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North by Northwest


North By Northwest

John Thornhill has a typical busy day of work, and will later go to the opera with his mother. But suddenly he gets kidnapped by two spies, and they continually adress him as George Kaplan, which both confuses and angers him. He's brought into the palace of Lester Townsend. He forcibly gets gin poured into his body, and wakes up in a car driving off towards the end of a cliff. Realizing they are trying to murder him, George steers the car away and tries to drive the best he can while drunk. The police stops him for driving too fast and throw him in a cell to sober up. The police don't believe his story. Neither does the court. How will John escape from his kidnappers, and who is George Kaplan?

The movie introduces John pretty interestingly. You hear him talking so fast it gets hard to keep up, and I'm thinking "Whoa, this is not gonna be the whole movie is it?". But as soon as he gets kidnapped, he starts talking at a more reasonable tempo. Hitchcock gets a funny little cameo where he's about to take the bus, but it closes the door on him. John's irritation and confusion is merged very well by Cary Grant, and you immediately fear what is going to happen to his character. The banter between him and his mother makes for some of the best lines in the movie, Jessie Royce Landis comically depicting the mother's nonchalant and careless attitude. She has such a hard time taking her son seriously that she casually converses with the men chasing him.

Once John says goodbye to his mother, we are introduced to another figure: Eva Kendall. The introduction between them is perfectly done. John is happy to finally talk to a sane person, and a beautiful woman nonetheless. Eva has the blend between cute and sassy that I love. She can tell right away John is lying, but feels sympathetic towards his plight. The part after that when she seduces him is hands down one of the most erotic sensual scenes I have seen maybe... ever. The soft way she talks and slowly caresses him is so irresistably sexy that you'd lose any semblance of skepticism just like John. It wouldn't surprise me if Hitchcock got a little sweaty filming it.
Hitchcock also manages to catch you off-guard by moments after seeing Eva slip a note giving away where she and John are hiding. Yet she also helps him to escape right after. It cleverly instills doubt in a character the audience were tricked into liking at first. Why does she help both sides at the same time? Something's fishy.
It gets even fishier once we found out George Kaplan doesn't exist whatsoever, and yet Eva tells John where to go to "find" him. You find yourself begging for Eva to tell him the truth or for John to see something is wrong. You can tell she doesn't want to do it either, so you realize she's actually just as conflicted as the audience now is.

And as John arrives to the location, we are treated to one of the most iconic and eerie scenes of suspense in history. First it's so quiet... so dreadfully quiet. You see a helicopter hovering ominously in the background. Later, when John is practically ready to give up and call it a day, the helicopter becomes a murder weapon. What can be scarier than right into the open getting chased by a helicopter trying to catch you in its blades, with no one around to help you? The ground perspective with John hiding among the crops with the threat flying above him makes you feel like you're put into the same seat.

The situation gets even scarier when John realizes there is no one left to trust, including Eva. John's underpressed anger over Eva betraying him, and trying to stop her from pulling any more phoney tricks is excellently conveyed both through Cary Grant's acting and the dialogue. "I thought it might be best if we stick together. TOGETHERNESS? Get the picture?" When he heads to the auction Grant shows his comedic abilities as his character tauntingly either raises the bid to unreasonable levels or lowers it so much it's insulting. But there's some sadness in there too. You can tell how hurt and disappointed he is that a lady who might have been the love of his life turned out to be a traitor.

And it only gets weirder and weirder. John is later met by a goverment agent professor, who reveals George Kaplan doesn't exist, and it's just a distraction from Eva Kendall, the real goverment agent, and he has to cover for her. To be honest, I didn't realize at first when Eva shot him at the Mount Rushmore visitor center it was only staged. It was such a shocking turns of events that you think of Eva being just as much of a villain as the spies themselves. Hitchcock has cleverly disoriented me once again.

Eva sadly has to continue going along with the spies (whose names are Philip and Leonard, which first now I remembered to mention), despite the obvious danger she's putting herself into. John is knocked unconscious and brought into a hospital by the professor, who doesn't want him to help Eva, or get any more involved. As soon as his back is turned, John escapes and goes after Eva. The scene of John listening to Philip and Leonard just outside their house is amazingly tenseful, and in the style of Rear Window shows how exciting and scary it can be observing people you just know are up to something. The sweat drops continue when John has to get inside the actual house and warn Eva what the spies are planning to do with her if she goes with them on their private plane.

And equally as iconic as the crop chase is the climax on top of the Mount Rushmore, which despite the odd rule that they were not allowed to show the people climbing on the Founding Father's actual faces, it makes great use of the menace of the mountain, doubling the threat by having to worry about both falling to the ground and getting caught by Leonard and Valerian. Hitchcock makes it look just hopeless enough that when Leo and Val are stopped, you breathe a huge sigh of relief. Interestingly however, John helping Eva up so he won't fall is seamlessly transitioned to getting her up to his bed. It made me raise my eyebrow initially, but I quickly appreciated the original way the tension resolved. And if Hitchcock hadn't angered the censors enough already, he ends the film by simulating sex with a shot of a train driving into a tunnel. It put a huge smile on my face.

North By Northwest is the essential Hitchcock masterpiece. The stakes are as high as they can possibly get, with flawless acting all around the board, a story which takes a lot of thrilling twists and turns, and with a brilliantly crafted score by Bernard Hermann. Hermann compliments his director's talent so massively that it reads like a giant love letter. The cinematography is very colorful and full of personality, which makes the movie very pretty to look at.

Well, having Eva-Marie Saint also helps of course.