Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Film Review - North By Nothwest (Alfred Hitchcock, 1959)

Fig 1. North By Northwest Poster.

For a film that starts slow and only gets slightly faster as it progresses, North by Northwest rarely loses the viewers interest. Despite its fairly sluggish pace, it builds on tension instead of explosive action. In that sense it grabs your attention in unexpected ways. In some parts however, it constantly shows the viewer exactly what will happen next and that can dull the tension that is built up already.

This is especially relevant in the scene where Roger Thornhill climbs up the side of the villains house on top of Mount Rushmore (See Fig 2). The camera darts from position to position, clearly from the perspective of Roger, and shows exactly what he will grab onto next. This is a fairly short scene but it is a prominent example of one of the main weaknesses of this film. In film today, the pacing would be much faster and the viewer would not need to be spoon-fed information quite as much as in this film.

Fig 2. Villain's Villa

A.H. Weiler states in his review in the New York Times ''Although they are involved in lightning-fast romance and some loose intrigue, it is all done in brisk, genuinely witty and sophisticated style. With Mr. Hitchcock at the helm, moving "North by Northwest" is a colorful and exciting route for spies, counterspies and lovers.'' (Weiler, 1959). The overall pace in the film, whether in a long dialogue scene or an intense action sequence, is quite fast. Audiences don't feel rushed by too much action without information. Neither do they lose interest through any long winded and unnecessary explanations. The pace is near-perfect for the film and is well maintained throughout. The film excites the viewer when it means to and creates tension out of the simplest of camera techniques.

Kim Newman states in their review ''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.'' (Newman, s.d.). The excellent depiction of the character Roger Thornhill is masterfully achieved. Despite him being in the same situations as a spy, thanks to his subtle body language and dialogue, he looks more like he has been thrown into situations and is simply thinking on his feet. This is of course what has happened to the character, as such you buy it wholeheartedly that this is indeed an innocent bystander in the wrong place and the wrong time.

Ian Harrison states in his review of the film ''Here, Mount Rushmore will never be looked at the same again afterwards. We may never enter the United Nations again without peering behind our backs for a notorious knife-thrower. And, I dare say, I will never walk alongside a highway where a cropduster could swoop at any minute. I love the line during the Rushmore incident when Grant says his two ex-wives left him because he lived too dull a life. Go figure!'' (Harrison, 2000). North by Northwest not only uses dramatic action sequences, but it also uses comedy in small doses to ease the viewer into scenes. Knowing the balance between these two elements in a film makes a big difference to the overall quality in the finished product.
Illustration List

Hitchcock, A (1959) Figure 1. North By Northwest Poster. https://wattsatthemovies.files.wordpress.com/2014/03/north-by-northwest-poster.jpg (Accessed on 28/01/15)

Hitchcock, A (1959) Figure 2. Villain's Villa. http://www.dailyicon.net/magazine/wp-content/uploads/2008/07/northwest01dailyicon.jpg (Accessed on 03/02/15)


Harrison, I (2000) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0053125/reviews (Accessed on 03/02/15)

Newman, K (s.d.) http://www.empireonline.com/reviews/reviewcomplete.asp?DVDID=6932 (Accessed on 03/02/15)

Weiler, A.H. (1959) http://www.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=9404E7D91631EE3BBC4F53DFBE668382649EDE (Accessed on 03/02/15)

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