The Last Hurrah: Cary Grant – Alfred Hitchcock & North By Northwest

003-alfred-hitchcock-theredlist“Hitch and I sat down one day and worked out a certain character which became the basis for all the comedies I played in after that. In the films I made with Hitchcock the humor relieved the suspense.” – Cary Grant.

Both men had been in the movie business for quite some time when they first collaborated together in 1941 on Suspicion.

It wasn’t a happy occasion for either one. No personal animosity existed between them (in fact this occasion began a lifetime friendship).

It’s just Grant wasn’t really feeling it towards his co-star Joan Fontaine who had worked quite successfully with Hitchcock the previous year, garnering an Academy Award as Best Actress for Rebecca.

Grant and Hitchcock both were not happy with the studio’s decision to change the ending of Suspicion. RKO executives did not want to be the ones to mess with Grant’s image and rising popularity by having him play a murderer. Therefore it was decided to re-shoot the final scene to make the whole movie look like a series of misunderstandings. Johnny Aysgarth (Grant) wasn’t trying to kill his wife even though when you watch the film it was obvious he was trying to do just that.

Grant and Joan Fountain. Publicity photo for Suspicion (1941). The two were not all that into each other

Nevertheless Suspicion became the first of four classics Hitchcock and Grant would make over the next eighteen years. Notorious (1946) is arguably the finest of these. A stellar cast with great chemistry between Ingrid Bergman and Grant whose portrayal of a government agent is a masterclass in how to be suave and neurotic simultaneously.

A decade later came To Catch A Thief (1955). This was a comeback for Grant who after starring in several box office duds decided to go into semi-retirement. Hitchcock talked him into coming back and teaming with Grace Kelly the woman who by now was the prototypical Hitchcock heroine.

Blonde, beautiful and ice cool, Grant considered the future princess the most honest and memorable actress he ever shared the screen with.

It didn’t hurt matters that the setting was the French Riviera (Bob Burks won and Academy Award for his beautiful cinematography). The movie was a smash and Cary Grant was back.

Hitchcock and Grant would only work together one more time. Unfortunate but if you had to choose a way to go out on a high note you couldn’t do much better than North By Northwest.

800px-North_by_Northwest_movie_trailer_screenshot_(8)1Released in 1959 by MGM the film employs one of Hitchcock’s favorite devices: the case of mistaken identity. Roger Thornhill (Grant) is an advertising executive who gets mistaken for a government agent by an enemy spy (James Mason) and his henchmen. Thornhill escapes their initial attempt to kill him but afterwards cannot convince anybody including the police and his own mother of what happened.

Determined to prove to himself and his mom (deliciously played by Jessie Royce Landis) that he’s not crazy, Thornhill tries to track down the man he’s mistaken for. Along the way his pursuit of the truth gets another man killed and pretty soon Thornhill is on the run from the law.

Enter the cool blond this time in the the form of Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint) who helps Thornhill but has a big time ulterior motive for doing so. Before long Grant has police across the country and enemy agents in hot pursuit along with an interest he’s not so sure he can trust.

Cary and the new ice cool blonde played by Eva Marie Saint

This is Hitchcock at his best. Stylish direction while setting the action in the most incredible of places and inviting the audience to come along for the ride. He wasn’t called the master of suspense for nothing and North By Northwest perfectly showcases why he earned that title. Yet unlike a lot of contemporary thrillers there is a wonderful blend of comedy throughout the film.

Cary and Eva trying to negotiate Mt Rushmore

And Grant? He’s older and just as suave but it’s a lot different than many actors who have done this genre of film. Nothing shallow going on here. Grant is a man desperately trying to clear his name. There’s no suddenly becoming James Bond and taking charge. He’s in over his head and knows it. The only thing he can do is try to survive.The film is gorgeous with a terrific score by Bernard Herrmann and an excellent cast. She may not be Grace Kelly but Eva Marie Saint (Academy Award Best Actress for On The Waterfront 1954) does an admirable job along with Martin Landau and James Mason who could recite the phone book and sound great doing it.

Grant would retire from films in 1966. Hitchcock would continue until the mid-seventies. His output by that point had gotten sparse and frankly the magic of his genius just wasn’t really there. It can’t always be the best of the best that’s just how life is. But when you have Cary Grant and Alfred Hitchcock making classics like North By Northwest it’s easy to fall into the trap of asking why can’t it?

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