1959: Hitchcock draws the blueprint for Bond movies (and other ’60s spy entertainment)

That blueprint, of course, would be the director’s North by Northwest, which marked its 50th anniversary this year.

The film is normally written about its use of themes such as mistaken identity or use of familiar landmarks as settings that Hitchock employed in his prior films. Still, it’s also striking how the movie also seemed to inspire makers of 1960s spy entertainment.

The documentary Inside From Russia With Love comments on how the second James Bond film tips the cap to Hitchcock by including “an aerial assault on 007” (a helicopter going after Bond) that wasn’t part of Ian Fleming’s original novel. In the Hitchcock film, Cary Grant faced this menace:

North by Northwest’s style may have also rubbed off on the Bond creative crew. Ernest Lehman’s script deftly balanced humor with the story’s suspense. For example, Cary Grant, after being forcibly inebriated by the villain’s henchman, does a double take staring into the camera when the car he’s driving is in a precarious spot on the edge of a cliff. Later, as Grant escapes the custody of U.S. intelligence, he walks on a ledge and into a woman’s hotel room. “Stop,” she says wistfully. It’s not that big a leap to the humor that Richard Maibaum and other screenwriters used in the early 007 movies to provide relief after a tense scene.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E., which like North by Northwest was filmed at MGM, also may have been influenced to some degree. Grant’s Roger Thornhill was, afterall, an innocent sucked into the world of espionage. The MGM television show utilized such characters as a surrogate for the audience. And, of course, U.N.C.L.E. ended up employing regular Hitchcock supporting player Leo G. Caroll, whose Alexander Waverly wasn’t all that much different than North by Northwest’s mysterious “Professor,” who is some kind of high-ranking U.S. spymaster.

Finally, Saul Bass provided Hitchcock with stylish titles for North by Northwest. Bass’ titles aren’t the same as the stuff Maurice Binder or Robert Brownjohn would turn out, but the title sequence was, and is, memorable:

5 Responses

  1. From the (New American Library) Signet paperback edition of Ian Fleming’s Thunderball, page 68:

    “Petacchi asked some questions, verified the course set on George, checked the airspeed and altitude. Now everyone in the cockpit was relaxed, almost drowsy. Five more hours to go. Rather a bind missing “North by Northwest” at the Odeon, but one could catch up with it at Southampton.”

    — Recovered by Tom Zielinski

  2. […] as well.  Wes Britton ranks it among the best 30 spy films of all time, and the folks at HMSS say it wrote the blueprint for the 007 films.  I’ve been wanting to watch this one lately, but unfortunately lent my copy out to someone […]

  3. […] noted before how Hitchock’s North by Northwest provided the blueprint for James Bond movies and other ’60… But while homages were paid to Hitchock (From Russia With Love’s helicopter attack on Bond, […]

  4. […] on 1940′s Foreign Correspondent starring Joel McCrea One of the most cited examples was how North by Northwest’s crop-duster plane sequence inspired a scene in From Russia With Love where a helicopter dive bombs 007. The U.K. Daily Mail wrote up how Ian Fleming hoped Hitchcock […]

  5. […] a 2009 post, this blog argued that North by Northwest provided the blueprint for 1960s spy entertainment. SPECTRE is an attempt to replicate that, as well as the […]

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