North By Northwest

So it’s not the greatest Hitchcock film starring Cary Grant (that would be “Notorious”). It’s not the best Hitchcock film that includes a seduction on a train by a long shot — “The Lady Vanishes” and “The Thirty-Nine Steps” do the boy-meets-girl business much, much better. The mistaken identity business is done much better in “The Thirty-Nine Steps,” too. And Grant’s character’s problems with his mother pale in comparison with those of Norman Bates.

But let’s not be too picky. Grant is terribly charming in this picture and at the top of his form. Eva Marie Saint is lovely, and it’s nice to see her happy and prosperous after “On the Waterfront.” James Mason is delightfully suave as the bad guy. He leaves the sinister stuff to Martin Landau, and that seems exactly right. Landau always struck me as rather sinister in “Mission Impossible.”

Speaking of 60s television, those of us of a certain age get to see a number of favorite spy characters in “North by Northwest.” Mr. Waverly (Leo G. Carroll) from “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” has a nice role as Grant’s C.I.A. handler, and the Chief (Ed Platt) from “Get Smart” makes a cameo too. If you pay attention, you’ll even catch Wally Powers (Edward Binns) from “It Takes a Thief.”

The trailer’s a classic!