The Granddad of James Bond
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This is one of the most entertaining movies of all time. The highlight of the movie is its screenplay which is charming, witty, fun and at the same time as Hitchcock-ian in its thrills as any other. Alfred Hitchcock weaves a story of an ‘everyman’ caught in a bizarre and extraordinary situation and his adventures thereof. It is a cinegoer’s delight as it provides pure entertainment and does not have any pretense about its substance.
The plot is about a Madison Avenue advertising executive, Roger Thornhill, who is mistaken for a secret agent called George Kaplan. He is seized by two thugs at a hotel and taken to their boss Lester Townsend. There he is interrogated by Townsend, who is agitated that Roger is steadfast in his denial of being George Kaplan. He therefore orders that Roger be disposed off and to make it look like an accident. Roger is therefore forcefully given a large quantity of bourbon and is put in a stolen car, intending to stage a fatal accident.
However Roger escapes when he is caught by the police and taken into custody for drunken driving. When the next day he brings the police and his mother to the house of Townsend he is surprised to find that the entire setting of the house has been changed from what it was the previous night. Furthermore no one believes his side of the story when a lady of the house reveals that Townsend is in fact a UN diplomat.
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In an effort to prove his innocence Roger visits George Kaplan’s hotel room only to find that the actual George Kaplan is much shorter in height than him. He also finds a picture of Townsend there. In the meanwhile we are shown a meeting of some secret agents where it is revealed to us that George Kaplan is a non-existent spy whom the intelligence agency has created to divert the attention of the enemy.
When Roger reaches the UN he finds out that the man he so far took to be Townsend is someone else. The real Townsend is about to reveal the true identity of Roger’s real abductor when one of the men who earlier tried to kill Roger murders Townsend by throwing a knife. Townsend falls over onto Roger’s arms and Roger inadvertently picks up the knife from Townsend’s body. Everybody thinks that Roger had murdered Townsend and from then on he leads the life of a fugitive.
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While on the run from the law Roger decides to follow Kaplan’s itinerary and go to Chicago. He therefore sneaks into a train to Chicago as there is massive manhunt on for his alleged murder of Townsend. While aboard the train he meets a beautiful young blonde named Eve Kendall, who overtly flirts with him and also goes out of her way to help him escape from the law. Who is this lady and what are her true intentions? Who are the people that are after Roger? Will Roger be able to get out of this mess in one piece? All this forms the rest of the story.
As we have said earlier the highlight of this movie is its screenplay. It is witty, charming and exciting all at the same time. It is a movie that has everything in it; witty dialogues, romance, thrills, action, espionage, mistaken identity and much more. But still the story is not without its share of holes. Most importantly we never find out why the goons actually mistake Roger to be a fictional George Kaplan. The flimsiest of reasons shown in the movie is how the villain’s henchmen see Roger summon a hotel attendant, who is paging Kaplan, and then promptly kidnaps him assuming that he is Kaplan. Also nobody sees the actual killer throwing the knife at the real Townsend even though the deed is done in a fairly crowded lounge at the UN.
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Despite the holes, the movie works because it concentrates on one thing only: that to provide the audience its share of fun and not dwell too much on the details. So much so that what exactly is contained in the McGuffin, a microfilm hidden in a statue, is never revealed even though everybody seems to be after it. But the real star of the movie is Cary Grant. He goes through the role with the ease of a seasoned professional. He is able to carry off some of the dialogues and its cockiness which any other actor would have found hard pressed to do.
Hitchcock’s direction is also exemplary in the movie. His usage of various techniques and methods is assured and as always is able to capture the full attention of his audience. Two sequences in particular are so well done that they have achieved iconic status in the realms of movie history. One is the scene where Cary Grant is being chased by a crop duster in the middle of nowhere. The other is the climatic Mount Rushmore chase scene where the protagonists try to escape the villains by climbing around the faces of the former presidents.
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Don’t go and watch this movie if you are expecting to take some profound meaning from it, because there aren’t any. Don’t go and watch this movie if you like picking through the complexities of a plot, because there aren’t many. Watch it if you want to have a whale of a time and be captivated by some amazing shots, not to mention Cary Grant.