Hitchcock’s Leading Men At Their Best

In the UK we have recently been treated to Saturday matinée showings on BBC2 from the master of suspense. I have made it clear from my previous blogs how much of a fan I am of Alfred Hitchcock’s so my expectations were once again high when watching ‘Rear Window’ and ‘North by Northwest’. Both films appeared on the 1998 and 2007 AFI top 100 movie list and starred perhaps my favourite leading men of the Golden Age period Jimmy Stewart and Cary Grant.

Once again I made my brother Sati watch them with me, I’m trying to rope in my Dad but for some reason he doesn’t seem too bothered in going through the list. I think he is upset that none of the Dirty Harry movies or Westerns starring Clint Eastwood are featured in the ‘Hundred years, Hundred movies’ countdown so dismisses it as rubbish. To think of it the only Eastwood movie included is ‘Unforgiven’(#98, #68) which was made years after his prime – I’ll let Dad know when I get to it.

Before I played ‘Rear Window’ (1998 #42, 2007 #48) I told Sati ‘You’ll know the story’ – obviously I was referring to Simpson’s tribute in ‘Bart of Darkness’ when Bart breaks his leg, is confined to his room and suspects Flanders of killing his wife, which is pretty much the synopsis of the 1954 original. Although Stewart is a photographer and not a yellow 10-year-old cartoon character and rather than having Lisa as his sidekick he has the ever glamorous Grace Kelly who Sati refers to as ‘Boom’ which I think is a good thing. Perhaps my favourite character is Stella the maid played by Thelma Ritter who like the two main characters has her suspicions the whereabouts of the wife of neighbour played by Raymond Burr. So what if she is a carbon copy of her character in ‘All about Eve’ her sharp one liners brings humour to the screenplay which is much-needed in this rollercoaster of suspense.

The Simpsons pay homage to ‘Rear Window’ in ‘Bart of Darkness’

Kelly is as usual competent in her supporting role and despite the huge age gap between her and the protagonist their romance is believable. It doesn’t seem creepy – It just works. The film is a shot in a typical Hitchcock stylish manner – his love for panoramic wide shots is evident in this movie as wells as his fascination for voyeurism which is explored further in Psycho (1960). It is the epitome of a Hitchcock movie so if you have never been fortunate to see one of his movies then start with this. The pace of the movie is faster than ‘Vertigo’ (#61, #9) so you are at the edge of your seat throughout. I give this 4 out of 5 stars.

James Stewart gets nosey

Last night I finally managed to view ‘North by Northwest’ (#40, #55) which is dubbed as the blueprint for all the James Bond movies that followed suit. Rumour has it that Grant (who was a Bristolian) was first asked to play the iconic double agent, but turned it down because he only fancied playing it once and didn’t want to get bogged down in the franchise. I and Sati agree it was a right move; it would ruin his legacy if he was always associated with the famous Martini drinking English man – although it may save me from explaining to the youngins who he actually is when I mention him. Either way the role fits Cary like a glove – he is perfect as advertising executive mistaken for a double agent who is pursued across the country by an organisation hoping to prevent him from interfering with their plans to smuggle government secrets. Like Ritter his charisma and wit bring some light relief to the film.

Timeless Style Icon - Cary Grant's photo in a barbershop in South West London

Timeless Style Icon – Cary Grant’s photo in a barbershop in South West London

The plot is more complex than any Hitchcock movie I’ve seen but it makes even more exciting. Eva Marie Saint speaks about North by Northwest of ‘On the Waterfront’(#8, #19) fame and still going strong at 90 years old play his love interest. Perhaps she can be viewed as the prototype for the typical bond girl we have come to know and love in modern cinema – she possess as the qualities of one: extremely beautiful (Hitchcock sure loved his blondes) but with a dark secret and extremely untrustworthy. You never know if she is on the side of Grant or out to frame him until the end.

The budget for this was a whopping $4.2 million which seems like pennies today, but in 1959 it took you a long way. This movie is as close as Hitchcock got to a full-blown action blockbuster and he put the budget to good use in the famous plane chasing scene and the climax at Mount Rushmore where the two leads are chased by the perpetrators to the historic landmark. There are moments in final scenes when even I was feeling like Jimmy Stewart in Vertigo. My only complaint is that like most Hitchcock movies the ending seems abrupt – 4.5 out of 5 for this.

69 seen – 54 left to go

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