55 – North by Northwest (1959)

Clara Thornhill: Roger, I think we should go.

Roger Thornhill: Don’t be nervous.
Clara Thornhill: I’m not nervous, I’ll be late for the bridge club. 

 

Seen before?

R: Once, a few years ago.

F: Same. Started off knowing I’d seen it before but took me a while to recall that I definitely had.

 

Thoughts?

R: The first Hitchcock film on this list, and what can we say? It’s a pretty perfect thriller. Is it fair to say every James Bond film since Dr. No (1962) owes it a massive debt?

F: If Cary Grant was 10 years younger (or the Bond films had been made a decade earlier) then he almost certainly would have played James Bond don’t you think? 

R: Oh for sure.

F: He has the look, the charm and the cheesy lines! The only difference between James Bond and Roger Thornhill is that Bond is a government spy but Thornhill has absolutely no idea what’s going on!

R: It’s the tone where I think you see the clearest influence on the Bond films. Fast paced, tense, but with plenty of broad humour to keep it light and accessible. It also taught Bond a lot about male wish fulfilment. We were both laughing out loud at moments we probably weren’t supposed to because of the way the women in the film react to Mr Thornhill. 

F: I love it though! So tongue in cheek. Do you think though that the (perhaps unintentional) humour distracts from the suspense? 

R: You might say it does, but the film is hardly meant to be a total nerve-jangler. The moments of levity help give it broad appeal, and I don’t have a problem with that. And of course, the film can be tense when it wants to be. The two obvious examples are when they’re clinging to the rocks of Mount Rushmore, and when Thornhill is dodging the cropduster. Both have become iconic scenes for very good reason.

F: Yes, as with most Hitchcock films, there are the stand out scenes. The cropduster scene is my favourite for sure. At that point we as the audience know much more than Thornhill which makes the scene more tense. Can you see much classic Hitchcock in this? 

R: He’s famous for his talent ratcheting up the tension and putting together cleverly composed shots, and those two scenes we’ve already mentioned are strong examples of that. But I also like Hitchcock for the way he handles dialogue. I love the scene early on when Thornhill’s being interrogated by Vandamm and he has no idea what’s going on. Thanks to the way the camera moves you get a real sense of the two men circling each other trying to figure out what they know. And again, the repartee between Thornhill and Eve Kendell when they first meet in the train has a chemistry that I think Bond’s never quite been as successful recreating.

F: Maybe because we know Bond finds a new girl in the next film! But the dialogue is sharp here. And whilst this doesn’t have the suspense levels of Rear Window or Psycho it’s certainly up there for me as one of his best. I like these kind of mistaken identity films where you can never really trust any of the characters completely.

R: Totally agree – I think you could probably call it intrigue instead of suspense. What impresses me is that while older thrillers can sometimes feel a bit pedestrian, Hitchcock is a brutally efficient proponent of ‘show-don’t-tell’ here, which helps keep the pacing up. It feels like we’re never in the same place longer than minutes, but the location-hopping never feels contrived.

F: I do think the Mount Rushmore setting is a little cheesy though!

Is it worthy of the top 100?

R: A pleasure to watch. Yes from me.

F: Yes – very influential and a lot of fun too! 

Up next:
54 – M*A*S*H (1970)

Previously:
56 – Jaws (1975)

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