Thursday, October 24, 2013

Flick Pick: North by Northwest

North By Northwest
(MGM, 1959)

Hitchcock's other perfect suspense-thriller, with sensibilities from Kafka and moves from Harold Lloyd, played with finesse and elan by Cary Grant, and supported again by Hitchcock's superb company of chosen players.


Weetabix said...

I have to admit, I absolutely did not get why this film is such a big deal. It's watchable, sure. But I'm not sure I'd watch it again on purpose. Care to elucidate?

Aesop said...

This movie set the standards for both chases and spy thrillers for decades afterwards, and is iconic on numerous levels. To a certain extent, you probably haven't seen a (good) movie in this genre since this one came out that isn't consciously or subconsciously imitating Hitchcock's work in this film, or in To Catch A Thief, or both.

It was, in effect, another James Bond movie before there was one. (Note the helicopter swooping onto Sean Connery in From Russia With Love years after Grant got buzzed in this flick.)

And Cary Grant's grey suit set the style up through at least 5 minutes ago. If you could pull him out of this film and drop him onto the set of Mad Men tomorrow, he'd fit there seamlessly.

NbN plowed the ground that sprouted Sean Connery, Roger Moore, Tom Cruise, and countless other film & TV spies including any dozen on today. And did it with style, wit, and smoothness, using great dialogue and visuals.

Now, we can look at it and say, "Yeah, so?" because we've seen everything that followed over 50 years.
But in 1959, this movie was it. And despite all the stuff that's come after, it still holds the viewer in suspense and draws them in, from the opening credits to the final fade-out.
The only reason not to watch it again is because one isn't a fan of suspense, and knows the ending, which undermines the effect somewhat. But when you see somebody watch it for their first time, you can see it's still working movie magic.

Weetabix said...

Ah. It's sort of a film history thing, then? I must admit that I'm a consumer of film rather than a connoisseur. If I understand correctly, you're involved in the industry somehow, or have been?

When the kids and I go back and watch some of the early Star Wars, for example, I'm struck by how much the state of the art for special effects has advanced since 1977. By comparison, the old stuff looks a bit hokey even though it was the most amazing thing I'd ever seen at the time. I'm probably a bit jaded. Not apologizing; not defending - just saying.

I may have to give it a go again with this new insight in mind.

Aesop said...

I understand completely.
While I take the more "inside baseball" view, I buy my own tickets and my own DVDs, so I want a good show for my buck as much as the next guy.
I'm far less a fan of Hitchcock's later works, because as a rule, horror/suspense does nothing for me.
But Cary Grant is watchable reading the phone book. Give him a leading lady and a good script, let alone a director of H's caliber, and it's time for popcorn and a good seat.

But this one was a big deal for all the reasons mentioned.
It also did $13M in box office when tickets went for 50 cents@ or less. So when it came out, that means roughly 1 in 6 Americans had actually seen it on a screen. Hollywood would kill their mothers on camera if they could put those numbers in seats now.

It's the equivalent of a $500M box office today, which for comparison, not a single movie this entire year (including Iron Man 3 at $400M worldwide, is even close to, nor are any of them likely to do it.

Weetabix said...

Sometimes I'm a bit nostalgic for all we've lost through all we've gained with technology. Used-ta-be there were three networks and one theater down the street. No cable, no internet, no multiplexes or streaming thises and thats. There was a common experience you could discuss. Of course without that technology, I wouldn't have gotten Firefly, so...