wed 23/04/2014

The Hitchcock Players: Cary Grant, North by Northwest | Film reviews, news & interviews

The Hitchcock Players: Cary Grant, North by Northwest

Grant is a wry anchor at the core of Hitchcock's joyously ludicrous spy thriller

'North by Northwest': Cary Grant responds with tongue-in-cheek calm to attempts on his life

The final collaboration between Grant and Hitch also happens to be some of the helmer’s most deft, joyously irreverent work, light of touch and bereft of sentiment. Grant stars as a slick Mad Ave exec who’s mistaken for a spy and pursued across the US by a cabal of shadowy agents, a state of affairs that he takes impressively in his debonair stride.

“Not that I mind a slight case of abduction now and then,” his Roger Thornhill quips drily, “but I have tickets for the theatre this evening.” A line like this could easily play as posturing, but Grant walks just the right razor’s edge between blasé and resigned, and we buy it. For this man, being violently pursued for a crime he didn’t commit is more of an inconvenience than a traumatic life event, and it certainly won’t put a dampener on his one-liners.

Mistaken identity, attempted murder by forced drunk driving, a climax that takes place on Mount Rushmore… North by Northwest is so genuinely, unashamedly ludicrous that it scarcely has the right to be as irresistible as it is, and Grant’s faultless handle on Thornhill is as much to thank as Hitchcock’s wry, assured grasp on Ernest Lehman’s script. He’s as bemused – and frequently as amused – by the series of unfortunate events that befalls him as we are, and maintains an edge of tongue-in-cheek incredulity even when being run off the road by armed thugs or attacked by a crop-dusting plane.

By seeming to acknowledge the insanity that surrounds him and taking droll pleasure in it, Grant implicitly allows the audience to revel in it too. He transforms North by Northwest into a glorious contradiction; a thoroughly improbable yarn with a thoroughly probable hero at its core.

  • North by Northwest will screen at the BFI Southbank from August 3

Watch a clip from North by Northwest

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