First, a quick update:
Initially, I intended for this project to be a collection of posts that I would write for each film detailing things such as what the film was about, the context in which it was made, and why it is considered to be important or influential. After about a dozen such posts, I’ve become somewhat frustrated. Most of my entries feel like watered-down Wikipedia articles, and I feel that I’ve been merely rewriting information and trivia about each film that has already been written elsewhere (and usually written better). I’m quite pleased with the resources that I’ve been finding, but I feel that you all (my readers) would be better served if I merely point you to those resources, rather than trying to simply paraphrase them.
Back before I had actually written anything, when I was still considering various ways to pursue this project, one option that I considered was more of a memoir/journal writing style. For some reason, I ultimately decided against that, but as I have further considered what exactly I can bring to this project, it has become more apparent to me that this aspect of personalization is the unique thing that I can contribute that doesn’t merely rehash what has already been written (often multiple times) about each film. Expect my future posts to be adjusted accordingly.
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Inducted to the National Film Registry in 1995
I first watched it on Nov. 14th, 2020
What It’s About:
When a businessman from NYC is mistaken for a spy, he finds himself on the run from foreign agents, the police, and the F.B.I. It’s one of Hitchcock’s most well-known films, and includes the iconic scene of the main character (on foot) being chased in a field by a plane that is shooting at him (a scene which has been mimicked and parodied dozens of times).
My experience with the film:
I’ve mentioned the movie club that I have with some friends in a few of my past entries. This is the film that we watched in November. As strange as this sounds, I feel like I finally “got” Hitchcock with this film. I’m familiar with the term “master of suspense” that is often used to describe him, but I think that up until now, my viewing of his other films has been heavily influenced by a misunderstanding on my part of what Hitchcock’s filmmaking “style” is.
I’m not (currently) a huge fan of Rear Window or Vertigo (which may be partially due to my anti-Jimmy-Stewart bias that I’ll definitely have to explain in some future post). But I think that my lack of love for them may also have been shaped by the things I heard about Hitchcock while I was growing up. The two films of his that I happened to hear about the most before ever checking him out were Psycho and The Birds. Likewise, when I was younger, I was a big fan of the (early) films of M. Night Shyamalan, and I often heard it mentioned that his films were heavily influenced by Hitchcock. And in addition to that, while I’ve never seen it, I’ve been aware of the TV show “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” for quite some time, and I often hear it compared to The Twilight Zone. When you put all of these together, I suppose I always considered Hitchcock to be more of a psychological/cerebral thriller type of suspense director. Thus, when I finally got around to watching some Hitchcock films, I found that Vertigo and Rear Window didn’t seem to align with what I thought I knew about him, whereas Psycho and Rebecca definitely did.
However, as I watched North by Northwest, the thought crossed my mind, “this really feels like a proto-James-Bond movie.” Then, the light bulb finally clicked on for me, as I realized that the “suspense” that Hitchcock is known for isn’t confined to one genre. In other words, I realized that Hitchcock’s “style” was much broader than I had initially thought. With that in mind, I am actually looking forward to re-watching Vertigo and Rear Window at some point in time (as I will inevitably do before I write their entries into this project), as I wonder whether I might appreciate them more now that the “lens” through which I view Hitchcock films has been adjusted.
Anyways, my general thoughts on the film: I liked it. Perhaps not as much as I “should” have, given how well-regarded it is, but I definitely found it to be engaging and entertaining. And while I often love good spectacle filmmaking, my favorite scene was actually the auction scene, probably because I really enjoy watching characters out-think their opponents.
I also would like to point out that I really enjoyed James Mason’s performance in the film. I loved him in A Star Is Born, and I was surprised that I hadn’t really heard of him or seen him in anything else, so I was glad to see him pop up here. I may have to start watching more of his filmography.
North by Northwest (1959) is available to stream on the services listed here: https://www.justwatch.com/us/movie/north-by-northwest
To learn more about the history and significance of this film, I recommend the following resources:
- The screenwriter’s commentary on the DVD. (I obtained the DVD through DVD Netflix, but I assume that the commentary is available on most DVD or Blu-ray editions).
- The official NFR essay about the film: https://www.loc.gov/static/programs/national-film-preservation-board/documents/North%20by%20Northwest.leitch.pdf
- The Wikipedia page for the film: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_by_Northwest
- The original 1959 review from The New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/1959/08/07/archives/hitchcock-takes-suspenseful-cooks-tour-north-by-northwest-opens-at.html
- The original 1959 review from The Hollywood Reporter: https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/review/north-by-northwest-review-1959-movie-1021675
- An article detailing the controversy surrounding the use of Mount Rushmore as the location for the film’s climax: https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/rushmore-north-northwest/
- An analysis/explanation of the iconic crop duster scene: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DS8swCK8jq4
- A YouTube review of North by Northwest: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I_LHgbF2hPo
For the complete list of films in the National Film Registry, including information on how you can view each film, and links to every entry that I have written, please see my NFR Directory.