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.



Cinema Making

“Anybody who comes to the cinema is bringing their whole sexual history, their literary history, their movie literacy, their culture, their language, their religion, whatever they’ve got. I can’t possibly manipulate all of that, nor do I want to.” – David Cronenberg

“Every great film should seem new every time you see it” – Roger Ebert

“All you need to make a movie is a gun and a girl” – Jean Luc Goddard

“Drama is life with the dull bits cut out” – Alfred Hitchcock

“We don’t make movies to make money, we make money to make more movies.” – Walt Disney

“People have forgotten how to tell a story. Stories don’t have a middle or an end anymore. They usually have a beginning that never stops beginning.” – Steven Spielberg

“A Hunch is Creativity Trying to Tell You Something.” – Frank Capra

“Photography is Truth. The Cinema is Truth Twenty-four Times Per Second.” – Jean-Luc Godard

“I Am Certain There is Too Much Certainty in the World.” – Michael Crichton

“The Only Safe Thing is to Take a Chance.” – Mike Nichols

“Why Pay a Dollar for a Bookmark? Why Not Use the Dollar for a Bookmark?” – Steven Spielberg

“We tend to do period stuff because it helps make it one step removed from boring everyday reality.” – Ethan Coen

“Good artists copy, great artists steal.” – Picasso

“I have always preferred the reflection of the life to life itself.” – Francois Truffaut

“Surrealism had taught me that reason comes after creation, and creation is a true deflagration when confronted, not with a solution, but an obstacle.” – Georges Franju

“For me, the cinema is not a slice of life, but a piece of cake.” – Alfred Hitchcock

“People say I pay too much attention to the look of a movie but for God’s sake, I’m not producing a Radio 4 Play for Today, I’m making a movie that people are going to look at.” – Ridley Scott

“I cannot just make a film and walk away from it. I need that creative intimacy, and quite frankly, the control to execute my visions, on all my projects.” – Michael Mann

“I’ll rebel against powers and principalities, all the time. Always, I will.” – Paul Thomas Anderson

“I think that the Internet is going to effect the most profound change on the entertainment industries combined. And we’re all gonna be tuning into the most popular Internet show in the world, which will be coming from some place in Des Moines. We’re all gonna lose our jobs. We’re all gonna be on the Internet trying to find an audience.” – Steven Spielberg

“To me, watching a movie is like going to an amusement park. My worst fear is making a film that people don’t think is a good ride.” – Darren Aronofsky

“There’s a certain truth that you do end up making the same film again and again so if you vary the genre you have a chance of breaking that cycle.” – Danny Boyle

“I think audiences get too comfortable and familiar in today’s movies. They believe everything they’re hearing and seeing. I like to shake that up.” – Christopher Nolan

“The audience seems hazy to me, shrouded in a veil through which I can’t see.” – Park Chan-Wook

“I don’t know how much movies should entertain. To me I’m always interested in movies that scar. The thing I love about JAWS is that I’ve never gone swimming in the ocean again.” – David Fincher

“Cinema is a matter of what’s in the frame and what’s out.” – Martin Scorsese

“If it can be written, or thought, it can be filmed.” – Stanley Kubrick

“I don’t believe in elitism. I don’t think the audience is this dumb person lower than me. I am the audience.” – Quentin Tarantino

“I don’t think about technique. The ideas dictate everything. You have to be true to that or you’re dead.” – David Lynch