Alfred Hitchcock's "North by Northwest" is one of many movies I've never viewed from start to finish. The film starring Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint was shown on TBS Tuesday night, and once again I picked it up in the middle.
Luckily, I saw more of "North by Northwest" this time than in the past, including the crop dusting plane scene. The plane's fiery crash into an oil tanker reminded me of the conflagration in "Bullitt" that ends the long chase between Steve McQueen's Mustang and the bad guys' Dodge Charger up and down San Francisco's streets.
"North by Northwest's" witty script salvages script writer Ernest Lehman's absurd plot, which ends with an implausible trek up and down Mount Rushmore. Saint shows the cool blond elegance that Hitchcock loved to project, and Grant's physical grace matches that of Fred Astaire.
The movie gives the pleasure of seeing actors who later were known for TV roles, including Leo G. Carroll, who was Martthew Smart's supervisor, and Martin Landau, later on "Mission Impossible" and many other roles. Adam Williams, a familiar face as a villain in many TV westerns, plays a menacing thug, while Patricia Cutts gets maximum mileage in her cameo as the young woman in a hospital bed startled and then attracted by Grant sneaking through. The movie, with its racy dialogue, witty comments and visually striking yet absurd scenes stands with "Dr. Strangelove" as a cold war satire.
At the end of the movie, Grant more and more sounds like he's doing an impersonation of himself. He was in his 50s when he did the film, a role that Jimmy Stewart also sought. Grant like other stars of the era personified a masculine charm and sophistication that receded in the 1960s. Efforts to revive that style periodically gain force only to flicker out. It was the natural product of an ingrained culture that's now gone.