Tuesday, September 22, 2009
'North By Northwest': A Tale of Cars
My wife and I just watched Hitchcock's 1959 "North by Northwest," she for the first time, I for about the 20th, and I found myself concentrating this time on the makes and models of the various cars that I grew up with.
I was 13 when the movie was made and a common pastime for boys my age was to recite the make and model of as many cars as we'd see in a day. They were distinct designs and each fall we eagerly awaited the new model year, created by Misters Sloan and Kettering of General Motors in 1939.
The cars were marvels of design, some with huge fins, others with holdover art deco fender effects. There were fender skirts, removable hard tops, diagonal double lights, and grilles that looked like shark teeth. Still others featured that newfangled push-button drive or power steering-windows-brakes.
They had white sidewall tires (some "port-a-walls," which pealed off to reveal black tires), indented safety steering wheels (but no safety belts or air bags) and most of them--even the taxicabs--came in at least two tones of color: green on green, black and pink, blue on blue, yellow and black (cabs).
"North By Northwest" was a wonderland of cars (the white 1959 Lincoln Premier was to die for), all big enough for the whole family, pets and a few in-laws to drive up at the Dairy Queen and order a large chocolate-dipped cone.
The movie is always as I remember: just as perfectly sculptured as the cars with the dashing Cary Grant and the lovely Eva Marie Saint, the sinister but suave James Mason and the always watchable Leo G. Carroll. Martin Landau, as a junior grade bad guy gave my wife the creeps. She loved the movie, but missed the opening scenes--stolen by Jessie Royce Landis as Cary Grant's society-occupied mother.
The one thing I've never figured out: what in the hell does the title mean?