North By Northwest - Blu-ray Review

'a thrilling plot, effortlessly embodied by Grant's flippant charm'

In a scene much quoted, often referenced and beautifully shot, Carey Grant's Roger Thornhill, relaxing at the dining table of a cross-country train, tells Eva Marie Saint's Eve Kendall that 'the moment I meet an attractive woman, I have to start pretending I have no desire to make love to her'. It's a scene which, like a lot of North By Northwest, crackles with atmospheric tension, created apparently purely from the duologue between the two actors we're watching.

This being Alfred Hitchcock though, there are more subtle elements at play here than two people discussing wanton sexuality. Technically, North By Northwest is flawless and in this scene, as with the other dialogues that carry us along through the tale of intrigue, we're being manipulated, as well as dangerously voyeuristic. In the closed train compartment, Grant literally has his back to the wall but who or what is he trapped by? Eve? Her open sexual desires? His pursuers? The train, eventually taking him to the certain doom of the crop fields? Hitchcock loves creating these little visual dilemmas, suggestions that all is not as it seems. When Thornhill first meets his kidnapper, Phillip Vandamm (James Mason), the scene is lit to show Thornhill (desperately fighting against being portrayed as someone he's not) in the light and Vandamm (apparently clear cut and exacting) in total darkness. So who's really pretending?

For all its technical brilliance, there's a thrilling plot to follow as well, effortlessly embodied by Grant's flippant charm. Caught in the frustration of constantly being labelled as 'Mr Kaplan', Hitchcock never resorts to having his lead scream blue murder - there's always a way out, always a clever line to aid his escape. Bursting into an art gallery where Vandamm is taking part in an auction, the kidnapper asks Thornhill if he has burst in because of an 'overpowering interest in art'. 'Yes' replies Grant, almost relaxed, nonchalantly tense, 'the art of survival'. Grant and Saint's bubbling relationship may draw us in but other turns equally refined (Mason) and threatening (Martin Landau) make sure we never forget this isn't any day trip.

So perhaps North By Northwest could be perfect. It's certainly got everything going for it but for me, some bits go for it a bit too much. For a pacy adventure story it is a touch too long and Hithcock indulges himself almost endlessly in some of the more important scenes between key characters, treading the thin line between captivation and enforced servitude. The end too feels tacked on and rushed, an out of place studio-friendly finale in something which supposed itself much more haunting just a few moments before. It's damn near close though and as an exercise in crafting the technically perfect thriller, it might very well be just that.

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'It has to be admitted that the supporting cast didn’t set the world alight; I never really found Saint right for the role, Carroll is just playing UNCLE‘s Waverley again, Mason is on velvety autopilot and Landau is almost camp as the effeminate gunsel' - Wonders In The Dark


  1. I'm ashamed to say I haven't seen it.

  2. The Blu-ray transfer is really fantastic so if you've got or are planning on getting access to a player, there's never been a better time to check it out really.