DIRECTOR: Alfred Hitchcock
The story seems like a re run watching it in the 21st century and I can imagine this film pressed all the right buttons for audiences in 1959. This film will be noted in Hitchcock’s Top 5 films anywhere you look on the internet.
Cary Grant plays his part well carrying the advertising/ marketing persona of Roger Thornhill. He is mistaken as a Central Intelligence Agent by Iron Curtain spies and Grant performs balancing just the right balance of wit, charm and mistaken identity well. The cold war cronies want a George Caplan and believe one hundred percent that Thornhill is the man.
It’s a Hitchcock film and with that comes a good dose of close ups, strong use of mid shots and the cameo. Hitchcock is a master of all genres in this film he creates suspense, mystery and humour around a spy genre.
Perhaps the best known scene of the film is Cary Grant in the middle of an Indiana field dodging a plane shooting down at him. Grant and Hitchcock along with the Bernard Herrmann score works wonders.
The women will be attracted to him every minute, particularly in a hospital scene when he strides about clad only in a bath towel. Patricia Cutts gets the biggest of the many laughs in the film with a two-word part. She’s a hospital patient. When Grant sneaks through her room, she yells “Stop!” (in a voice that means “Stop!”). Then she puts on her glasses, takes a good look at him and says, “Stop?” (in a voice that means “Don’t stop”).
Hitchcock takes Eva Marie Saint and turns her into an ice-covered volcano in the love passages. By endowing her with a beckoning almost unattainable glamour, he’s done for her what he did for Grace Kelly in Rear Window and Dial M for Murder. “It’s much better than flying,” Grant murmurs on one occasion when coming out of her arms. Throughout the script, Ernest Lehman has supplied the stars with a series of scintillating and unstrained-for bright lines.
Now you listen to me, I’m an advertising man, not a red herring. I’ve got a job, a secretary, a mother, two ex-wives and several bartenders that depend upon me, and I don’t intend to disappoint them all by getting myself “slightly” killed.
The plot evolves from the efforts of C.I.A. chief (Leo G. Carroll) to force the hand of a group of enemy agents by placing a mythical “Mr. Caplan” on their trail. Hotel rooms are booked for “Mr. Caplan” wherever the spies are known to be active and luggage is placed in them. The espionage chief (James Mason) rises to the bait by having “Mr. Caplan” paged at New York’s Plaza Hotel (all settings in the picture are authentic locations). By coincidence, Grant speaks to the paging bellboy and is caught up and involved in a fight for life with shadowy forces. At times everyone thinks he is crazy but, like Hamlet, he is “but mad north-north-west”; when the wind is southerly he knows “a hawk from a handsaw.”
Hitchcock’s storytelling supplies a number of devices that could be studied with advantage by students of screen literature. He lets the audience in on the fact that there is no “Mr. Caplan” at the precise moment when it is getting tired of being bewildered. Stressing human values rather than gimmicks, he doesn’t introduce the “weenie” (a ceramic figure containing microfilm) until the latter part of the picture. By letting us see a minor heavy (Adam Williams) drawing on a pair of black gloves, he alerts us to the fact a crime is contemplated without disclosing its nature. Only after Ober has done a terrific laugh-getting takeum in the midst of a normal conversation does the camera pull back to reveal that a knife has been thrown into his back. Another offbeat note is struck by giving the hero a bird-brained gold-digging mother (portrayed with fine superficiality by Jessie Royce Landis).
The film is a spy stroke masterpiece.
Cary Grant as Roger Thornhill
Eve Marie Saint as Eve Kendell
James Mason as Phillip Van Damm