The master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock, inspired the James Bond films by directing a spy thriller in 1959 with all the same DNA: North by Northwest.
Three years before 007 made its big screen debut in Dr. NoAlfred Hitchcock laid the groundwork by making a movie full of James Bond DNA: from north to northwest. Cary Grant stars as an advertising executive on the run after mistaken identity. He is pursued by foreign spies and falls in love with a mysterious woman with obscure motives. The brilliant and thrilling action-thriller is known for its iconic sequences in which Grant, as Roger Thornhill, is chased by a dustman and battles the film’s antagonists atop Mount Rushmore. One of many collaborations between Hitchcock and Grant, from north to northwest was a massive hit that clearly influenced what was to come in the case of popcorn entertainment and Britain’s greatest super spy.
Author Ian Flemming had been writing James Bond books since 1953, but Hitchcock, who had been working in film since the early 1920s, wanted a hit after fear of heights met with critical confusion in 1958. The director decided to do something light, fun, and stuffed with scenery that he always wanted to include but never got the right story to do it with. Producers were eager to turn Fleming’s Bond books into movies (his first book, Casino Royale had already been the basis for an hour-long television show in 1954), but finding the right cast, securing funding, and choosing the right novel to adapt (they wanted to start with thunder ball), proved to be difficult. Action movies, especially Hitchcock’s earlier, unrealized projects, contained similar themes and styles, but not to the degree that we see here.
by Hitchcock from north to northwest became a prototype for future James Bond films, especially Sean Connery’s early installments. The central character of the 1959 thriller is a suavely-suited Briton who is irresistible to women. He is charming and quick-witted. The girl he pursues, Eve Kendall, played by Eva Marie Saint, is too flirtatious but hides her loyalty, which is a staple trait of almost all Bond girls. The bad guys are also swanky foreign agents, chasing a MacGuffin, which in this case, is precious microfilm. When all of those ingredients come together, plus a few spectacles like some good chase and fight sequences, the result is a spy thriller that could easily swap Connery and Roger Moore’s version of Bond for Roger Thornhill of Grant.
The second James Bond film, 1963 From Russia with loveis actually directly inspired by from north to northwest with its helicopter chase inspired by the latter’s dusting sequence, as well as its extensive train sequence. Much of Hitchcock’s film also takes place on a train, and the master of suspense knows how to draw intensity from such confined scenes. The greatest connection between from north to northwest and the James Bond franchise, however, is Cary Grant. Due to his performance in the Hitchcock film, Grant was actually offered the role of 007 before other actors, such as Connery, who appeared in seven Bond films. But a deal was not reached, as the star only wanted to appear in one episode, as opposed to multiple sequels.
Ultimately, it’s hard to imagine any James Bond films existing without from north to northwest. While it’s likely they would have been produced in the 1960s, it was this 1959 spy thriller that proved this type of film could work and be a huge hit. If that hadn’t happened, the early Bond movies might have looked and felt different or would have taken a lot longer trying to find their tone and style. Alfred Hitchcock followed from north to northwest with his most emblematic and intimate project, psychologybut it was his over-the-top spy hobby project that had perhaps the greatest influence in film.
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