North by North West
North by North West is a film directed by Alfred Hitchcock and released in 1959. It is a fast paced adventure action film with Roger Thornhill as the main character, who gets his identity mistaken with a man called George Kaplan and leading him to be on the run for a crime be never committed.
While on the run, he meets Eve Kendall on the train to Chicago who then covers for him when the police search her cabin. Later on she arranges a meeting for Roger which leads to the iconic crop-duster scene which is used to illustrate Roger’s vulnerability and defencelessness. After which he returns to Eve in the hotel but she leaves to attend an auction – with the antagonist who mistook his identity in the first place, Mr Vandamm.
Roger decides that he is better off with the police and starts behaving oddly, but even though he is successfully captured and identified as the claimed murderer on all newspapers front pages, the police release him – and Roger ends up in South Dakota where Eve, to save him for the moment, initiates a fake shooting in front of Mr Vandamm. She returns to Mr Vandamm but Roger uses his first opportunity to seek her out and rescues her, as the others have by now discovered the true nature of the shooting. Both Roger and Eve flee but end up in another iconic scene at Mt Rushmore where they climb down the faces until they are rescued.
Figure 1. Crop Duster (1959)
As the film is very action laden, it has left a legacy and some would even call it a predecessor to the Bond films; as Shariatmadari states: “It is a rollicking, old-fashioned adventure, laced with excitement. Cary Grant is a leading man so assured he makes James Bond look insecure, and Eva Marie Saint a love interest with more charisma than Tippi Hedren and Kim Novak combined.” (Shariatmadari, 2012:2) This accurately describes the nature of the film which has several plot twists and excitements that make the audience laugh while keeping the sympathies for Roger main priority as his fate is truly an awful one, but he still tries to make the best out of it. He becomes the sort of tough action hero that audiences expect and what possibly as Shariatmadari states was the basis of many iconic action heroes to follow.
Figure 2. Mt Rushmore (1959)
The essence of the film is that Roger Thornhill’s identity has been taken from him and that while he flees from a murder he did not commit, he occasionally pretends to be the mysterious George Kaplan whose identity has been accidentally forced on him by a Mr Vandamm and finds easy access to hotels in various cities he comes across while on the run. The idea of a fluid identity was not common when the film was shot, as Levy states: “Yet a closer look reveals that it’s not only a quintessential Hitchcock film, but also one that deals way ahead of its time with such postmodern issues of the fluidity of identity, ordeals caused by accident or chance, the effects of spatial arrangement and confinement on human conduct, and rhythm and pace as crucial variables of movies—and existence.” (Levy, 2009:2) This indicates that this film is ahead of his time in many ways, as fluid identity with questions of existence are more common in the postmodern world which has its beginnings around a decade later. It may also mean that Roger Thornhill has never heard of such a thing as fluidity of identity and brings his own confusion into the film, which lets the 59’ audience for the first time experience a delicate topic like this with a character who perhaps deals with the situation not much differently than they would.
North by North West has certain scenes that seem to focus solely on the characters point of view; very early on Roger gets induced a full bottle of Bourbon and is then put into a stolen car, where Vandamms henchmen hope he would accidentally drive off the cliff but instead Roger musters enough focus to drive down the road in the darkness while being chased by the other car. The camera in this scene keeps showing close ups of Rogers face who is trying to concentrate and not panic and onto the road or rather the obstacles like corners, other vehicles and the sheer drop by the side. Levy states: “Take, for instance, the drunk-driving sequence, with Grant shown in mega close-ups, which recalls a similar drunk-driving scene in “Notorious,” (which co-starred Grant), with Ingrid Bergman as the driver, and Janet Leigh in “Psycho.”” (Levy, 2009:2) This illustrates that this might be a pioneer way of shooting a chasing scene which has been used again, as it shows the emotions of the characters very openly and puts the focus on the danger they are in with the time pressing on their back and helping audiences to relate to the character in a much more clear and direct way.
Figure 3. Drunken Car Chase (1959)
Overall, North by North West is a film that combines many iconic scenes with issues that are ahead of their time but also the light-heartedness of an action thriller that occasionally startles the audience by humour that can only be met with laughter. The combination of close ups on the main character and new concepts of its time make this film almost iconic, possibly lending certain aspects to other successful films to follow such as James Bond.
Figure 1: Hitchcock, A. (1959) Crop Duster [North by North West Still] available from: http://screencrave.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/north-by-northwest-24-4-10-kc.jpg (accessed: 27/01/2015)
Figure 2: Hitchcock, A. (1959) Mt Rushmore [North by North West Still] available from: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b0/North_by_Northwest_movie_trailer_screenshot_%2828%29.jpg (accessed: 27/01/2015)
Figure 3: Hitchcock, A. (1959) Drunken Car Chase [North by North West Still] available from: http://linedandunlined.com/wp-archive-uploads/Limey/grant-driver.jpg (accessed: 27/01/2015)
Levy, Emanuel. (2009) available from: http://emanuellevy.com/review/north-by-northwest-1959-3/ (accessed: 27/01/2015)
Shariatmadari, David. (2012) available from: http://www.theguardian.com/film/filmblog/2012/aug/03/favourite-hitchcock-north-by-northwest (accessed: 27/01/2015)