Lights, camera, ACTION: North by Northwest

For the next couple of weeks, I will be focusing on topics related to the television show, On Story, airing every Sunday at 5:30 on Panhandle PBS. The parameters for my blogs become challenging, especially when I am presented with a topic that is practically foreign to my filmic lexicon. I sense this Sunday’s topic will be a celebrated one for most: action! Action films are not my forté. If something is blowing up or focusing on world domination, I am usually in the next theatre or room. I wanted to challenge myself to find two action films I thoroughly enjoy. In the end, I feel like my choices are cheating ever so slightly and one involves Nicolas Cage (which will be a definite disappointment to many).

A beautiful matte painting for North by Northwest.

A beautiful matte painting for North by Northwest.

To begin, as I always do, I must choose a film from Classical Hollywood because I have to enforce the belief on my readers that classic is best. The film chosen has chase sequences, explosions, deceit, mistaken identity, and overtones of the Red Scare in the 1950s. If that doesn’t sell you on the idea, then the director’s name surely will…

This better make you laugh.

This better make you laugh.

Hitchcock.

When asked my favourite Hitchcock film, I volley back and forth between various options in his filmography, but the most consistent answer is North by Northwest (1959). I’ve had the privilege of seeing this treasure on the big screen twice and I believe that influenced my opinion of the film overall. The spectacle of the action in this film are driven by a Hitchcockian invention known as, the “MacGuffin.” What is a MacGuffin? Watch this short clip below as the Master of Suspense explains.

The MacGuffin in North by Northwest is the microfilm coveted by the villain, Phillip Vandamm. The microfilm, alongside the mistaken identity, carries the plot along but also provokes much of the action. One of the most iconic scenes takes place in a corn field as Roger O. Thornhill/George Kaplan (Cary Grant) as he is led there under false pretenses because Vandamm wants him dead. This scene, my friends, is proof there is no need for rapid editing, overblown CGI, fast cars, or robots to create a proper and entertaining action sequence.

In my opinion, action has become synonymous with pace to keep up with our decreased attention spans… and maybe people would be completely bored with North by Northwest, but I challenge them to find a more compelling shot in the history of action films than this:

Run, Cary, Run.

Run, Cary, Run

Maybe North by Northwest pales in comparison to today’s action films, but I believe many of the feats accomplished in filmmaking would not have been possible without the influence of Alfred Hitchcock’s contribution to creating suspense.

Stay tuned for my next action flick…

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2 comments

  1. Jeff Walker · · Reply

    Borrowed your Beatles book from your Dad. It was entertaining. I remember some of the hoopla when I was younger. Thanks again, Jeff

    1. I hope you enjoyed it! Thanks for commenting. 🙂

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