Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Cinema Style File--Alfred Hitchcock Style in 1959's NORTH BY NORTHWEST

It's no secret that I absolutely adore Alfred Hitchcock.  Together with his talented production team, he created a style so strong and sublime that I often long to live my life within one of his movies...though perhaps without the death-defying suspense.  This is particularly true of my adoration of his regular costume designer, Edith Head, who was perhaps the single greatest influence on my personal style.  When I saw 1954's Rear Window for the first time decades ago, I recall it resonating within me. "That," I remember saying, "is how I always want to dress."

1959's North by Northwest is another of Hitchcock's best, from both the standpoint of style as well as story.  It's all a case of mistaken identity, so once we pass the credits ending with Hitchcock's charming cameo missing a bus, we are engaged in a ride that's unrelenting until the final cliffhanger--literally--on Mount Rushmore.  That climax is only one of two iconic moments in the movie, too.  Even those who have never seen North by Northwest know of the ever suave and sophisticated Cary Grant being chased by a crop-duster in the middle of nowhere, a scene originally created by Hitch's talented screenwriter, Ernest Lehman.

One of the things I love about the style of this movie is how controlled the overall palette is.  It starts with the cinematography of one of my favorites, Robert Burks, who gives the film a slight dustiness that's echoed in the locations and action.  It is also echoed by the costumes, having the men dressed in shades of gray throughout and even much of the women's wardrobe is in grays, browns, and black as well.  Interestingly, Edith is not entirely responsible for the wardrobe in this film.  Though her established style was certainly kept in mind, costume designing duties were apparently split between Savile Row and Hitchcock himself.  British label Kilgour (and possibly Los Angeles label Quintino as well) collaborated with Cary on the design of his classic suits, which he kept after shooting ended.  And bursts of color on the cool blonde, Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint), were the result of a shopping spree with her director at Bergdorf Goodman.  This includes the radiant red floral silk dress--an inspiration for our current springtime floral trend--and orange wool ensemble as Eve fights for her life at the end of the picture.

Whether you've never seen North by Northwest or you've seen it a million times as I have, I know you'll enjoy this collection of stylish stills from the film.  Not surprisingly, several outfits strongly influenced choices in my own modern wardrobe...even without my hero Ms. Head at the helm.

Cary Grant's advertising exec, Roger Thornhill, rushing with his secretary to his next New York meeting

Sophisticated leader of the espionage ring, Phillip Vandamm (James Mason)
mistakes Roger Thornhill for another spy and tries to drive him off a cliff after plying him with alcohol

The chase begins at the Plaza Hotel and works its way to the train to South Dakota

Lucky--or unlucky?--for Roger, he has Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint) looking out for him

Love love love the lines of this smart black suit and
leather purse with an emerald pendant to help bring out her eyes

Eve gives directions for a date with doom while dressed appropriately all in black

The signature dress of North by Northwest, Eve entices in this nearly off-the-shoulder red floral silk dress

Wearing a smart blue-gray dress, brown purse, and pearls,
Eve pulls off an elaborate ruse to help Roger get away

Even the cars are lovely to look at in Hitchcock movies

Often mistaken for actual architecture,
production designers were asked to create a house in the vein of Frank Lloyd Wright

Even while frantically figuring out how to get away from the spies,
Eve looks incredible in an orange wool suit and scarves

The finale of North by Northwest closely resembled another of Hitchcock's--Saboteur--
that was also about espionage and characters who clung for their lives off the Statue of Liberty

Roger's inspiring words to get Eve to hang on..."You can do it, Mrs. Thornhill."


DorianTB said...

Being a major Alfred Hitchcock fan as well as the daughter of a stylish clotheshorse, your post about NORTH BY NORTHWEST (NxNW) fashion was catnip to me! What beautiful photos! Did you know that Hitchcock actually took Eva Marie Saint shopping for her NxNW outfits at Bergdorf Goodman? (Look very carefully in the scene where Saint is slipping the auction address into her purse, and you'll see the Bergdorf logo.) Saint joked that during their shopping spree, Hitchcock was her one and only "sugar daddy." :-) If you're interested, here's a link to my blog post about NxNW: http://doriantb.blogspot.com/2011/01/north-by-northwest-mad-men-and.html. Keep those great blog posts coming!

Kimberly Truhler said...

What a marvelous response--thank you! Loved learning even more about North by Northwest through your comment and your blog, which I am now following. : ) It's great to know another passionate fan!

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