Reviewed by: Brett Willis
|Featuring:||Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason, Jesse Royce Landis, Leo G. Carroll|
This film is generally considered one of Alfred Hitchcock’s best pieces of work. Once the central character is mistaken for a spy, the pace never lets up.
Advertising exec Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant), dining out with business associates, stands up to summon a waiter just as the name “George Kaplan” is being paged. The page was called in by Communist spies who are trying to intercept the Western agent, Kaplan, before he exposes them. The bad guys (including James Mason and Martin Landau) immediately abduct Thornhill, grill him, drug him and attempt to send him over a cliff in a stolen car. Thornhill escapes; but in setting out to prove his innocence of car theft, he is later accused of murder. Now he journeys across the country, on the run from the Soviet spies as well as the police and the FBI, trying to find the real Kaplan and set everything straight. Memorable scenes include the U.N. confrontation, the lethal crop-duster plane and the Mount Rushmore chase.
Content: There are a few on-screen killings. Thornhill uses d* a few times. A U.S. spy agency, realizing that Thornhill is in trouble because of mistaken identity, decides to let him be killed rather than have an agent’s cover blown. The agency also requires a female agent to “spy with her body.” Thornhill meets the mysterious Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint) on a passenger train, and the mutual seduction scene in the dining car is very similar to the restaurant scene in “Fatal Attraction” 30 years later, even to Thornhill lighting Eve’s cigarette and Eve resting her hand too long over his. The result is also the same, except that it’s not shown explicitly. This scene, and the implied sex afterward, were very bold for 1959. The old sexual double standard is here; Thornhill looks down on Eve for doing the same thing that he does. The film ends abruptly; the action cuts from the spy vs. spy finale to the newly-married heroes getting into a passenger train sleeping car berth, and then to an exterior shot of the train entering a tunnel. Hitchcock once deadpanned to a group of reporters that the interlock of the last two scenes was supposed to be a phallic symbol, but that they shouldn’t tell anyone.
I’d rate this film as very good in its category and not overly offensive for today’s audiences. The film hasn’t changed; but thanks to the work of Hitchcock and other “pioneers,” society’s standards have changed so that what was once outrageous is now considered tame.