Cinema Modernissimo > 22:00


Alfred Hitchcock
Introduced by

Margaret Bodde


Thursday 27/06/2024


Original version with subtitles


Film Notes

North by Northwest is another American hallucination, in the sense that Italian writer Roberto Calasso attributed to the film directed by Alfred Hitchcock just a year earlier, Vertigo: in one case, a woman accepts, through a desperate deception, to become someone else who is a pure mental image, “an idol, a copy”; in the other, a man finds himself, by a twist of fate, in the shoes of someone who doesn’t exist. The difference is that he is Cary Grant, thus he never gives up his suit (nor his habitus), and his life will be saved. Hallucinatory is the pace with which the film progresses, unbalanced, precipitous, always rushing towards indecipherable places, which, once reached, reveal themselves as momentous examples of locus americanus: the Oak Room at the Plaza, the atrium and the foyer of the United Nations, the corridors of the speeding 20th Century Limited, the dry metaphysical void of the great plains, a copy of the Fallingwater House, the giant stone faces of Mount Rushmore.
The graphic sentiment that dominates North by Northwest is the voluptuousness of disproportion: this man on the run always ends up in enormously large scenarios, which leave him disoriented and us breathless, until the symbolic counterpoint of having to shave with a ridiculously small razor. On the run from what, exactly? Numerous and captivating analyses have been made of what its always sly author defined as “a family film” (and it is true, of course), of this fake spy movie (“a 39 Steps in a sumptuous shape”, Raymond Bellour), of this sharp and erotic romance. Roger Thornhill is fleeing from a “maternal super-ego”, as Slavoj Žižek brilliantly defined it about twenty years ago, and everyone, we could say, was already in agreement; fleeing from this formidable, wry and castrating mother, almost a peer (Jessie Royce Landis was just seven years older than Grant) as she is forever fixed, in the Oedipal hallucination, at the time when the son was about to start college. So, exit the mother and enter a blonde named Eve, who immediately sets about accelerating our hero’s journey towards sexual maturity. Everything can only be resolved after the confrontation with the fathers (“Theodore Roosevelt is watching me,” announces Cary Grant with binoculars aimed at Rushmore, and it sounds like a sudden jolt of screwball), in a film that, among its cloaks and daggers, never loses the exact timing of comedy, and ends with all that a fleeting, eternal, old paradigm happy ending requires: a man, a woman, and a secret hideaway.

Paola Cristalli

Cast and Credits

Scen.: Ernest Lehman. F.: Robert Burks. M.: George Tomasini. Scgf.: Robert Boyle, William A. Horning, Merrill Pye. Mus.: Bernard Herrmann. Int.: Cary Grant (Roger Thornhill), Eva Marie Saint (Eve Kendall), James Mason (Phillip Vandamm), Jessie Royce Landis (Clara Thornhill), Leo G. Carroll (il professore), Josephine Hutchinson (signora Townsend), Philip Ober (Lester Townsend), Martin Landau (Leonard), Adam Williams (Valerian), Edward Platt (Victor Larrabee). Prod.: Alfred Hitchcock per Metro-GoldwynMayer Corp. 70mm. D.: 136’. Col.