Before Sean Connery was cast as James Bond the role had been offered – and accepted by – Cary Grant, a close friend of 007 producer Albert R. Broccoli. The only thing that stopped the casting from working out was that he only wished to make one film due to his age (he was 58 at the time). Those who may recoil in horror due to how close we came to an American Bond need only to watch North by Northwest to see that it would not have been the worst idea in the world – it seems the role would have fitted Grant as perfectly as the tailored suit he wears throughout the film (voted by GQ’s fashion experts as the best suit in film history).
Take for example the dinner sequence in the train car in which Grant’s Roger Thornhill trades flirtatious banter with Eva Marie Saint’s Eve Kendall – a intelligent seductress with hidden motives – and compare it to the similar scene in Casino Royale between Daniel Craig and Eva Green. Or the scenes in which Thornhill faces off against the villainous foreign spy Phillip Vandamm (played with a wonderfully cruel streak by James Mason), answering his threats and questions with clever witticisms. And of course there’s the fact that the besuited Thornhill spends his the film battling henchmen and death traps across many locations.
There’s more to the film that its reputation as a proto-Bond film. It came in the middle of a particularly hot streak of Hitchcock’s, following Vertigo and followed by Psycho and The Birds and was a deliberate choice by the director to follow Vertigo with something a little less serious. The energy and fun of the film is made immediately clear with Saul Bass’s kinetic titles playing out against Bernard Hermann’s bombastic score and the film never lets up from there, taking in a drunken car chase (Grant makes for a particularly great drunk), a murder at the UN and memorable characters such as Vandamm’s thugs and Thornhill’s mother (whose one scene together brings the classic line “You gentlemen aren’t really trying to kill my son, are you?”). But its most famous sequence is one of silence and isolation. As highlighted by the new restoration’s showcasing of the film’s gorgeous cinematography, the crop-dusting scene works so well due to the build-up highlighting how far Thornhill is from help, how vulnerable he is, the scene containing almost no dialogue save for a sparse conversation with a passer-by points out “That plane’s dustin’ crops where there ain’t no crops…”
Writer Ernest Lehman has stated that he’d set out to make the ultimate Alfred Hitchcock film and it certainly has all the right elements – the wrong man, the seductive blonde, the charming sociopath, a MacGuffin, murder, suspense and a huge amount of crowd-pleasing ambition, not least of all the infamous climax atop and around Mount Rushmore. Nearly sixty years on the film remains one of the greatest works from the director and a must-see big-screen experience.
We’re happy to announce that Hop House 13 will be supplying free beer for selected screenings over the coming months, starting with North By Northwest on Tuesday 7 November. Simply take your ticket to the cinema bar on the day to claim your free bottle of beer!