Cary Grant is ROGER THORNHILL, the original Don Draper (for all you MAD MEN fans), a Madison Avenue advertising exec. He's a handsome sophisticated womanizer who currently answers only to his mother. He exists in a glamour bubble that most people even in the early sixties when this country was prosperous only dreamed about--prime Broadway theatre seats, custom made shirts, and martinis at the Plaza Hotel's Oak bar. The only thing he lacks is ethics. He steals a cab from people already waiting by pretending his secretary is seriously ill. When she scolds him for lying he corrects her:"...in the advertising world there's no such thing as a lie, just expedient exaggeration." Unfortunately the two hit men who kidnap him live by the same rule. They drive him out to a mansion on Long Island where their boss, Lester Townsend (JAMES MASON) insists he is GEORGE KAPLAN, an FBI agent out to bust Townsend and his gang, and using the name ROGER THORNHILL as an alias. Realizing they're going to kill him he escapes to the nearest police station. When he leads the police out to the mansion the next day all the evidence he had that he had been there the night before is erased. And all of the Plaza hotel employees seem to think he's George Kaplan. When he tries to discover why, he gets himself into deeper trouble, and he's pursued by the hitmen and every law enforcement agency all the way to Mount Rushmore.
I had never seen this film in its entirety until a few New Year's eves ago on Turner Classic Movies. Ben Mankiewicz introduced the film with "I hope you're having a great New Year's eve. I know I am because up next is one of my favorite Hitchcock films." No wonder-this is a cinematographer's dream. The scenery is beautiful..the Long Island mansion and surroundings looks like the English countryside and coast. The chase scenes are the most memorable and copied in movie history. The dialogue is smart too. An angry Thornhill pleads "I've got a job, a secretary, a mother, two ex-wives and several bartenders that depend upon me, and I don't intend to disappoint them all by getting myself killed." Despite being chased by crop-dusting planes, it's not all bad for Roger. There's romance in the movie when he meets the beautiful Eve Kendall (EVA MARIE SAINT)on a train and immediately falls for her. It takes him off guard because he has women falling all over him. "How does a girl like you get to be a girl like you?"
There's some dispute about how the film got such an odd name. Some say it's from Shakespeare's HAMLET where HAMLET claims "I am but mad North-Northwest." I've also heard it refers to the direction that the pursuit takes: from NYC to Chicago to the Dakotas is a Northwest direction. Who cares? It's a great film. Rent it and see if you can't spot Alfred Hitchcock, who ALWAYS had a cameo role in his films, right at the very beginning of the movie at a NYC bus stop.
Let everyone else get dressed up and go out on New Year's Eve dancing. I'll stay home with Ben Mankiewicz, open champagne, and make a toast to this movie.
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