Thursday, July 22, 2010

North By Northwest

So here I was, wrapping up my review of this damn movie, when my computer spazzed out on me, deleted the entire thing, and put my Diabolique/Vertigo review back. So if this seems a bit rushed, it’s because I am so very cranky. Anyway, this film has Hitchcock going back to his favorite theme, that of the Wrong Man, though here it’s done better than in most of his other films. Chronologically sandwiched as it is between Vertigo and Psycho, this one suffers a bit by comparison, but it’s still a superior effort by Hitch, and well worth a look for any thriller fans.
The film stars Cary Grant as a salesman who, about one damn minute into the movie, is mistaken for a spy, kidnapped by a villainous spy ring led by James Mason and Martin Landau, and almost murdered. After escaping, he gets caught up in a vast maelstrom of craziness that involves drunk driving to safety, a massive frame job, a murder at the United Nations, a train ride, a whirlwind romance with Eva Marie Saint, an assault by a villainous crop duster, and even a chase atop Mt. Rushmore. It’s as though Hitchcock, stung by criticisms that there wasn’t a deep enough plot in Vertigo, decided with his next film to go overboard the other way and through far too damn much plot in.

Indeed, the main criticism I have with the film is the sheer overwhelming nature of the plot. While this does allow him to throw in quite a few more set-pieces than normal (the most iconic, of course, being the crop duster attack and the Mt. Rushmore scene), a lot of it seems a bit rushed, as though he were too busy speeding along through the film to properly enjoy several of the scenes. The climax on Rushmore, in particular, only lasts a grand four minutes, presumably because Hitch needed more time to devote to subplots about guns loaded with blanks, and how Grant can attract Saint’s attention with coins and matchbooks without also attracting other attention, and…what I’m saying is that, despite this film being even longer than Vertigo, there’s so much story crammed into it that it’s outright bursting at the seams.

Which is not to say that it’s actually bad, of course. Once you come to accept the fact that it’s going to hurtle along like a Bourne movie (something that may actually be a plus to many people), there’s quite a lot to admire about it. The acting ranges from good to great, there’s a surprise cameo by Edward Platt six years before he appeared in the greatest sitcom ever made (I will fight anyone who says otherwise), there’s some bourbon that seemed suspiciously carbonated and made me giggle, and among the many great scenes, there’s one at an auction where Grant makes the biggest scene I have ever seen anyone that wasn’t in Taxi cause. Additionally, there are so many chases, guns drawn, and vehicles destroyed that one could almost mistake this for an outright action movie. Almost.

In many ways, this could be considered a palate cleanser after Vertigo. It’s a good deal more light-hearted and silly, avoiding outright the dark emotional depths of its predecessor, and rushing the pace along so swiftly that you can cheerfully shut your mind off during it, content that any plot point you may accidentally miss probably didn’t really matter anyway. I prefer his darker, more serious efforts from this time period, but given that this is sitting pretty on IMDB right now as the 34th best movie ever made, I have a sneaking suspicion that I might be in the minority.

Rating: *** ½

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