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North by Northwest is a fun Hitchcock thriller

North by Northwest

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

Music by Bernard Herrmann.

Starring Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, and James Mason.

LSCClassics Friday.

10-250, 6:30 p.m.

By Cecil Esquivel

North by Northwest is great fun. For today's action movie standards, it has a good script, good locations (Grand Central station, Mt. Rushmore, Chicago), and good actors (Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint). Even the plot is good. An advertising agency executive named Roger Thornhill is mistaken for U.S. secret agent George Kaplan and pursued by a band of spies. Soon Thornhill is suspected of crimes committed by the spies and must flee the police as he looks for the real George Kaplan. Plot twists ensue, but I won't spoil the surprises here.

This movie was the precursor to all the James Bond movies and was screened in theaters three years before the first 007 movie, Dr. No. Some people have called North by Northwest a James Bond movie with no gadgets. I'd call it a Bond movie directed by Alfred Hitchcock, one of the all-time greatest directors. He directed such great classic movies as The 39 Steps, Rear Window, Dial M for Murder, Vertigo, The Birds, and the original Psycho.

Some critics have argued that NNW was the product of a Hitchcock turned Hollywood. Hitchcock indeed was no longer in England making black and white grim thrillers movies of the 30s. What they didn't say is that some of Hollywood's most treasured moments were also given to us by Mr. Hitchcock.

NNW has many scenes that have been made movie icons over the years: our hero scaling the faces on Mt. Rushmore, evading the spies and their bullets in Grand Central Station, and being strafed by a biplane in the now-famous crop-duster scene. The classic image of Grant wearing sunglasses and sneaking around on a train also comes from this film.

One of these trademarks is Hitchcock's cameo. Legend has it that Hitchcock, who needed many extras for his early films, put himself in front of the camera. Soon people began looking for him on the screen. This distraction from the film's plot led Hitchcock to place a cameo of himself in the first few minutes of every film he made thereafter so that people could get on with the movie. NNW is no exception and (stop reading this sentence if you don't want me to spoil your search, otherwise...) you have to watch out for Alfred right after the opening credits where he misses a bus as it closes the door in his face.

Perhaps not quite at Ben Hur's level, NNW nonetheless had one of the biggest budgets and production values of that era. (Ben Hur, by the way, if made today would make Waterworld look like a couple of drops in a bucket.) One of the ideas behind Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was to have Indy (played by now irresistible Harrison Ford) use every means of transportation known to man in 1936. Mr. Thornhill (then irresistible Cary Grant) is no sloucher for 1959: He used cabs, trains, police cars, an ambulance, and an airplane to get the girl and foil the bad guys. If that were not enough to get you to see the movie, you get to see a young Martin Landau (Bela Lugosi in Ed Wood and Rollin Hand in the TV series Mission: Impossible) as Leonard, the bad guy's henchman.

The music for this film was composed by Bernard Herrmann, renowned for his work on Orson Welles's masterpiece Citizen Kane, the original Cape Fear and Martin Scorsese's 1991 remake of it, as well as Scorsese's gripping Taxi Driver. Herrmann collaborated with Hitchcock on Marnie, The Birds, Vertigo, The Wrong Man, the Hitchcock Presents TV series, The Man Who Knew Too Much, and probably most prominently in Psycho, with the now famous clashing violin sounds used during the shower sequence.

Another excellent reason to see this film today is that all NNW 35mm prints are getting pulled from distribution this October. You will no longer be able to see a 35mm projection of NNW in any theater in the world. LSC's Friday Classic showing may well be your last chance to see this film in a theater in the Boston area. It won't be at the Brattle, Coolidge Corner or at the new Kendall Square Cinema - only at LSC. Hopefully, MGM/UA is planning to produce a new restored print within the next couple of years so that others can get a chance to see this film.

Even though LSC is showing Batman Forever the same day, do yourself a favor and see North by Northwest. If you want to see both films (like me), buy an LSC Classics Double Feature ticket at the NNW showing for $3. That will let you see NNW and reserve your seat at the 10 p.m. showing of Batman Forever until 15 minutes before it starts.