Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Flick of the Week: "How does a girl like you get to be a girl like you?"

I love movies.

When I was 16 I started doing a list of my favourite 100 films. I used to update the list every couple of months or so, which in retrospect strikes me as a tad weird, given that I saw nothing wrong with my tastes changing over the course of 60 days. To me it was kind of like a Top 100 Album countdown, and so it was natural that some would go up, other would go down.

I am somewhat OCD about lists and stats, so I kept score of which films rose up the list the most over the previous list, which fell the most, the weeks each film had been in the top 10, and also grouped them in genres. This was before imdb and the like, and so I needed my memory and all of that obsessive type of personality to be able debate with myself over whether, say, Superman should be 83rd or whether the previous list’s number 90 was now a bit better and should move up (seriously I was certifiable).

When imdb came along, I was in heaven and jumped into its voting system with a vengeance. I now have voted on 1770 titles in imdb (it’s amazing what procrastination is able to achieve). For the record I have given 41 films a ranking of 1 out of 10, most recently Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull (I just hated that movie with every fibre of my being).

Now to channel my obsessive disorder away from imdb, each week I will write a little blurb on a ‘Flick of the Week’. To choose the following week’s flick I’ll use a Kevin Bacon Game type process and pick a film that someone from the cast or crew of this week’s flick is connected with. Sometimes it’ll be deliberate, other times I’ll just randomly hit on a name on imdb and see where it takes me.

* * *
This week’s flick is North by Northwest, and it is perhaps myall-time favourite movie.

I don’t think it is the best movie ever, but when it comes to give me a big bag of popcorn, comfy couch and an enjoyable two hours in front of the screen, there are not many that will beat this great Hitchcock and Ernest Lehman film.

I give special mention to Lehman because it is as much his film as it is Hitchcock’s. The two of them one day were brainstorming about various stories and scenes when Hitchcock said he wanted to film a chase scene across Mount Rushmore and that he also wanted to do scene in the UN General Assembly where one of the delegates is found to be dead. (You can read more about this on the imdb trivia page, but most of the stuff there comes straight from William Goldman’s great book about Hollywood, Which Lie Did I Tell?). From those meagre bones Lehman wrote the greatest thriller/adventure script ever.

Among all the things I love about this film, the scenes I love the most are those on the train from New York to Chicago. Whenever I watch the film I am filled with a desire to go on an overnight train journey. Of course train journeys for the most part do not involve swapping double entendres with Eva Marie Saint in the dining car.

In fact, the only train trip of any great length I have taken was between Sydney and Albury. It ranks among the longest 8 hours of my life, sitting in the economy carriage; cramped; no legroom; no sleeping carriage; no witty conversation; no being chased by internaitonal spies; no dining carriage; no fun.

But of course in North by Northwest they do have a dining room, where Cary Grant orders a Gibson and Eva Maire Saint recommends the brook trout “a little trouty, but still good” and then breathlessly explains that she never discusses love on an empty stomach (originally, never "makes love"). Now I’ve never even had a Gibson; and I doubt that I'll ever be classy enough to order it, nevertheless when I watch Grant and Marie Saint I can imagine that I will be.

The film is the personification of “it’s not the destination that’s important, but the journey”. Grant is advertising executive Roger O Thornhill, who is mistaken as a spy by the bad guys, and Eva Marie Saint is Eve Kendall, a woman with a past, and maybe more than a few secrets. But really all that is just plot. Forget about it, and enjoy the ride.

It’s a spy thriller, where you don’t care so much about the spying.

It’s an action film, where by today’s standards there is very little action – but you don’t care.

It’s a love story where by today’s standards there is very little ‘love’ – and yes the film is better for it.

It is the ultimate, they don’t make ‘em like this anymore movie.

It’s James Mason as a bad guy; it’s Eva Marie Saint as the love interest; it’s Cary Grant as Cary Grant; it’s Hitchcock. C’mon, what more do you need?!

Best lines (geez this is tough, but apart from the title above, I’ll go with):

Roger Thornhill: The moment I meet an attractive woman, I have to start pretending I have no desire to make love to her.
Eve Kendall: What makes you think you have to conceal it?
Roger Thornhill: She might find the idea objectionable.
Eve Kendall: Then again, she might not.

Nope, I'll never be able to pull that off.

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