Film Highlight: North By Northwest

Cary Grant in North by Northwest
courtesy of MGM

A breathless example of old-fashioned Hollywood gratification and the blueprint for every "sophisticated" action-adventure series from James Bond to Indiana Jones, Alfred Hitchcock's well-oiled vehicle for the smooth Cary Grant may not be as resonant as his greatest films (those with the decidedly nonsmooth Jimmy Stewart). Still, the Master spent the bulk of his career working to perfect just this kind of frivolous caper, while toying with what cloistered cinema-studies majors might now refer to as "character focalization," "authorial presence," and "the hermeneutic code" (read: suspense and surprise). In any case, Grant, as the film's quick-witted Madison Avenue ad exec turned wrong man, was never more charmingly, self-deprecatingly debonair. The British Hitchcock may never have made a more American movie, and not only for the many brilliantly deployed locations (e.g., the U.N., the Plaza Hotel, the 20th Century Limited, and, of course, the Indiana cornfields). Oh, yeah—and the phallic final shot is the funniest parody of romantic resolution ever.

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