After being kidnapped in a case of mistaken identity, a New York City advertising executive finds himself pursued across the United States by mysterious agents who will do anything to prevent him from revealing their secrets.
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Apparently a big influence on "Last Year In Marienbad", the romance, thrills and humour are undercut by the creepy frisson of an oddly synthetic world; Hitchcock's usual iffy back projection, Grant's weirdly flaccid hands, the virtuoso but eerie and protracted crop duster sequence. Like a machine's flawed impersonation of a perfect film, it's underlying iciness are what make it haunting.
The more I rewatch it, the less I care for it as a thriller, but the more I love it as a comedy. As a sex comedy, the tongue-in-cheek dialogue is Lubitsch level of delightful and, as an absurd comedy, it paints the image of a modern man thrown into dizzying chaos with those overview shots of Grant running away while being dwarfed by his surroundings that are pure Kafka.
Ostensibly, it always struck me, a concession to commercial interests following the uncommercial VERTIGO, I now see N BY NW as radical inasmuch as it may be Hitchcock's most brazen engagement w/ artifice. This is almost a pop art movie (I think of Roy Lichtenstein and Campbell's Soup). Even Carey Grant resembles a bronze figurine imbued w/ Satanic motility. And Hitchcock is, of course, a genius of celluloid units.
Hitchcock didn't have a soul. He wasn't a director but an engineer of cinema. Could no doubt assemble a piece and was highly skilled with the underlying harmony and structure (see this), yet his films simply don't elicit any of the untranslatable feelings we experience when watching the works of the real directors. His cinema is never witty or charming, it is brutally masochistic and impersonal.
35mm screening @Pacific Film Archive 13 August '16
Reasonably entertaining, if you like action-adventure thrillers (I don't) and a cut above typical mid-century Hollywood fare, which is a very low bar. Frankly, I prefer European cinema from this era. I wouldn't watch this again, but I appreciate that a lot of craft was put into it. Just doesn't grab me, that's all. I don't think much of Cary Grant, either. 3.5 stars
Sorry, Vertigo, this is the best Hitchcock film ever. It is ridiculous, yet sublime, menacing, but tender, lively, yet dark, purple, and clairvoyant. Don't worry Vertigo, because there's tons of fools who still like you the best. But you're just a mirage, aren't you? A cipher to be decoded. This is the real thing, and you just can't stand it.
The blueprint for all modern action movies: a dense plot, endless narrative twists, a wisecracking everyman, multiple locations, enormous set pieces, questionable effects, a thunderous score, and a duplicitous blonde. The debt owed to it by the Bond franchise is evident throughout (those final few seconds!) And I swear I heard that 4 note refrain from Monty Norman's Bond theme peppered through Herrmann's score.
Hitchcock gave us so many different elements; romance featuring a glamorous blond and a polished gentlemen in suit against a deadly charming villain, elegant suspense with quite the action adrenaline, who-dun-it twist, spies, and even a bit of comedy. I think this was Hitchcock's most playful/entertaining film. An almost perfect, that is.