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NORTH BY NORTHWEST

Director: ALFRED HITCHCOCK

U.S.A. • 1959 • COLOUR • DOLBY STEREO SR • 35MM • 136 MIN.


PROBABLY ALFRED HITCHCOCK’S MOST CONSISTENTLY ENTERTAINING MOVIE, NORTH BY NORTHWEST IS RE-RELEASED IN A NEW 35MM PRINT TO MARK ITS 50th BIRTHDAY.

Its brilliant screenwriter Ernest Lehman called this ‘the Hitchcock picture to end all Hitchcock pictures.’ It has all the characteristic ingredients: the ‘wrong man’ theme, where an ordinary man is catapulted into a world of chaos; a central romantic relationship bristling with sexual attraction and antagonism; an audacious set-piece to show that nowhere is safe (in this case, a hero at a deserted prairie-stop is unexpectedly menaced by a crop-dusting bi-plane that starts spraying bullets); and behind it all, the mischievous presence of a supreme cinematic prankster fond of contending that film was not a slice of life but a slice of cake.

From Bernard Herrmann’s imaginative opening fandango theme to suggest, he said, ‘the crazy dance about to take place between Cary Grant and the world’, the pace never flags. An advertising man is mistaken for a secret agent and pursued by saboteurs and police across the length and breadth of America. Kidnapping in Madison Avenue is followed by murder at the United Nations and culminates in perilous mountaineering across the face of Mount Rushmore: amidst the thrills, Hitchcock shrewdly sneaks in serious observations on the ruthlessness of governments and on the dawning humanity of a hollow man. As the movie’s elegant red herring, Cary Grant is on scintillating form and stylishly supported by Eva Marie Saint as the most potentially treacherous of Hitchcock blondes and James Mason as the smoothest of gentleman-villains. Incidentally, this is Hitchcock’s longest film and yet so meticulously constructed that when the studio demanded cuts, he could insist that every minute was essential — and irresistibly entertaining. — Neil Sinyard.

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