North By Northwest (1959)

 

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Greatest film with a name resembling a compass direction. Mistaken for a spy and wanted for murder, a businessman delves into the world of espionage to prove his innocence.

Beware the following will contain plot detail.

How do civilisations express themselves through art? In ancient times, there was Greek tragedy and for 1950s America it was film or the “talkies”. Lauded for its cultural significance, North By Northwest is just one example and a revealing peek back in time, but let’s end the history lesson there.

Back in Madison Avenue’s heyday, Thornhill (Grant)is a business executive working there who is mistaken for George Kaplan, a spy, at a hotel bar. Like other Hitchcock films, this is a story of the ordinary hero swept up in a world of murder and mystery. In this case, it’s more like a whirlwind as Thornhill is quickly captured and interrogated by enemy spies who then try to stage his death. He makes it out alive and of course doesn’t go back to the day job but instead chases excitement by going after Vandamm (Mason), his captor. With Thornhill’s death-trap failed, Vandamm’s men frame him for murder and send the temptress Kendall (Marie Saint) to keep track of him. On Thornhill’s way, he teams up with US intelligence who reveal that Kaplan is a decoy, a spy that never existed to mislead the enemy. In a twist of irony, Thornhill must now assume the identity of Kaplan who he protested earlier he was not in order to rescue a double agent in Vandamm’s crew.

All the ingredients of Hitchcock’s finest work are imbued although there’s a trade-off by straying into the spy genre. Gone is the calculated murder plot and in its place a rollicking adventure. Moving from the UN building to Mount Rushmore, the visuals are smartly presented with vintage appeal today and reminds me of Connery’s Bond which is a good thing indeed. On the other hand,North by Northwest feels distinctively more light-hearted as Grant plays a relatable everyday person. If ‘Make America Great Again’ means reproducing films like this, count me in.

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