BFI thrills with Hitchcock’s North By Northwest


*Review may contain spoilers.

Hitchcock returns to UK cinemas with arguably his most entertaining film, North by Northwest. BFI re-release the classic romantic thriller UK-wide on the 20th October.

Combining an exhilarating femme fatale, Eva Marie Saint, a “big girl in all the right places”, according to a heroic and lovable advertising executive who takes himself far too seriously, Cary Grant, and a fascinating villain with a penchant for smooth-talk, in the company of James Mason, this charming film is coated in an immaculate web of lies and intrigue, whisked into an almighty suspense caper by the hot-boiled master of cinema and suspense, Alfred Hitchcock.

The story follows Grant as he is mistaken for a certain “Mr. Kaplan” by Mason’s foreign espionage organisation and framed for a knife murder committed in the U.N. Building, which sends him running for his life on the transcontinental express where he encounters the marvellously sympathetic blonde, Marie Saint. He is wholeheartedly seduced by her intelligence and beauty. She even goes as far to imply that she might not find it objectionable if a man was to explicitly state his desire to make love to her, which Grant assures her he’d never be so rude as to infer.

Hitchcock knows very well how to seduce a spectator on more than one level. And his screenwriter Ernest Lehman was equally a master at writing flirtatious dialogue for awry chuckles, such as when Grant criticises Marie Saint for “using sex like some people use a flyswatter.” Or a more subtle line like “How does a girl like you get to be a girl like you?” suffuses wit with adoration and speaks of the perils that are to be revealed in her character, albeit with an ethereal quality.

After evading the Chicago police disguised as a porter in a red cap, Grant is lured to an Indian prairie in the middle of apparently nowhere, the iconic scene where he is blasted by a crop-duster biplane, surviving to discover Saint Marie is Mason’s partner and dearest love. This is the first big emotional blow, setting in motion a dramatic climax that revels in a few big plot twists and a very fashionable showdown aboard Mount Rushmore. The direction the action takes feels very Bond, except Hitchcock’s pretty pictures fully appreciate the art of dramatic suspense. He preserves good taste by complimenting logic with enough good use of the imagination and turmoil.

The whole picture is deliciously entertaining and thrilling on a level of political intrigue/conspiracy, erotica, obsession, adrenaline, and pure ‘Hitchcockian’ inspiration, which feels as contemporary today as it must have in 1959.