North by Northwest follows New York City advertising executive Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) as he’s mistaken for a government agent and forced to embark on a epic adventure across the country, with Roger’s ongoing efforts at clearing his name helped (and occasionally hindered) by a beautiful woman named Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint). Filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock, armed with Bernard Hermann’s justifiably legendary score, does a superb job of immediately drawing the viewer into the proceedings, with the compulsively watchable atmosphere heightened by Grant’s affable and charming turn as the increasingly perplexed central character. It’s equally clear, however, that the film’s needlessly protracted running time (136 minutes!) ensures that it begins petering out almost immediately, with Hitchcock’s penchant for overlong and flat-out superfluous sequences growing more and more problematic as the thin narrative unfolds. (The majority of the movie is, lamentably, devoted to talky, uneventful stretches and a hopelessly unconvincing love story between Grant and Saint’s respective characters.) Hitchcock, working from Ernest Lehman’s screenplay, sporadically resuscitates one’s dwindling interest with a handful of undeniably engrossing interludes (eg the justifiably legendary crop-duster scene, which remains a highlight), yet there’s little doubt that the frequent lulls (eg Roger’s tedious hotel-room encounter with Eve) inevitably drain the picture of its suspense and tension – with the famed Mount Rushmore finale, as a result, not faring nearly as well as one might’ve hoped. The end result is a tenuously engaging thriller that could’ve used a few more passes through the editing bay, with the otherwise unremarkable movie all-too-often elevated by Hitchcock’s stylish direction and Grant’s compelling performance.
**1/2 out of ****