Watch The Classic Thriller North By Northwest

Hitchcock is always remembered as the master of suspense, the master of the thriller, but the truth is that he cast a much wider net than that. He was a master of more than just suspense. With Psycho, he invented the entire slasher genre and pioneered the “jump” scene. With North by Northwest, he had a whole other ambition in mind: Creating the first big all-action flick. People remember it as a thriller, but it’s really just a great action film.

Everyone has seen the whole airplane chase, or at least a spoof of it, and while that’s truly an incredible scene, it’s only one incredible scene out of several. You rarely see referenced the shootout on the face of Mount Rushmore, nor do you see referenced one of the most inventive car chases ever, wherein Cary Grant has been fed an entire bottle of whiskey and is now being forced to flee the baddies in a car with no brakes.

Modern action films, for all their big budget and star power, rarely have the imagination of this one. There are certainly some exceptions, there are the Crank films, which pile weirdness on top of weirdness, and Shootemup, which had more than enough imagination, but North by Northwest is still a golden standard, and essentially ruins all those boring same-old same-old action flicks.

Context. The main thing this film has is context. Where most action movies will take a hero and some baddies, give them all guns, and call it a day, Hitchcock’s hero is not only in a car chase, he’s in a car chase drunk, with no brakes. When he gets into the crops to escape the plane, it covers the crops with pesticide.

Hitch was the master of suspense, but he was also the master of putting his heroes in over their heads, and that’s how the action in this film works so well. It’s never enough for one problem to exist, but Cary Grant could never solve a problem without creating another one. This just plain made for better action.

It’s too bad that most people who make action films these days have copied Hitchcock’s tropes and turned it into a formula, rather than actually looking at how and why it worked and tried making their own stories from there, coming up with new and fresher ideas.

The film also boasts one of the most direct love scenes of all time, depicting a train going into a tunnel. When X rated films got big in the seventies, Hitchcock said “I don’t know what the big deal is, I already did this with North by Northwest!”

If you haven’t yet, see it. It remains startlingly relevant and exciting all these years later, and makes a perfect antidote to the big budget blockbusters that have the scale and scope of North by Northwest, but not the style.

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