Last week, I watched, for the, yes, shock, horror, first time, ‘North By Northwest’ (1959), one of Hitchcock’s masterpieces.
Of course, as is well known, Hitchcock not being awarded a ‘Best Director’ Oscar in relation to any of his movies is one of THE Academy Awards travesties (of which, we know, there are many!).
Hitchcock was awarded, by The Academy in 1967, the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award which commemorates “creative producers, whose bodies of work reflect a consistently high quality of motion picture production” (‘producer’, in this case, obviously refers to anyone involved in the creative process of movie making rather than a ‘movie producer’, per se).
I think it’s fair to say that, understandably, Hitch was somewhat peeved to ‘only’ by awarded the Irving G. Thalberg award (despite it being a very weighty, substantial honour), miffed to have been overlooked in relation to each and every one of his movies:
Back to the actual movie…I loved it (of course!). Luckily, I spotted Hitchcock in his cameo role near the beginning of the movie (at the bus stop) so, with that out of the way, I could relax and watch the movie (insofar as one can relax while watching a Hitchcock movie!).
The ‘star’ of the movie? Hard to say…might be the music score. How Bernard Herrmann wasn’t even nominated for an Oscar for that score, I do not know. The movie would not have had anything like the effect, the impact, the punch, for which all Hitchcock movies are renowned, without the soundtrack. The 1960 Academy Awards saw the gong for ‘Music (Music Score of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture)’ go to ‘Ben-Hur’ (Miklos Rozsa).
Eva Marie Saint (as Eve Kendall) is beautiful and despite, one would assume, the fact that Cary Grant’s Roger Thornhill would have been on his guard, it’s not difficult to see how he falls for the charms of such a beautiful, captivating lady. Both of them are terrific in their roles. She, Eve, is a toughie and her melting and falling in love with Cary’s Thornhill is a joy to behold – heartbreaking to see her eyes welling up with tears towards the end of the movie when Thornhill is verbally tearing her to shreds in front of Vandamm.
Cary Grant, as Roger Thornhill, the role fits him like a (perfectly fitting) glove…class, elegance, cool under pressure (too tough and cool to be described as ‘beautiful’? Probably – I guess ladies would use adjectives such as handsome and gorgeous…), and that suit, exquisite. I did note that even after the crop duster incident, although his suit needed sponging and pressing (fortunately, ‘housekeeping’ were able to do it in 20 minutes), his crisp white shirt was uncrumpled and looked like it had just been ironed/pressed.
There were other ‘slips’, eg, in the train, Thornhill hiding in the spare bed overhead compartment in Eve Kendall’s ‘room’, the two of them start talking the very second the police close the door – in reality, they should/would have waited a minute or two to avoid being heard, but it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t impact on the effect of the movie.
…and James Mason, THAT VOICE, instantly recognizable, a joy to hear, right up there with Niven’s and Sanders’ voices. I say ‘instantly recognisable’ and I have ‘proof’ to back up that statement. Many moons ago, my grandmother was in The Dorchester Hotel in London’s Mayfair when she heard the voice of a man behind her, she immediately identified the voice as belonging to one J. Mason Esq., she turned round, I dare say rather excitedly, and, yup, James Mason.
I must just mention two other actors – I thought that Leo G. Carroll was terrific as ‘the Professor’ and it was great to see one of my favs, Martin Landau, in one of his early supporting roles (as a tv, music and movie nostalgia man, 50 years old, it’s not surprising that Martin ‘Commander John Koenig, Space 1999‘ Landau is a star in my eyes!)
So, just three Oscar Nominations and no wins – yup, a travesty.
‘Best Film Editing’ (George Tomasini) – I’m not technically qualified to be able to comment;
‘Best Production Design’ (William A. Horning, Robert F. Boyle, Merrill Pye, Henry Grace, Frank McKelvy) – Again, I don’t suppose, as a movie watching layman, that I’m qualified to comment but I can say that as the award also reflects excellence in set decoration, it’s a thumbs-up from me;
‘Best Original Screenplay’ (Ernest Lehman) – I’m happy with that!
The movie also received numerous other accolades, eg inclusion in a number of AFI (American Film Institute) lists of top movies in various genres and more generally.
‘North By Northwest’ was selected, in 1995, for preservation in the National Film Registry by The United States Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant” (I think the ‘or’ should be ‘and/or’).
…but ‘just’ 3 Oscar Nominations, none for the ‘big’ categories, eg ‘Best Movie’, ‘Best Director’, ‘Best Actor’, ‘Best Actress’, ‘Best Actor in a Supporting Role’, ‘Best Actress in a Supporting Role’ and, as I ‘said’ above, not even a Nomination for Best Music Score! The problem for movie men and women in 1960 was that ‘Ben Hur’ was centre stage at the Oscars – Nominated for 12 and won 11, including ‘Best Motion Picture’, ‘Director’ (William Wyler), ‘Actor’ (Charlton Heston) and ‘Actor in a Supporting Role’ (High Griffith).
Despite the aforementioned Academy ‘oversights’, Alfred Hitchcock should be resting easy in the knowledge that his genius as a film director is undoubted, that his movies are classics, works of art, triumphs and that the legacy he left us will, for eternity, stand as testament to the greatness of this man.
One of the wonderful aspects of the movies, music, the arts generally, is that one can never say, “I’ve seen/heard it all”, that never mind how old we are, we might still, today, tomorrow, see a movie or catch site of a painting we haven’t seen before, listen to a piece of music, a song we haven’t heard before, be introduced to a book we haven’t yet read and I’m never embarrassed to say that I haven’t seen this or that movie before. I hadn’t seen ‘North by Northwest’ before last week and the only other Hitchcock movie I have seen is ‘Rebecca’ 1940.
I prefer ‘Rebecca’ to ‘North by Northwest’ – it’s more of an epic, it’s grand, a monumental production, there is:
the legend, Laurence Olivier (later, Sir Laurence and then Lord Olivier), nominated for ‘Best Actor’ Oscar but lost out to James Stewart (‘The Philadelphia Story’) – I look forward to watching that movie as Stewart must be staggeringly good in it to have kept Olivier off the podium (I hope he is or I’ll feel the injustice);
the beautiful Joan Fontaine, nominated for the ‘Best Actress’ Oscar;
the chilling Mrs. Danvers, outstandingly played by Judith Anderson (later, Dame Judith Anderson), nominated for the ‘Best Supporting Actress’ Oscar but didn’t win, another travesty;
and the simply magnificent George Sanders – THAT VOICE!! He wasn’t even nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of Jack Favell – how and why is beyond me! What a STAR!!
Anyway, I digress….next up, I think ‘Rear Window’….