The Man in Lincoln’s Nose
Was the original title that Alfred Hitchcock initially thought of for his spy thriller North By Northwest where he envisaged the leading man hiding from the villains in Lincoln’s nose at Mount Rushmore and being given away when he sneezes.
Although I have already written about Hitch very early in my posts, after re-watching this film just recently it deserves it’s own post as I rate North By Northwest as one the most purely entertaining films ever made. It almost acts as an anthology of all the typical Hitchcockian situations; but made here with a polish and excellence where everyone involved were at the peak of their talents.
The film’s plot sees Cary Grant playing Roger O. Thornhill (the O stands for nothing !) a New York advertising executive who gets mistaken for another man (actually a decoy fake agent) and is then pursued across America by agents of a mysterious organisation led by Phillip Vandamm, played with silky menace by James Mason, as they try to prevent Thornhill from blocking their plans to smuggle microfilm, which contains government secrets, out of the country.
On the run he boards the 20th Century Limited train to Chicago where he meets Eve Kendall who hides him from the police. She is seductively played by the beautiful Eva Marie Saint who plays the Hitchcock cool blonde seductress better than anyone else ever did in a Hitchcock film (including Hitch’s favourite in Grace Kelly). The scenes between Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint just ooze sexiness and innuendo.
It turns out Eve is working undercover for the government and is actually Vandamm’s mistress and she tells him to be at a meeting at an isolated rural bus stop.
What follows is an absolute doozy of a scene as a crop duster tries to kill Thornhill. Of course, logically, it doesn’t make sense, but Hitch always prided himself in his ability to make the audience park their brain under their seat whilst watching his films.
Thornhill catches up with Vandamm and Eve at an art auction but in order for him to escape, Thornhill disrupts the auction until police are called to remove him. His last line in this clip to his would-be killer is simply priceless.
Ultimately, travelling in a vague north by northwest direction, Thornhill makes it to Mount Rushmore for the film’s memorable climax.
Even this final scene has a very strong sexual suggestion as Eve is hanging on to the mountain by her fingertips, Thornhill reaches down to pull her up, at which point the scene cuts to him pulling her, now the new Mrs. Thornhill, into an upper berth on a train, which then enters a tunnel as the final credits roll on. Hitchcock called it a “phallic symbol . . . probably one of the most impudent shots I ever made”.
I’d also say that Cary Grant probably gives his most definitive film performance in this movie showcasing his debonair demeanor, his light-hearted approach to acting, and his perfect sense of comic timing.
As an aside, Cary Grant’s grey suit worn throughout the film, was deemed to be the best suit in film history, and the most influential on men’s style according to a panel of fashion experts convened by GQ in 2006.
This is one of several Hitchcock films that featured a terrific music score by Bernard Herrmann plus an opening title sequence by graphic designer Saul Bass. This also featured Hitch’s trademark cameo as he is seen getting a bus door slammed into his face, just as after his director credit is seen leaving the screen.
The screenplay was written by Ernest Lehman who wanted to write “the Hitchcock picture to end all Hitchcock pictures” which I reckon he achieved in cramming in nearly all of Hitch’s favourite themes and motifs into this movie.
There was of course the MacGuffin which was Hitch’s term in describing a physical object that everyone in the film is chasing, but which has no deep relationship to the plot which is explained in the film as two characters converse at an airport where there is a loud noise of an aircraft which pretty much drowns out what they are talking about.
I could go on but I would just recommend you go and watch this masterpiece of suspense, ideally in a cinema, but if not then in the comfort of your own home – it is simply magnificent as one of the purest pieces of entertainment ever committed to celluloid.
and the tease for next weeks post . . . A love caught in the fire of revolution.
21 thoughts on “WolfmanOz at the Movies #56”
Yep, that train entering the tunnel at the end of the film was impudent all right!
Next: Dr. Zhivago?
It could be . . .
I saved this one just for you, Wolfman.
We mustn’t forget the classic cameo signature either.
Great film, timeless and fun.
Wolfie, this is the other half’s all time favourite film and Grant is his favourite actor so we watch it at every opportunity.
From the opening sequence, to the music, the ongoing suspense, and the performances from a flawless cast, North by Northwest is a perfect movie. Agreed on Grant’s suit – which looked good even after his tangle with the crop duster.
The use of Mount Rushmore, which was recreated on set because National Parks would not let the monument be used after they got wind of what Hitch wanted to do, The Twentieth Century Limited, made me fall in love with rail travel (we’ve only once been on a sleeper; it had full dining service with “proper” linen – just magic).
And the hat tip to Frank Lloyd Wright, who I just read, Hitchcock couldn’t afford to engage, so production designed a house they thought Wright would design!
On the house, not real, of course. Just like the interior of the UN. All artifice. But so well done that it easily fools the audience.
Why thank-you calli !
Luckily I have it in my digital library so I can chose to watch it whenever I want to, which I did a couple of weeks ago and it just continues to enthrals and bring a smile to my face every time I view it.
One of my faves. We finally made it to Mt Rushmore a few years back while on a motorbike trip around the Pacific NW.
Couldn’t understand why the interior of the cafe/restaurant was so different from how I remembered it — until I learned the sad truth 🙁
Not sad, Bruce. Movies are artifice but how good was Hitch that the entire production even now has all the appearance of reality.
And when you watch the film, pay attention to the scene in the cafeteria at Mt Rushmore where the gun is fired. The young boy sitting at one of the tables puts his hands over his ears just before the gun goes off. He obviously did not like the loud gunshot noise when ‘staring’ in the film. And it was either left in the film deliberately or never noticed by the film editor(s).
It’s a wonderful film, I can’t imagine anyone except the most curmudgeonly type not enjoying it. Stylish, sexy, funny, dramatic – it’s got everything.
There are not many films that I have (and could) rewatch so many times. What a contrast to the dreck Hollywood churns out nowadays.
Great movie. Thanks Wolfie.
One of the famous bloopers in cinema.
We’ll never know if Hitch was aware of it and left it in (as I’m sure it would have appealed to his sense of humour).
When I re-watched it the other week, it was after utter frustration with nothing worth while to watch on Foxtel/Netflix that particular day.
It is a great film, and one of Hitchcock’s best.
My favourite part is the drunk driving scene. Just brilliant.
The tease for next time, Anchor guessed Dr Zhivago. I will lay claim to “For Whom the Bell Tolls”.
I’d be backing Anchor What.
Very funny calli . . .
Pretty much got it already written now . . . and the next 5 after that I’ve already sketched out the outlines.
One of the famous bloopers in cinema.
I’d be happy if they CGI’d it out. Proves the old showbiz adage “Never work with children or animals.”
Martin Landau is one of the coldest villains ever.