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North by Northwest

DFI Cinema

Alfred Hitchcock / Feature Narrative / United States of America / 1959 / 136 min / Colour / DCP
In English / Arabic subtitles
Interests: Action, Crime, Adventure
N/A
Rated: Parental guidance advised for viewers under the age of 15. Individuals under the age of 15 are not admitted into cinemas unless accompanied by an individual aged 18 or over.



Screenings

Synopsis

To follow up his dark and brooding ‘Vertigo’ (1958), Alfred Hitchcock delivered the rather more lighthearted ‘North by Northwest’, a romantic thriller centred on a case of mistaken identity. The film provides plenty of room for Cary Grant to showcase his particular brand of comic debonair as he suavely sidesteps one life-threatening situation after the next, all the while smitten by a smouldering Eva Marie Saint.

Featuring some of the most iconic sequences in Hitchcock’s œuvre – the crop-duster and Mount Rushmore scenes are surely as well known as the celebrated shower sequence from ‘Psycho’ (1960) – in many ways ‘North by Northwest’ is the master of suspense at his very best. Employing his classic strategies – clever comic timing, disorienting camera angles, point-of-view shots and the all-important MacGuffin, to name a few – the director ratchets up the tension until viewers are positively twisting in their seats.

Bernard Herrmann’s score contributes to the film’s tense mood – setting the tone or punctuating significant moments, but never obscuring narrative or highlighting drama unnecessarily. Herrmann and Hitchcock worked together on nine projects, resulting in some of the most important films of the 20th century. Theirs was one of the great cinematic collaborations, and ‘North by Northwest’ is an excellent example of their almost symbiotic artistry.

About the Director

In 1960, with ‘Psycho’, Alfred Hitchcock turned the corner from gripping suspense to unnerving horror, a direction confirmed by his follow-up with ‘The Birds’ in 1963. Loosely based on a short story by Daphne Du Maurier, the film serves up an apocalyptic vision of a world overrun by flocks of killer birds – revenge, perhaps, for the laissez-faire decadence of mankind, embodied by the louche socialite Melanie Daniels.

Hitchcock is known for his masterful precision in every choice made to create meaning in his films, and it is no surprise this rigour extends to costume design. Here, Melanie wears only three basic outfits; besides a coldly threatening dark grey suit and a cheap matronly nightdress, it is the iconic, timeless and elegant green jersey suit that draws the greatest attention, primarily because it is worn for most of the film.

Reflecting the protagonist’s character and the film’s complex, elusive psychology, the suit is green for nature, but also green for envy and bile. Note how its colour, and so Melanie, rhymes with the lovebirds seen at the film’s start – deceptively peaceful creatures that are eventually identified with mindlessly murderous gulls, crows and starlings. Like Melanie, the suit remains pristine and composed until the final horrifying bird attack that closes the film when – also like Melanie – it is utterly destroyed.

Credits

Director
Alfred Hitchcock
Screenwriter
Ernest Lehman
Music
Bernard Herrmann
Cinematographer
Robert Burks
Sales Company
Hollywood Classics
Cast
Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason

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