North by Northwest | Pure entertainment: Hitchcock's thriller back on the big screen

North by Northwest Cary Grant Eva Marie Saint

North by Northwest Cary Grant Eva Marie Saint

Alfred Hitchcock takes you.... North by Northwest!

Clever, witty and suspenseful, this is easily Hitchcock’s most purely entertaining movie – and one that’s as effortlessly stylish as its hero. Cary Grant was never more debonair than when playing North by Northwest’s hapless protagonist (his natty tailoring was even voted the best suit in cinema history) and James Mason almost matches him for suavity as the villain whose minions mistake Grant’s New York advertising executive for a spy. Oh, and Eva Marie Saint is pretty elegant too as the film’s cool blonde femme fatale.

Intended by screenwriter Ernest Lehman to be “the Hitchcock picture to end all Hitchcock pictures”, the movie is packed with unforgettable moments, including the murder at the UN, the famous crop-duster sequence and the climactic chase across Mount Rushmore. It’s been dubbed “the first James Bond film” and it certainly set the template for the countless freewheeling spy thrillers that followed in its wake - but don’t let that put you off: North by Northwest remains peerless.

Showing at BFI Southbank as part of its 'Who Can You Trust' season of films of suspense, anxiety and paranoia, and around the country from 20 October.

Jason Best

A film critic for over 25 years, Jason admits the job can occasionally be glamorous – sitting on a film festival jury in Portugal; hanging out with Baz Luhrmann at the Chateau Marmont; chatting with Sigourney Weaver about The Archers – but he mostly spends his time in darkened rooms watching films. He’s also written theatre and opera reviews, two guide books on Rome, and competed in a race for Yachting World, whose great wheeze it was to send a seasick film critic to write about his time on the ocean waves. But Jason is happiest on dry land with a classic screwball comedy or Hitchcock thriller.