1959 - Dir: Alfred Hitchcock
Shown at The FeckenOdeon on 25th October, 2003
This saga of a stranger in a strange land was still playing when Nikita Khrushchev became the first Soviet leader to tour the U.S. (His trip included several of the movie's spectacular locations). It is sometimes regarded as a forerunner to the later James Bond films but this is more sophisticated fare - there are thrills and spills galore and a good deal of humour but the Master keeps a sinister undercurrent of unease bubbling along throughout.
Hitchcock collaborators composer Bernard Herrmann and cinematographer Robert Burks are in top form in "North by Northwest". Burks lights the stage sets of Mount Rushmore with a fantastic glow and Herrmann's signature strident passages emphasize the danger and menace.
As screenwriter Ernest Lehman recalls, Hitchcock said to him, "We're not making a movie, we're constructing an organ". The movie was born from two key scenes that Hitchcock was desperate to realise. One was to be set at the United Nations, and the other was to be a chase across the presidential faces carved into the Mount Rushmore National Monument. It was Lehman's job to construct a film around these two visions, and out of them emerges a thriller so improbable that it becomes quite brilliant in evading even the most fantastic of audience guesses. Hitch delivers a series emotional highs and lows with perfect timing, allowing moments of relief to break out before mounting another crescendo of excitement. The effect is like a grand musical work, conducted with bravura audience manipulation.