What would you do if you were mistaken for an American agent and pursued across country by foreign spies intent on killing you?
Cary Grant faces this exact dilemma as he tries to clear himself of espionage and murder in Hitchcock’s ‘North by Northwest’, a tense and stylish thriller that has been often imitated but never bettered.
A simple mistake in a New York hotel leads to Roger Thornill (Grant) being identified as George Kaplan, abducted by strangers and taken to Long Island to be interrogated by “Lester Townsend” (James Mason). Baffled and bemused by the whole incident, Thornhill denies any knowledge of Kaplan, or the unnamed organisation he appears to be tracking.
Intent of getting rid of Kaplan for good, Townsend (really foreign spy Phillip Vandamm) tries to kill Thornhill in a staged drink drive incident. He survives to return to the house the next day to find the real Townsend’s wife in residence, who directs him to the United Nations Building where her husband works.
While quizzing Townsend, one of Vandamm’s henchman kills the diplomat with a knife and he falls dead into Thornhill’s arms. Removing the knife, Thornhill appears to be the killer and he’s forced to run. Boarding a train, he’s hidden from pursuing police by attractive blonde Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint). An associate of Vandamm’s, she sets up a meeting with the real Kaplan whom Thornhill’s keen to meet so he can clear his name.
It’s textbook Hitchcock, with twists and turns offering a fair share of tension. It’s also classic Cary Grant who plays the put-upon Thornhill to perfection while James Mason, always a quality actor, convinces as the villain. Eva Marie Saint’s performance is perhaps a little weaker than expected but still adds to the overall enjoyment.
Apart from anything else, the iconic scene where Cary Grant is chased down by a biplane just never gets old.