Ring a Ding Ding
North by Northwest certainly ranks among the higher regarded Hitchcock films but has remained one that I never have a very strong desire to watch, if not for superficial reasons. At 136 minutes the movie certainly requires a time commitment, and I have never been terribly fond of Eva Marie Saint. I don’t know from where my aversion to the actress stems –she is certainly beautiful and sexy in North by Northwest– but I think I would have been happier to see Princess Grace return to America for this one, as it was offered to her.
The plot is a complex one that Cary Grant continually complained during filming he could not make heads nor tails of. Indeed, it is one of those films that one simply must enjoy the ride and not worry too much about all the complications that contribute to it. Grant plays Roger Thornhill, an advertising man who is mistaken for a spy and taken on the adventure of a lifetime in attempting to clear himself/foil the villains. James Mason offers a great villain in Phillip Vandamm and Saint plays his lover in a role that changes as the plot progresses.
The picture, originally titled “In a Northwesterly Direction”, utilizes two of the typical Hitchcock plot devices: the wrong man scenario and the chase. In this case, the chase takes Thornhill across the country from New York to Chicago and finally Mount Rushmore. This his first film with MGM Studios, Hitchcock was able to shoot many scenes on location, although the government blocked filming in the United Nations, where a man is killed, and on the actual Mount Rushmore, where the chase climaxes as characters climb across the famous faces. The monument was created on a soundstage but was real enough to dupe the Department of the Interior into thinking their orders had been defied. The most famous scene, however, takes place both in a cornfield and on a studio set. When Thornhill is lured to the middle of nowhere outside of Chicago, he is chased down by a crop dusting plane that uses not only pesticides but bullets. The filming of that portion of the movie was quite laborious with horrid heat and complicated plane choreography plaguing Grant and Hitchcock. The most famous shot of the plane running down Grant as he sprints toward the camera was an exquisite use of back projection. The plane had been previously filmed and then projected behind Grant as he runs on the set.
North by Northwest was among the Hitchcock films that gained unwanted involvement from censors attempting to enforce the rather arbitrary Production Code. Officials did not like the effeminate nature of Martin Landau‘s character, a gay sidekick to Vandamm. They also did not care for the implied sexual relationship between Grant and Saint as intimated by Thornhill’s overnight hideout in the woman’s train compartment. What bothered them most, however, was Saint’s line “I never make love on an empty stomach.” Hitchcock traded this dialogue in order to keep the compartment visit. It is dubbed as “I never discuss love on an empty stomach” but Saint’s lips tell the original tale. Hitchcock snuck one last blow to decency into the final shot of the film. After Grant pulls Saint onto the upper berth in a train compartment, calling her “Mrs. Thornhill”, the fallic train enters a tunnel. It was “The most explicit depiction of the bottom-line facts of the sexual act ever pulled off under the Production Code,” as film scholar Bill Krohn described it.
The MacGuffin: Grant must get his hands on a bit of microfilm containing government secrets before they are traded to another country.
Where’s Hitch? At the beginning the rotund man misses a bus just after his name passes off screen.
Source: Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light by Patrick McGilligan
I will be posting reviews of Hitchcock movies every hour ending at 8 p.m. today, but other members of the Classic Movie Blog Association, which is hosting the blogathon, have plenty to offer also. Links to their articles is up at the CMBA site. Check them out!