Presentation on theme: "North By Northwest (1959) Artemus Ward Dept. of Political Science Northern Illinois University."— Presentation transcript:
North By Northwest (1959) Artemus Ward Dept. of Political Science Northern Illinois University
Title - Meaning What does the title “North by Northwest” mean? How does it relate to the film? It was taken from a line in Hamlet, which, like Hitchcock’s film, also concerns itself with shifting perceptions of reality: Hamlet, Act II, scene 2: “I am but mad north-north-west. When the wind is southerly, I know a hawk from a handsaw...” Perhaps, more slyly, and Hitchcock was very sly, it's that the action climaxes after a trip from Chicago to Rapid City, South Dakota. Via Northwest Orient Airlines. In a northerly, actually northwesterly, direction.
The Maguffin (McGuffin) “[We] have a name in the studio, and we call it the 'Maguffin.' It is the mechanical element that usually crops up in any story. In crook stories it is most always the necklace and in spy stories it is most always the papers.” – Alfred Hitchcock, 1939 lecture at Columbia University. “It might be a Scottish name, taken from a story about two men in a train. One man says, 'What's that package up there in the baggage rack?' And the other answers, 'Oh that's a McGuffin.' The first one asks 'What's a McGuffin?' 'Well' the other man says, 'It's an apparatus for trapping lions in the Scottish Highlands.' The first man says, 'But there are no lions in the Scottish Highlands,' and the other one answers 'Well, then that's no McGuffin!' So you see, a McGuffin is nothing at all.” – Alfred Hitchcock, 1966 interview with Francois Truffaut. What is the Maguffin in North by Northwest? In this case, the Maguffin is the hidden microfilm. Janet Leigh and Alfred Hitchcock on the set of Psycho (1960).
The Early Years Within a year of V-J Day in 1945, a slew of movies mythologizing the OSS—the CIA’s World War II forerunner— were playing at theaters everywhere. But from the beginning the CIA was more interested in staying behind the scenes than being on the screens: –They bought the rights to George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” and changed the ending of the subsequent 1954 movie to suit U.S. political interests. –They encouraged Hollywood producers to use well-dressed black actors in films to offset Soviet charges of American racism.
Early Portrayals of CIA Agents The CIA agents portrayed in the film (e.g. the Professor, Eve Kendall) never profess to be CIA and are never identified as such. Roger Thornhill: You're police, aren't you? Or is it FBI? The Professor: FBI, CIA, ONI... we're all in the same alphabet soup. The first identified CIA agent to appear in a mainstream film may have been Felix Leiter (played by Jack Lord) in 1962’s “Dr. No.” In nine James Bond movies he was played by eight different actors. He was never sexy, never got the girl, and always played second or third or fifth fiddle.
KGB? The KGB was the national security agency of the Soviet Union from 1954 until 1991 though its origins date back to the Bolshevik Revolution. Who are the Soviet spies in North by Northwest? They are Americans/English who seamlessly blend into a cultured, upper class American landscape of mansions and auction houses. Do you think this scared American audiences during the height of the Cold War (1959)?
Martin Landau as Leonard How is it that Vandamm’s No. 2 Leonard (played by Martin Landau) is the one to discover that Eve Kendall is an American spy? Because Leonard not only worked for Vandamm, he was also in love with him. He was jealous of Van Damm’s relationship with Eve from the start which made it easier to discover her true identity. He “shoots” Vandamm to express his anger that Vandamm chose Kendall over him and thereby jeopardized their mission. Landau has confirmed that Leonard was gay.
Cold War Paranoia North by Northwest suggests that the Cold War between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. is not only serious but that the U.S. is losing: Roger Thornhill: I don't like the games you play, Professor. The Professor: War is hell, Mr. Thornhill. Even when it's a cold war. Roger Thornhill: If you fellows can't whip the VanDamm's of this world without asking girls like her to bed down with them and probably never come back, perhaps you should lose a few cold wars. The Professor: I'm afraid we're already doing that. Did Cold War-era films help fan the flames of anti-communist, Red Scare McCarthyism causing American’s to build bomb shelters and turn on one another to expose communist sympathizers?
PostScript: Where’s Hitch? Alfred Hitchcock appeared in each of his films. Did you spot him in North by Northwest? How do you suppose Hitchcock appeared in Lifeboat (1944) where the entire film takes place on a small lifeboat in the middle of the ocean or in Rope (1948) where the entire film takes place in a Manhattan apartment?
Conclusion North by Northwest is an one of the earliest American spy films. The CIA exercised control of their portrayal in motion pictures behind the scenes, which is exemplified by the agents never being identified as CIA in the film. The film reflects American Cold-War paranoia about communist sympathizers and losing ground to the Soviets.
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