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North by Northwest (1959)

The master of suspense presents a 3000-mile chase across America

Directed by:

Alfred Hitchcock

Rating: 9/10

Running Time: 136 minutes

UK Certificate: PG

On DVD

Country: United States

Do not adjust your sets. Yes, it’s Cary Grant, and yes – he really is that lovely shade of orange. In this, his fourth and final outing under the gifted eyes of Alfie Hitchcock, the satsuma-faced screen legend produces perhaps the finest performance of his outstanding career. He’s Roger Thornhill, the suave advertising exec mistaken for an international man of mystery, and he’s going to need more than a twinkle in his eye and a nicely-pressed suit to get himself out of this particular pickle.

Things start to go askew for our tangerine-tanned hero when some spivs bundle him into the back of a car and whisk him off to a countryside manor, where he’s grilled by sleazy villain Phillip Vandamm (James Mason) upon his arrival. Fortunately he manages to get loose and, thanks predominantly to a marvellous assortment of cheese-encrusted pick-up lines, hooks up with train-travelling beauty Eve (Eva Marie Saint) – but it seems his probs are only just beginning.

Ernest Lehman’s fantastic screenplay incorporates spies, henchmen, double-crossers and no less than THREE of the most memorable scenes in Hollywood history (a murderous crop-duster, a rudely-interrupted art auction, and a game of tig on the face(s) of Mount Rushmore). It’s practically tailor-made for the helmsmanship of Hitchcock, who gets to have a whale of a time playing with our minds, throwing our suspicions first one way and then the next as he refines techniques reminiscent from 24 years previously in ‘The 39 Steps’.

This isn’t quite in the same league as Hitchy’s very best work – check out Psycho or Rear Window to experience that pleasure – but it does make for fantastic viewing. It’s suspenseful and thrilling, but also massively entertaining and laced with chirpy, charismatic humour.

It's Got: A ‘Cliffhanger’ ending.

It Needs: Some proper climbing equipment.

DVD Extras Cast and crew stuff, audio commentary from screenwriter Ernest Lehman, a ‘Making Of’ hosted by Eva Marie Saint, and a theatrical trailer. DVD Extras Rating: 6/10

Alternatives:

The 39 Steps, Vertigo

Summary

A sizzling Hitchcock classic – not the man’s very best work, but it’s right up there.

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