Saturday, September 18, 2010

To Catch a Thief, Go North by Northwest

On Friday night, I played hookey from Yom Kippur evening services and Amy and I headed to the Aero Theater, where American Cinematheque is in the middle of a Hitchcock tribute. Friday's double feature comprised two of the movies Cary Grant made with Hitchcock: NORTH BY NORTHWEST and TO CATCH A THIEF.

NORTH BY NORTHWEST is my favorite Hitchcock movie. I have it on laserdisc, and I've seen it several times. I'd seen TO CATCH A THIEF once, on a pan-and-scan VHS cassette with bad Copyguard problems (the top of the frame skewed to the left). I didn't recall much from it, except that when I rented it I mistook it for the similarly-titled 1960's TV series, IT TAKES A THIEF.

Seeing NORTH BY NORTHWEST on the big screen was a delight (even though we had bad seats -- to the left of the screen, and close up) and brought out how painterly the late '50's Technicolor could make a movie. TO CATCH A THIEF also looked great on a big screen, especially since so many of the movie's charms are visual. THIEF doesn't have the action or suspense that NORTHWEST packs; but it has beautiful scenery (the French Riveria, with lots of helicopter shots of the hills and water), beautiful costumes (from Edith Head -- when the plot calls for an 18th-century-themed masquerade, the camera lingers on the details of each period costume), and beautiful people (Grant and Grace Kelly, who met her future husband during the movie shoot).

While Grant does get to look Ninja-cool in THIEF, decked out in black and lurking on rooftops, nothing compares with NORTHWEST, the movie that influenced all the spy flicks and TV series in the '60's. NORTHWEST even boasts actors who would later be in three of the top spy series of the swinging sixties: MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE (Martin Landau), GET SMART (Edward Platt), and THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. (Leo G. Carroll).

As an added treat, Eva Marie Saint strolled onto the stage at the front of the Aero Theater between movies, to answer questions about her role in NORTHWEST and other movies. Ms. Saint was all old-school-movie-star charm and dry wit. And her looks prove that fine cheekbones survive the decades. ("No Botox!" she exclaimed.) She discussed tidbits about the production, such as how Hitchcock avoided contemporary fashions in his movies because he thought nothing "dated" a movie worse than clothing. Another is that the Wright-type house on top of Mt. Rushmore in the movie didn't exist in real life. It was just a painting on a scrim on the soundstage. The Mt. Rushmore face on which the actors crawled in the climax was also a soundstage mockup -- although high enough up that there were padded mats on the floor to catch the actors if they fell.

The demand for this showing was so high that the theater was filled and many people were turned away. (And the Aero is a fairly large theater.) Just goes to show that well-made movies on the big screen can still pack 'em in.

No comments: