“North by Northwest” (1959), a forerunner of James Bond-type spy action flicks, a witty who-done-it-and-where-is-he, is also, at times, a comedy with style, elegance, sexual innuendo, and trains, sometimes all at once.
It’s the train we’re going to discuss today, now that I’m in withdrawal from my favorite holiday - National Train Day.
And we’ll also talk about the sex. Never have the two been so closely linked.
Today’s post is our contribution to the For the Love of Film: The Film Preservation Blogathon III. This year, the intrepid host trio of Farran Smith Nehme of Self-Styled Siren, Marilyn Ferdinand of Ferdy on Films, and Roderick Heath of This Island Rod are raising funds for the National Film Preservation Foundation's project, The White Shadow, directed by Graham Cutts -- which was “written, assistant-directed, and just generally meddled with in a number of different ways by the one and only Alfred Hitchcock”.
Please visit the three blogs of our hosts for lists of other blogathon participants and contribute if you can to the National Film Preservation Foundation.
In “North by Northwest”, Cary Grant is an advertising executive caught in a web of cold war intrigue and murder when he is mistaken for somebody else. His wit and his charm make for easy transitions to the moments of the film that are by turns elegant, mysterious, and even quite funny. Director Hitchcock and writer Ernest Lehman skillfully blend all these elements in a delightful way.
There is of course another element, one of suspense, of danger if not outright terror to Grant’s character, who through the course of the film is kidnapped, nearly killed several times, chased by the police as a suspected murderer himself, and dance partner to a homicidal crop duster.
He is, however, more fitting for the erotic train sequence than Mr. Stewart, whose vulnerability was part of his own particular charm. Grant shuttles us into the sexy 1960s. He's more swinger than victim.
In “North by Northwest” the train, though often a place of mystery and even terror in Hitchcock films, instead becomes a safe haven, a place of romance, and at the end of the film is revisited for a happy ending.
Mr. Grant, on the run, and on his way to Chicago, slips aboard the 20th Century Limited in New York. Have a look at our previous trip aboard this famous train in “Twentieth Century” (1934).
Grant encounters her again in the dining car, where their ordering of brook trout invariably invokes for me the scene of Claude Rains’ petulant ordering of brook trout in “Deception” (1946) discussed here.
When you’re in a train dining car today, you still get the tablecloth, the bud vase with the flowers, but if you want a chance encounter with someone like Cary Grant, you’ll have to arrange that beforehand.
Which, it seems, is what Eva Marie Saint and her cohorts did.
Thorough planning is the sure way to a more pleasurable trip.
“It’s going to be a long night…and I don’t particularly like the book I’ve started…You know what I mean?”
“Tell me, what do you do besides lure men to their doom on the 20th Century Limited?”
We cut to her compartment where he is stuffed into the closed upper berth, hiding while the cops inspect her room. They spend the night together, without us. She will hide him a third time the next morning when she disguises him as a redcap carrying her luggage.
So powerful is the train in this movie that later in the film, when Grant and Saint are clinging to the rocky cliffs in South Dakota, about to plunge to their deaths, he says, “If we ever get out of this alive, let’s go back to New York on the train together…”
“Is that a proposition?” she replies.
Oh, yeah. Trains and romance. It’s the best kind of proposition.
“This is silly,” she says.
“I know. I’m sentimental.”
The last shot has the train entering a tunnel. Yes…well. Obvious and sophomoric perhaps, but at least symbolic and not graphic. Hitchcock may lead us around by the nose, but he still expects us to have an imagination.
Have a look at the other blogs participating in this worthy event, and please make your donation below to the National Film Preservation Foundation.