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.