhill. The “O” stands for "nothing", much like Roger himself at first. He’s a charming, slick executive who's used to having his own way in business and the boudoir, judging from the fact that he’s been married twice and is currently wooing a new gal with “candy from Blum’s. Each piece wrapped in gold paper. She’ll like that; she’ll think she’s eating money.” Indeed, those aforementioned opening credits move at a rapid-fire pace, almost like one of the screwball comedies Grant made with Howard Hawks in the 1930s and ‘40s.
|“You gentlemen aren’t really trying to kill my son, are you?”|
|Not one, but TWO fist-i-cams in one film!|
Something’s Gonna Live), Merrill Pye, William Horning, Henry Grace, and Frank McKelvy (but not Best Director or Best Score, alas). Best of all, North By Northwest was nominated for Lehman's screenplay; in fact, he borrowed from it liberally for his suspenseful, rollicking script for the film version of Irving Wallace’s The Prize, starring Paul Newman!
|Roger wanted to catch a plane, but now the plane’s trying to catch him!|
|As auctioneers, Les Tremaine and Olan Soule |
want to ditch troublemaker Roger at any price!
|“Stop! (She looks closer and gets swoony.) Stop.” |
(The female patient wants more of Grant’s bedside manner as Grant flees
Who could blame her?)
For more information about North by Northwest, here's a post I wrote about the 2001 Oscar nominee The Man on Lincoln’s Nose; and the 2010 documentary Something’s Gonna Live, produced by Norman Jewison.