North by Northwest

AFI Rank: #40
Year Released: 1959
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Actors: Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason

North by Northwest comes in at #40 on the AFI top 100 listing. It is a spy thriller, with Cary Grant playing the twice-divorced ad executive who quickly gets wound up in a case of mistaken identity. The bad guys think he's a spy, and the good guys are happy to let him hang in the wind. When he runs into a sultry female, played by Eva Marie Saint, that the twists become even more intriguing.

I won't give away any of the storyline, since half of the joy of this film is watching how the layers unpeel. However, there are some amusing things in this movie where men drank Gibsons and women offered to hop into bed in the first five minutes. One is, early on, Grant is accused of drunk driving, including nearly killing several people in collisions. When he's arguing that the drunken state wasn't his fault, his mother says, "Roger, pay the $2." TWO DOLLARS?? What kind of drunk driving laws did they have back then?

As a wine lover, I also enjoyed the Champagne related exchange later on. Eva is talking with a man and they're about to go somewhere.

Man: How about a little Champagne before we go?
Eva: I'd love it.
Man: It may not be cold enough ...
Eva: Over the rocks would be all right.
Man: Sure?

I think this is the only time I've seen Champagne served over the rocks in any movie, and I watch quite a lot of them with an eye towards wine usage!

They like those Champagne discussions :)

Eva: Jump in, Leonard. The champagne's fine.
Man: There isn't time.
Eva: You always were a spoilsport, weren't you?

Great as a spy thriller, great as a view into relationships, if a little campy. Also, watch the "shooting scene" for the little boy who plugs his ears just before the shot is fired!

In terms of the Bechdel Test, this one fails. There is Eva, of course, as well as Cary's mother and a government female worker. None of the three women ever get near each other.

Here's my review from 2001 - so over ten years previous -

This is definitely a DVD to have and to rewatch with friends and family. The story is familiar - a man is mistaken for a spy and has to get out of the mess without dying - but the acting and scenes are fresh and stunning.

It's pretty sexual for a film of its time - Roger has been married many times and has no qualms about seducing the beautiful young woman on the train. Not that she needs seducing - in the original version she meets him while eating, and says that she wants to finish dinner because she doesn't like to make love on an empty stomach. Not too bad for a first date!

The crop-dusting scene is famous and much-copied, as are several other scenes. It's the interpersonal relationships where this movie shines, though. The jealousy of the two men who both love Eva, the way that James' henchman is fond of him (and jealous of Eva) ... there are romantic pentagons in this film, never mind triangles.

The special features on the DVD are well worth watching, giving extra insight into the characters and the way the movie was made. Grab a copy for your home, and another for a friend as a present! It's a movie that you'll find something new in each time you watch it.

Buy North by Northwest from

AFI Top 100 Film Listing
Male vs Female Actors in the AFI Top 100
The Bechdel Test in the AFI Top 100