North by Northwest
Ernest Lehman and Alfred Hitchcock, 1959
#6 (chronologically) in Mike D'Angelo's list of twelve films
to which he would give a score of 100 out of 100.
A communist spy attempts to knock off an advertising executive,
thinking that he's an American intelligence agent.
Well, it's pretty entertaining, but ultimately it's just a 1950s
version of a dumb summer action movie. The movie is a string of
preposterous set pieces — man on the run from biplane!
chase sequence on Mount Rushmore! — that, unless I still
misunderstand, are the sort of thing Jennifer has in mind when
she talks about a movie being "awesome" (as opposed to "good.")
I read something that said that Cary Grant retired because he
"was alienated by the new realism in the film industry" and that,
in particular, "the success of Marlon Brando and Method acting
meant his own kind of acting was a thing of the past." This
film doesn't even try to suggest that these are real events
happening to real people. Ridiculous things happen just because
they're necessary to keep the plot moving — the one that
springs to mind is when the main character pulls a knife out of the
back of a diplomat in a crowded lounge in the UN building and,
surrounded by dozens of people, escapes by... elbowing them aside
and escaping completely unmolested! And the characters are clearly
just reciting dialogue — in fact, I'd go so far as to say
it's not even dialogue, really, nor are they characters. They're
movie stars reciting lines designed to be movie quotes. (Actually,
one of the things I found interesting about this film was the way
that the dialogue seemed to be an exercise in testing how risque
the movie could get while staying within censors' guidelines. But
all that does is draw attention to those guidelines and therefore
to the artifice of the whole enterprise.)
All that said, it's not as though every movie I've ever liked has
been 100% naturalistic. Go and Pulp Fiction and
The Big Lebowski have the same sort of can-you-top-this
flavor that North by Northwest has. But those films were
all made during my lifetime and I feel as though they're made in
my language. This one, not so much. It is a thing of the past.
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