Friday, January 1, 2010

The 39 Steps and North by Northwest

The Castro had a Alfred Hitchcock series in December. Actually, the Stanford Theater also had a Hitchcock series in September but I didn't see any.

I was able to catch a double feature at the Castro which consisted of The 39 Steps (1935) starring Robert Donat and North by Northwest (1959) starring Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint and James Mason.

I had not previously seen The 39 Steps. It was one of Hitchcock's English films. I haven't seen many of his earlier works; as in before he came to Hollywood. The 39 Steps caught my attention because it has been adapted for the stage and the touring company received good reviews. The stage version is playing at the Curran Theater until January 3.

As for the film, it was enjoyable. Hitchcock focused more on humor and romance than suspense. The best scenes occur when Donat and Madeleine Carroll are handcuffed together and forced to pose as husband and wife although they're not fooling the innkeepers who think they are furtive lovers. The plot revolves around Richard Hannay (Donat). He goes to a music hall one night. Shots are fired and he exits with a mysterious woman who claims spies are trying to smuggle state secrets out of the country. Hannay is skeptical until the woman turns up dead in his apartment the next morning. Hannay sets off to Scotland to find a man with the tip of his pinkie finger missing (no he isn't a Yakuza). The specifics of the rest of the film aren't important except to say Hannay and later to be joined by Pamela (Carroll) try to stay one step ahead of the bad guys while simultaneously trying to figure out how the spies will smuggle out the secrets.

North by Northwest is considered by many to be Hitchcock's best film. I don't know if I've ever seen the film in one sitting. I know I've never seen it on the big screen. I was greatly entertained. Cary Grant was at the top of his game showing admirable savoir faire for an ad executive (think Mad Men) ensnared by a case of mistaken identity and confronted with spies intent on killing him. Grant eludes the spies and police and still has time to romance Eva Marie Saint while always ready with a quip. Martin Landau as the henchman was quite menacing. I've never noticed this before but James Mason makes a statement ("You're just jealous") to Landau that gives the impression the two are gay lovers.

For those who may not be familiar with the film, there is a scene with a crop duster airplane that ranks as one of the best in cinematic history. The climax takes place on Mt. Rushmore and is equally memorable.


That may be all the films I viewed in 2009. I feel like I'm missing one from December but I don't have my list in front of me. I did not get to 365 films this year. I think the count was in the 340's and the average cost was ~$6.85/film.

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