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North By Northwest Review


"North By Northwest", Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1959


Hitchcock's most Hollywood-oriented film, but not without his staple Hitchcockisms.

Given the director's established legendary status in both European and American cinema by this point in his career, this film sees Hitchcock not only embracing what made him a staple in modern cinema, but allowing him to do so from the total bliss of not needing to prove himself and his artistic integrity - and it certainly shows. Whilst he still held the reigns of masterful storytelling, the type of tone the film carries throughout can be seen as much more "silly" than his other works whether in Hollywood (Rear Window, Rebecca) or European arthouse (The White Shadow, The Ring), making any sort of comparison near impossible. Nevertheless, whilst this film aims to simply align audiences to the grandiose and elaborate "wrong place at the wrong time" trope (which it does so very well), it does also carry over the window of deeper psychological torment that precedes the skeleton of the diegesis - this is still Hitchcock flexing his Auteur signatures, and the experience is much more enjoyable for being so.

Hitchcock does not lose sight for inventive and engaging storytelling. Along with the razor-sharp dialogue provided by Lehman that manages to ground a relatable lens for the audience amidst the hysterical plot, Hitchcock crafts a fully-realised world - he understands the lunacy of Roger's story and so effectively reflects this through the identification of a suave middle-class man who works in advertising. This is shaped by Hitchcock's brilliant direction which points out the irony of the character's situation through subtle body language that highlights how far away from the safety of the metropolitan lifestyle Roger is. This type of creative decision that underlines the self-aware direction of the narrative sometimes slips into a reflective tone, perhaps giving Hitchcock a platform to examine how he looks at the human condition. This can be seen with the odd establishing shot that falls outside the cohesive shot-by-shot relationship or the construction of mise en scene that places Roger at the forefront of a sea of strangers, highlighting the underlying vulnerability of identity beyond the sympathy of the audience. Whilst I feel this hidden bleakness is placed behind the effective humorous tonal consistency, I believe this enables Hitchcock to push past his contemporaries like Howard Hawks in juggling darker subject matter.

Whilst I have my reservations on particular characters which I feel are only used as a tool to help push the winding narrative structure and tie together the duality they share with the protagonist, I feel the focus was placed rightfully so on a character that encapsulates both the tedium and wonder of life. In a similar fashion to Rear Window, I enjoyed the playful take of voyeurism and how rigorously the audience is constantly being re-positioned in response to a bizarre direction the plot takes. Here, Hitchcock is effective in expressing what cinema can be as an interactive platform of art.


4.5/5 Stars

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