Writer: Ernest Lehman
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Music: Bernard Herrmann
Costume design: Bergdorf Goodman for Eva Marie Saint's wardrobe
Stars: Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason
North by Northwest is a tale of mistaken identity, with an innocent man pursued across the United States by agents of a mysterious organization trying to prevent him from blocking their plan to smuggle out microfilm which contains government secrets. This is one of several Hitchcock films which feature a music score by Bernard Herrmann and an opening title sequence by graphic designer Saul Bass, and it is generally cited as the first to feature extended use of kinetic typography in its opening credits.
The screenplay was by Ernest Lehman, who wanted to write "the Hitchcock picture to end all Hitchcock pictures".
North by Northwest is listed among the canonical Hitchcock films of the 1950s and is often listed among the greatest films of all time. It 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".
John Russell Taylor's biography Hitch: The Life and Times of Alfred Hitchcock (1978) suggests that the story originated after a spell of writer's block during the scripting of another film project:
Alfred Hitchcock had agreed to do a film for MGM and they had chosen an adaptation of the novel The Wreck of the Mary Deare by Hammond Innes. Composer Bernard Herrmann had recommended that Hitchcock work with his friend Ernest Lehman. After a couple of weeks, Lehman offered to quit saying he didn't know what to do with the story. Hitchcock told him they got along great together and they would just write something else. Lehman said that he wanted to make the ultimate Hitchcock film. Hitchcock thought for a moment then said he had always wanted to do a chase across Mount Rushmore. Lehman and Hitchcock spitballed more ideas: a murder at the United Nations Headquarters; a murder at a car plant in Detroit; a final showdown in Alaska. Eventually they settled on the U.N. murder for the opening and the chase across Mount Rushmore for the climax. For the central idea, Hitchcock remembered something an American journalist had told him about spies creating a fake agent as a decoy. Perhaps their hero could be mistaken for this fictitious agent and end up on the run. They bought the idea from the journalist for $10,000.
In fact, Hitchcock had been working on the story for nearly nine years prior to meeting Lehman. Otis C. Guernsey was the American journalist who had the idea which influenced Hitchcock, inspired by a true story during World War II when British Intelligence obtained a dead body, invented a fictitious officer who was carrying secret papers, and arranged for the body and misleading papers to be discovered by the Germans as a disinformation exercise called Operation Mincemeat. Guernsey turned his idea into a story about an American salesman who travels to the Middle East and is mistaken for a fictitious agent, becoming "saddled with a romantic and dangerous identity." Guernsey admitted that his treatment was full of "corn" and "lacking logic", and he urged Hitchcock to do what he liked with the story. Hitchcock bought the 60 pages for $10,000.
The film clip: "I do not discuss love on an empty stomach
The costume design:
In the film Cary Grant's character had a very simple wardrobe. Unlike his character in many of his other films who usually owns a much larger wardrobe,
Roger Thornhill interpreted by Cary Grant wore a single suit for most part of the movie, and the suit has been universally thought his iconic outfit, to the point that some even think his most iconic movie look.
It's curious how this particular suit gained such a high reputation when Cary Grant looked equally or more debonair in his other films like To Catch a Thief (1955) or Charade. Perhaps it has something to do with that crop-dusting scene: A suit so well tailored can be so resistant in such an extreme situation.....but how many men know that more identical suits are made for the film so Cary Grant would still look unreasonably stylish after escaping from near death experience?
It's said that when interviewed by some press on how he managed to look so consistently good throughout the film, Cary Grant replied: "Very simple, six suits and many ties."
So who has made the suit? According to Vanity Fair magazine, it was Norton & Sons of London, although The Independent believed it was Quintino of Beverly Hills, yet some other sources thought it was by Kilgour, French & Stanbury. It's a shame we can not know for sure at this moment, but Savile Row certainly has done a wonderful job.
The suit is usually described as grey suit, but up close as can be seen in the following shoot, it's more like blue grey, and it's not in solid color either, but in very subtle pattern called glen plaid(Or prince of Wales) so that it adds more textural richness when viewed from different distance and angles.
After all, for audiences who loves Cary Grant film for his style, that was the almost the only outfit they are going to see in more than an hour.
Eva Marie Saint's wardrobe was much larger, well designed and a pleasure to look at. All of her clothes were originally chosen by MGM but Hitchcock disliked its selections So Eva and Hitchcock went to Bergdorf Goodman in New York to select what she would wear for the film.
North by Northwest was nominated for three Academy Awards—for Best Film Editing (George Tomasini), Best Art Direction – Set Decoration, Color (William A. Horning, Robert F. Boyle, Merrill Pye, Henry Grace, Frank McKelvy), and Best Original Screenplay (Ernest Lehman)—at the 32nd Academy Awards ceremony, but unfortunately did not win any of them.
That is the plate number of Pierre’s car, when he drives toward his destiny, his death.
The beginning is quite ordinary: the site of a car accident, two small children, passers by, the police, two truck drivers describing what has happened, all type of noises, people talking, wearing ugly clothes in garish colors.
Then enters the music by Philippe Sarde, and everything changes.
The film becomes a dream, unreal, at times frivolous, at times banal, but always suffused with delicacy, like a veil over a beautiful woman’ otherwise not perfect face.
Pierre (played by Michel Piccoli) is an architect, but in typical French manner, he almost never does what an architect is supposed to do in a film. He always chain smokes, always drives, seldom talks, and almost never exposes himself, but through his slight frown when he uses one cigarette to light another one, his almost emotionless look behind the car window fogged by the rain, it seems as if you could see into this man, the man who lives between past and present, even at times the future(thanks to the director Claude Sautet's unusual futuristic sequences), between memory, reality and premonition, his confusion, fatigue and suffocation, the man who loves the woman in his life now, his mistress, but never seems emotionally separated from the woman who used to be his wife.
« tu m’aimes parce que je suis là ».(you love me because I am here) Hélène (played by Romy Schneider)his mistress says to him in the car. They just leave a party. She wears a short white sleeve dress, he says nothing.
« Je suis fatigué, fatigué de t’aimer. » (I'm tired, tired of loving you) She continues, he still says nothing.
And somehow, during her long monologue, he decides to end it.
« Mais comme ca, sans rien.. » (But not like this, without anything else). She is shocked and she protests.
« Tu sors? » he asks her, two times, when he stops the car in front of her house.
« Tu n’as rien à me dire? » Hélène finally decides to get out of the car, but she is still trying. « Non » he smiles at her.
« Tu m’a appèleras? » (Will you call me?) She is already out of the car, but she does not want to give up. « Bien sûr. »(Of course.) he smiles again.
She walks away, he sits in the car, uses one cigarette to light the new one, throwing the old butt out of the window, then drives away, all seen by Hélène who reappears behind the column beside the gate of her home.
It is heart breaking.
It seems French directors are specialized in filming the abstract, the indescribable choses dans la vie (things in life), like the state in and out of love, like ennui, like state in and out of life. Claude Sautet is one of them, one of the best of them. He does not belong to the most internationally acclaimed new wave group, but I think he is greater than all of them.
He has that extraordinary sense of time, silence, the meaning pregnated by silence between people, and expresses it beautifully, discreetly. And he knows how a dream can and should look like, and ilusions: Toward the end of his life, struggling between life and death, Pierre´s thoughts go to Helene, he hangs a pair of cherry on her ears, then kisses her behind her ears, taking the cherries, then kisses her. she is wearing white dress, they are getting married, all the family sitting on one side of the table, his son, his father, his friends, her family, then at the head of the table, sitting his ex wife Katherine and her lover. Pierre smiles, happy, until he gazes at another side of the large table, sitting there the police men, the truck drivers, the priest, the paramedics...people he met earlier at the site of his accident.....And children, joyful children, children who he saw on the road prior to the accident in a real wedding ceremony, also part of the ceremony, are starting to leave his wedding, and he is starting to leave his life...
According to Philippe Sarde, the composer of the film, he also composed a song called chanson de Hélène, with the lyrics by Jean-Loup Dabadie who also writes the screenplay of the film, and sung by Romy Schneider and Michel Piccoli, but Claude Sautet did not want to use it, afraid that it will faire vieillir the film, make it look aged or outdated.
Unlike un cœur en hiver, Claude‘s timeless masterpiece more than 20 years later, les choses de la vie does show the traces of its time period: the surroundings, the men’s shirts with very sharp tipped collars, women’s too thick makeup, in particular Romy Schneider’s dresses designed by André Courrèges. Romy Schneider is one of the few rare women who managed to look elegant, look like a woman in those colorful Lolita style A line mini dresses too high above the knee, but the film thus evokes unmistakably the youth quake and the 60’s….
But Claude achieved something else in this film: the poetic and perhaps unavoidable sadness of love, the unpredictable mystery of love created by fate, like an unread letter, like the letter written by Pierre just before his death to Hélène which will never be read by her.