North By Northwest Review

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A case of mistaken identity sees an advertising executive pursued by foreign spies.


In a way it's unfair that this 1958 Alfred Hitchcock classic should get a big screen re-release. In colour, superbly produced and at once slickly suspenseful and delicately witty, this has none of the ricketiness or technical shortcomings of many accepted film greats, which means it can go toe-to-toe with whichever big-scale action movie happens to be around. Not only does it have as many thrills as any current blockbuster - there's a nail-biting bit with a whiskied-up Cary Grant in a car with no brakes on a sinuous coast road - it also has star power and real heart.

A silver-haired Grant is Roger Thornhill, a useless ad man who gets mistaken by foreign spies for a CIA agent. Unable to believe what is happening to him, Grant is chased across the map by baddies under the direction of bisexual mastermind Mason, who imports and exports government secrets. In the process of escaping certain death by car, biplane and a fall from Lincoln's nose, Grant falls for double agent Saint and develops a backbone.

Set-pieces such as the biplane attack and Grant's disruption of a stuffy auction are justly famous, but watch this again and marvel at the sheer confidence with which Hitchcock tells the absurd story, and the immaculate performance Grant gives as a light leading man who acquires depth as his grey flannel suit is shredded. North By Northwest (the title comes from Hamlet) also benefits from Ernest Lehmann's spot-on script and Bernard Herrman's edgily magnificent music. A justifiable masterpiece.

Certifiable classic territory, Hitchcock's glossiest entertainment is the closest the trickster ever came to an action movie.