Favorite Classic Movie
This was another category that suffered from the use of vague language. What is a classic movie? What criteria would you use to define a classic? I think what determines a classic film is the same thing that determines a classic piece of literature: the test of time. No film or literature of substandard quality will survive that test. The key to passing this test of time is a work’s universal appeal. This asks for my favorite, not the most classic, so I am pleased to share my favorite classic movie, North By Northwest.
Alfred Hitchcock made so many movies, but there are three in particular that are generally considered to be his best: Vertigo (1958), North by Northwest (1959), and Psycho (1960). North by Northwest was nominated for Academy Awards for its screenplay, art direction, and editing, but lost all three to Ben-Hur. It placed 40th on the American Film Institute’s 1998 list of the best movies of all time, and it has consistently ranked in the top 50 as ranked by IMDB users.
The 1950s were a great decade for Alfred Hitchcock. He had so many hits with Strangers on a Train, Dial M for Murder, Rear Window, To Catch a Thief, and The Man Who Knew Too Much. He also had a TV show, Alfred Hitchcock Presents. But in 1958, Vertigo was released and failed to impress critics or audiences. Hitchcock was undoubtedly disappointed by this and couldn’t know that Vertigo would eventually be considered one of his masterpieces. But he vowed that his next project would be a more tested and tried effort that would be more of a crowd-pleaser. The film was a box-office hit, second only to Ben-Hur for the year, and got positive reviews from critics.
It starred Cary Grant as Roger Thornhill a New York advertising executive who is mistakenly identified as a secret government agent, this put a target on his back. Then he’s framed for murder, this puts him on the run from the police as well as the bad guys. While on the run, he meets Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint), who apparently believes his story and wants to help. I’m not going to give you any more about the plot because I want everyone to see it. It has so many iconic scenes and it is still powerful today. It influenced a whole genre of action-suspense-espionage movies. Only three years after its release, the first James Bond film, Dr. No, appeared. Of course, James Bond is a spy, whereas Roger Thornhill was only mistaken for one. But both films have implausible action sequences in outrageous locations like Mount Rushmore. They both have beautiful but mysterious women who take an interest in the hero. And both have a well-dressed leading man who is suave, has a knack for one-liners, a fondness for liquor. You can probably think of dozens of movies since 1959 that have operated on those same principles.
With North by Northwest, Hitchcock tweaked the basic man-on-the-run story with witty dialogue, charismatic performances, and visually arresting action sequences. He demonstrated that these elements of basic popular entertainment, which are sadly looked down upon by some who call themselves critics, could be applied to big-budget studio films. He showed that a movie could be entertaining, thrilling, and funny, smart and well-produced. It didn’t have to choose to be either high-brow or low-brow. North By Northwest is an extremely entertaining thrill ride. There is not a lot of substance or meaning to it, it is just a tremendously fun roller coaster ride that Hitchcock takes us on. When I first saw it as a kid, I was hooked. And it set a precedent for hundreds of blockbusters that followed in its wake.