Daniel Anderson goes in search of a classic with North by NorthwestIn the first of a new series, Daniel Anderson shamefully admits how few films he’s really seen and attempts to atone by diving headlong into the depths of IMDB’s Top 250 movies list. But are these so called classics really any good?
Born as a simple list of actresses with nice eyes, the Internet Movie Database was the idea of English film buff Col Needham, who first originated the list in 1987 before taking it to the world wide web in 1990. That’s right; the IMDb is actually more than 20 years old.
Two decades later, the site pulls in over 100 million unique visitors a month and is easily the largest and most accessibly place for movie information. All those active users can also rate the films they’ve seen, with IMDb weighting them using some fancy maths. The best end up on the Top 250 list which, given the sheer number of users and that fact that some of these films have over 700,000 votes, means that surely these films are the best of the best?
Well we’re going to find out – as I find films I’ve missed on the list and fill you in on my experience. First up, acclaimed thriller North by Northwest.NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959)[# 37 on 30/03/12]Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Stars: Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint
I’m obliquely aware of Alfred Hitchcock, skirting the edges of his creative output in fits and starts and often loving every minute of it. There’s something overwhelmingly playful about his movies, about the ways he toyed with his audience just as much as his protagonist and the faultless, often dazzling visual style he brought to bear without seeming to dip into gimmicky. His purpose was entertainment and his process without peer so it’s only natural that many of his films work just as well today as when they were originally released.
And so it is with 1959’s North by Northwest, a fairly standard tale of mistaken identity that enfolds the viewer in layers of spygame hokum, led by a ferociously charming performance from Cary Grant. Here, he effortlessly embodies everything which George Clooney has been striving to emulate for over a decade, the multisexual appeal, the understated physicality and a wit both self effacing and sharply smug at the same time. Eva Marie Saint’s advances may have seemed progressive on paper but onscreen there’s no question that it’s Grant in charge and, sexual politics aside, would you really want it any other way?
It may be over 50 years old but North by Northwest simply rockets along from the shockingly contemporary titles by Saul Bass to the finale conveniently located at a national monument (Mt. Rushmore), there’s a formula here which is still followed by the genre to this day. James Mason’s clipped tones (and equally well tailored suits) make a perfect evil foil and then 31 year old Martin Landau makes an great impression as a slightly effeminate henchmen in only his second big screen role.
North by Northwest was made between two of Hitchcock’s more celebrated, and considerably darker, titles – Vertigo and 1960s Psycho. While he’s more associated with the horror heavy tones of the latter, his playful style was just as well suited to comedy and modern filmmakers could learn a thing or two about camerawork and production design from a title more than half a century old.
The gags are still funny (especially Grant playing drunk), the dialogue is punchy without feeling forced and even the action scenes feel far from geriatric – particularly the famous cropduster face-off which ends with a pyrotechnic bang that’s no less effective than a modern day blockbuster. A classic slice of Hollywood entertainment that feels just as fresh today as it did 50 years ago.4.5/5 Saul Bass' kinetic titles for North by Northwest