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Cameron H.

North by Northwest

N x NW  

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  1. 1. Does North by Northwest belong on the list?

    • Yes
    • No

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  • Poll closed on 09/27/19 at 07:00 AM

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Amy & Paul traverse 1959’s Alfred Hitchcock blockbuster North By Northwest! They discuss what makes Cary Grant’s suit one of the greatest in cinema, ask why so many Hitchcock films feature women betraying men, and draw a line from this film to the Coen Bros. Plus: Daniel Raim, director of “The Man On Lincoln’s Nose,” talks about Hitch’s famed art director Robert Boyle.

For Spartacus week, what do you think the film is about? Call the Unspooled voicemail line at 747-666-5824 with your answer! Follow us on Twitter @Unspooled, get more info at unspooledpod.com and don’t forget to rate, review & subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts. Photo credit: Kim Troxall

This episode is brought to you by Bombas (www.bombas.com/UNSPOOLED) and M&Ms Hazelnut

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3 hours ago, Cameron H. said:

and draw a line from this film to the Coen Bros.

But they drew this line a notepad and crumpled up the paper.  Quick, now that they've left, someone get a pencil so we can rub out what they drew on the impression of the next sheet down.

Wait... that's not a line!

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I guess NXNW doesn't generate a lot of conversation.  I guess I'll say, out of the Hitchcock on the list, the internal state of the characters was the least interesting.

Admittedly, it can be argued this movie wasn't as concerned about such things, but that doesn't preclude me from finding its concerns less interesting (I was never that big on James Bond, even growing up).

I was thinking about the various Coen references (penis etching above, the mistaken identity triggering the plot - both Big Lebowski, the airplane chase seemed to be echoed in the truck chase in No Country, the more general mistaken spy activity in Burn After Reading).

The other movie NXNW made me think of was Antonioni's The Passenger (starting Jack Nicholson). Which since it's been over a decade since I've seen it, I'll start with the Google summary:

David Locke (Jack Nicholson) is a world-weary American journalist who has been sent to cover a conflict in northern Africa, but he makes little progress with the story. When he discovers the body of a stranger who looks similar to him, Locke assumes the dead man's identity. However, he soon finds out that the man was an arms dealer, leading Locke into dangerous situations. Aided by a beautiful woman (Maria Schneider), Locke attempts to avoid both the police and criminals out to get him.

It's been long enough since I've seen that lots of things are vague in my head, but, to my recollection, there was a strong theme of, by adopting this man's identity, he started to become him, the film wanting to raise the issue of, "who are we? If everyone treats us a certain way and we become that, is our identity our own?" (At least that was how I remember it at a vague high level). Also slow pacing and strong composition, visuals (because, Antonioni). This comparison came to mind as Roger Thorne was breaking into the spy room and everyone was mistaking him for the spy.  ROT effectively doing spy things just seemed to be narratively taken for granted, but that could have been an interesting emotional exploration. Though, I don't know if audiences in the 1950's would have gone for it. (In terms of audience size, it's not like NXNW sized audiences would have taken to it in the 1970's either).


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For Spartacus (I was going to do some joke about the importance of teeth representing the tyranical need of the government for us to have fluoride in our drinking water and children's I've cream), but since I don't think I've met anyone go to bat for this one. Something that I've seen people do for Paths of Glory - which since that is another Kubrick/Douglas collaboration, I'd be curious to hear during that discussion of they'd prefer Spartacus or Paths of Glory on the list - though that means watching PoG. 

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I don't really buy the Coen references, beyond the superficial. I think the aim of NXNW is much different than the aim of any Coen film. I'd love to see them on the list, but if we're talking replacing something similar, this isn't where I'd turn. (If I was in charge of the list, there'd be at least 5 or 6 Coen films, to be honest, so take my bias for what its worth.)

I think the Bond/blockbuster/movie as escape/give the audience a lot of what they like in interesting ways is the point of NXNW. I think Paul mentioned similar, it's a blockbuster movie from before these existed - or they only existed as Gone With The Wind-style epics. Looking at the film that way, I think it should be on the list and stands out as a bit of a prototype. And in a good way! We've seen a few other prototypes where we were like, "well later films did this better."

I do think the story is fairly uninteresting and not nearly as impressive as usual Hitchcock. But as a piece of entertainment, I think it's hard to beat it.

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I’d be happy to have a Coen movie (Raising Arizona or O Brother) over a Hitchcock, but I’d drop Vertigo before this one. It’s more nonsensical and honestly, it’s “psychological” only in the sense that Stewart’s character is nuts. 

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I mean, I can acknowledge that the story and characters of North by Northwest don't have a ton of depth, but . . . every time I watch it I find it zips right along, even knowing what's going to happen. That's hard to quantify, but I think you've just got to put it down to Hitchcock's skill as a director. He has four movies on the list and every one deserves to be there for one reason or another. He created several of the foundational texts of cinema.

My only real gripe with the movie is that the cut near the very end, from Cary Grant holding Eva Marie Saint's hand on top of Mount Rushmore to them in the train car at the end always feels kind of awkward to me, like it's too much of a cheat that they never showed us how the two of them got out of that pickle (when every one of Grant's other escapes is super clever and entertaining). The visual joke of the train entering the tunnel (time for sex!) that actually ends the film helps make up for it though.

Sure, let's put the Coens on the list. But not at Hitch's expense. Forrest Gump or The Sixth Sense can go instead.

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I'm very much in agreement with Paul on this one, as I find North By Northwest more fun and watchable than Vertigo, while acknowledging that the latter is probably a better film.  I'm voting yes, as I think it's a worthy inclusion, but I do understand the sentiment that we could find a replacement without having to look too hard.

13 hours ago, AlmostAGhost said:

I don't really buy the Coen references, beyond the superficial. I think the aim of NXNW is much different than the aim of any Coen film. I'd love to see them on the list, but if we're talking replacing something similar, this isn't where I'd turn. (If I was in charge of the list, there'd be at least 5 or 6 Coen films, to be honest, so take my bias for what its worth.)

I mentioned feeling some Coen DNA in this in my Letterboxd review, and for me, it wasn't even about the superficial.  It was all about the tone and in the way they're telling the story for me.  North By Northwest is a film where people are murdered in front of our eyes and there feels like a very real threat that either Eve or Roger could be killed as well, and yet it's more comedy than drama.  The Coens have played all around that line for their whole careers, sometimes giving more drama than comedy, sometimes more comedy than drama, sometimes treating violence as shocking and abhorrent and sometimes using it for black comedy purposes.  So I was thinking about the Coens before realizing any superficial comparisons.  I didn't even think of all the plot comparisons to Lebowski before Amy brought it up, but I did draw a line between the interlude when we meet the Professor and the similar interlude when we meet J.K. Simmons as the CIA boss in Burn After Reading (not only do both scenes featuring government underlings expressing concern while the superior seemingly heartlessly urges no action to be taken, but the cuts to those scenes are extremely similar as well, based on my recollection of Burn After Reading).  I know that the Coens aren't the only directors famous for mixing comedy with violence or drama, and I can't explain why North By Northwest struck me as more Coen-esque than reminiscent of a Shane Black or Quentin Tarantino film, but it definitely does.

At any rate, I have a feeling that my ideal AFI list would have room for both The Big Lebowski and North By Northwest.

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