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Dr. Rich Edwards

Daily Dose #16: It's a Nice Face (Scene from North by Northwest)

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This scene focuses on Eva Marie Saint and introduces her to Grant's character and the audience.

She is another Hitchcock blond, and her face, voice, and movements are examined by the camera.

Many directors attempted to circumvent the production code's strictures, as Hitchcock does here with mild innuendo.  Grant is mostly in motion in this film, and this scene gives him a chance to sit down, talk to his co-star, and get to know her.  

 

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Cary Grant is so handsome and charming. Eva Marie Saint is chic and beautiful. Hitchcock uses both actors as an important prop by having them looking each other in a flirting, playful way. We hear a romantic but faint piece of music over and under the train.

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1) & 2) In this scene, Hitchcock is reminding us that he knew how to pick movie stars for his characters.Cary Grant clearly defines the irresistible, charming, handsome leading man. I also interpret that line to mean," you've seen me in other Hitchcock films. Yes that's me'. Even hiding behind sunglasses, Grant cannot disguise himself from any of us. Eva Marie Saint had just acquired instant fame from "On the Waterfront" and was experimenting with a new role as the "sexy spy lady". Their flirty dialogue and personal interchange is quite risque for 1959 censors. Their banter is so intense that the viewer forgets that these actors are playing roles.The sexual tension builds with her intense eye contact and with his subtle gestures of full seduction.he knows he's got her! The sex act begins when she pulls his hand toward her mouth and blows out the match. 

 

3) The music in this scene is soft toned ,slightly romantic and understated. The background noises are the expected ones on a train ride. The audience is therefore forced to focus on their intense conversation and flirtation.

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1. I have always felt that Eva Marie Saint is behaving like every person wishes they could if "accidentally" seated opposite Cary Grant. Oh to be that confident at 26. In all seriousness though, Hitchcock seems to be letting us "eavesdrop" on what we, the viewers, may imagine would happen if two of the biggest male and female movie stars of the time wound up bored on a train. Saint's aggressive, forthright manner is a subversion of how we would expect a conventional 1950s woman to act in this situation, but as a glamourous movie star we are accepting of her behaviour. That Grant begins wearing sunglasses so not to be "recognized" also plays into the mythology of the successful, Hollywood superstar.

 

2.  "ROT" enables the matchbook to stand in for Grant's identity, while reminding us that his character is a murder target and may soon be "rotting" himself. Saint confidently maneuvers Grant's hand and the matchbook towards her demonstrating how she is very much in control of the situation. She is the one bringing Grant to his death as evinced by her deliberate blowing out of the match. At the same time, the sequence plays out as a seduction; the matchbook gives her an excuse for physical contact with Grant, more of which is certain to follow.

 

3. The sound design reflects what one would hear if actually seated in a dining car: the most prominent sound is the the rhythmic movement of the train over the tracks and the clattering of dishes. The orchestral music adds an air of romance and is faint, acting as ambient music in a restaurant. I noticed that as soon as Grant pulls out his R.O.T. initialled matchbook there are a few faint train whistles in the distance. The overall atmosphere is quietly romantic and yet fused with uncertainty.

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  1. Even at the level of the dialogue, this film is playing with the idea that two Hollywood stars are flirting with each other (e.g. the line, "I look vaguely familiar.") How does our pre-existing knowledge of these stars function to create meaning in this scene.          Well what this scene is not telling is they met prior to this scene. And she has seen his face on news papers.
  2. There is minimal action in this scene, so any deviation from the overall pattern of focusing on the faces of the two leads will have increased significance. In that sense, discuss how Hitchcock uses the R.O.T. matchbook as an important piece of acting business (or as a prop) in this scene. The matchbook is the mcguffin of the scene. They are just talking about the matchbook but it really means nothing.  All thru this scene both Carry and Eve are just talking about sex the entire time in other ways.
  3. How is Hitchcock using sound design in this scene? Consider music and other background sounds in your answer.                                                                             --1)The sound of the train is one sound, 2) the other sound is the sound of dishes, 3) the other sound is the background music (maybe music the dining car is playing?)  4)then one of the main musical themes of the film.

Trains and Hitchcock - 39 Steps, Lady Vanaishes, Shadow of a Doubt, North By Northwest

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1. These stars were known for their beauty and desirability. Putting them in this playful, flirty position allows the audience to imagine if these 2 stars really met how they might act towards one another.

 

2. I don't think the match book really means anything. I think it is used as a prop to continue the realization of his real identity.

 

3. I think all the sounds are understated so that the audience focuses on the flirtatious dialogue between Grant and Saint. There are the usual sounds that we might hear in a dining car. (Dining music, dishes and the sound of the train on the tracks)

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1.    Even at the level of the dialogue, this film is playing with the idea that two Hollywood stars are flirting with each other (e.g. the line, "I look vaguely familiar.") How does our pre-existing knowledge of these stars function to create meaning in this scene. 

First, we know how extremely well known and popular these two actors were at the time, so the line is somewhat tongue-in-cheek.

2.    There is minimal action in this scene, so any deviation from the overall pattern of focusing on the faces of the two leads will have increased significance. In that sense, discuss how Hitchcock uses the R.O.T. matchbook as an important piece of acting business (or as a prop) in this scene. 

The R.O.T. matchbook gives us an indication of Thornhill’s comic style… the initials being the word ROT gives us a clue that he can be “rot-ten” when it comes to women.  It is both a prop and a way to give the audience information about the characters.  The fact that she brings his hand back to her to blow out the candle, with the matchbook facing her, show the audience that she is willing to be with him even though it is an indication of his character.

3.    How is Hitchcock using sound design in this scene? Consider music and other background sounds in your answer. 

The rolling of the train wheels, the light airy, somewhat romantic music continues through the scene until Eve lets Roger know that she is available and brings out her cigarette.  At the point the whistles blow, indicating that this is an important part of the scene, and then the music goes back to the light, airy somewhat romantic music.  

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From the start of the dialogue in this scene, Cary Grant's tongue in cheek remarks "well, here we are again" and "I know, I look vaguely familiar" establish in the back of our minds the idea that the two stars themselves are flirting. By now, Grant was one of Hollywood's most established and recognizable leading men. The references to his face being familiar are a nod to this, while Eva Marie Saint's quiet seductiveness is the perfect match for Grant. When Grant says the line "The moment I meet an attractive woman, I have to start pretending I have no desire to make love to her" it is in line with the playboy character who wins the hearts of practically every woman, a character that he has become known for. But Saint's question "What makes you think you have to conceal it?" is intriguing to him. Their dialogue is like a game of tennis; we listen to the back and forth.

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Even at the level of the dialogue, this film is playing with the idea that two Hollywood stars are flirting with each other (e.g. the line, "I look vaguely familiar.") How does our pre-existing knowledge of these stars function to create meaning in this scene. 

We, the viewer smile to ourselves as we watch and listen to this risque' dialogue between two actors we know well. We appreciate the inside joke.

 

There is minimal action in this scene, so any deviation from the overall pattern of focusing on the faces of the two leads will have increased significance. In that sense, discuss how Hitchcock uses the R.O.T. matchbook as an important piece of acting business (or as a prop) in this scene. 

The matchbook must be a clue in this mystery, the words R.O.T. must mean something else. Does it refer to just his name? What is his middle name be? Do the initials refer to death? We later find out it's a mcguffin but it makes us wonder.

 

How is Hitchcock using sound design in this scene? Consider music and other background sounds in your answer.

The music is very light, slightly romantic in the beginning not very interesting. It just makes you focus on the conversation.

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1. Even at the level of the dialogue, this film is playing with the idea that two Hollywood stars are flirting with each other (e.g. the line, "I look vaguely familiar.") How does our pre-existing knowledge of these stars function to create meaning in this scene?


I guess it creates a sense of irony in the fact that, e.g., Cary Grant's character is trying to "fly under the radar" to not be recognized/noticed.  Meanwhile, we know who Cary Grant is, so we feel like saying "how can you not recognize the guy?"


 


2. There is minimal action in this scene, so any deviation from the overall pattern of focusing on the faces of the two leads will have increased significance. In that sense, discuss how Hitchcock uses the R.O.T. matchbook as an important piece of acting business (or as a prop) in this scene. 


While Roger Thornhill has given Eve a fake name, when she needs a match, he pulls out the personalized matchbook that puts the lie to the false name.  Of course, she had already said she knows he is Thornhill.  The prop also allows her to continue to show her flirtatiousness with him - by grasping his hand and blowing out the match.


 


3. How is Hitchcock using sound design in this scene? Consider music and other background sounds in your answer.


The rather faint, soft background music sounds like a romantic love theme, quite appropriate to what is happening. Otherwise, we hear normal background sounds like the train moving along the tracks, the sounds of dishes, etc., like we would expect in a dining car.


 


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1. Flirtatious dialogue:

 

Two glamorous stars acting as though they were "accidentally" seated opposite each other. Or what any of us might do if we had the same poise under those circumstances. EMS is somewhat assertive ("it's a long night, if you know what I mean").

 

2.  Matchbook Prop:

 

"ROT" reveals Gran'ts comic style, and provides a chance for the two to touch (holding his hand and sensuosuly blowing out the candle furthing the eroticism of the scene.

 

3. The sound design:

 

The score is romantic combined with the traditional sounds of a moving train.

 

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1. Even at the level of the dialogue, this film is playing with the idea that two Hollywood stars are flirting with each other (e.g. the line, "I look vaguely familiar.") How does our pre-existing knowledge of these stars function to create meaning in this scene. 

 

Pre-existing knowledge only gives you an uneasy feeling that you personally know these two people that are flirting with each other. Making the scene even more interesting to watch.

 

2. There is minimal action in this scene, so any deviation from the overall pattern of focusing on the faces of the two leads will have increased significance. In that sense, discuss how Hitchcock uses the R.O.T. matchbook as an important piece of acting business (or as a prop) in this scene. 

 

The use of prop definitely brings the characters together in a coupling way to compliment the dialogue.

 

3. How is Hitchcock using sound design in this scene? Consider music and other background sounds in your answer. 

 

Hitchcock used the railway sound, plus what seemed to be the lack of chatter noise from across the cabin to bring the scene into a more cozy environment and atmosphere.

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Hitchcock utilizes different factors of film to heighten the sexuality between these characters. The dialogue is one of the them, but the romantic background score, the movement of the train, and the exclusivity of them on the frame fabricate the a magnificent sexual scene, without sex. And i think the cigarette at the end of the scene is an enormous component to the witty dialogue exchange. 

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1. Even at the level of the dialogue, this film is playing with the idea that two Hollywood stars are flirting with each other (e.g. the line, "I look vaguely familiar.") How does our pre-existing knowledge of these stars function to create meaning in this scene.

 

EVEN THOUGH CARY GRANT is playing a role--"Roger O. Thornhill"--in NORTH BY NORTHWEST, Hitchcock--and Grant--are not letting anyone forget that he is still Cary Grant. Right off the bat, he's wearing "movie star" sunglasses, ostensibly because his character is on the run from thugs who have mistaken him for someone else and from police who think he stabbed a man to death inside the United Nations building.

But the sunglasses also give Hitchcock a chance to remind the audience, "This is Cary Grant, folks!"

Grant's line--"I look vaguely familiar"--is another wink at the audience who already feel they know him from his previous starring roles: GUNGA DIN (1939); HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1940); THE PHILADELPHIA STORY (1940); Hitchcock's SUSPICION (1941); ARSENIC AND OLD LACE (1944); Hitchcock's NOTORIOUS (1946); Hitchcock's TO CATCH A THIEF (1955); AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER (1957)--to name only a few.

Eva Marie Saint ("Eve Kendall") five years earlier had won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in her powerful screen debut, Elia Kazan's ON THE WATERFRONT (1954); and she was a well-known face from many dramatic roles on 1950s live television. In NORTH BY NORTHWEST, her fans were getting to see her as a big-time, glamorous and quite sexy movie star.

Here, in big-screen VistaVision, Hitchcock is playing off the audience's familiarity with these two stars whose on-screen chemistry sizzles like bacon in a skillet.

 

2. There is minimal action in this scene, so any deviation from the overall pattern of focusing on the faces of the two leads will have increased significance. In that sense, discuss how Hitchcock uses the R.O.T. matchbook as an important piece of acting business (or as a prop) in this scene.
 

MOVIES ARE MOVIES, in part, because, well, because they move. It's not for nothing that the very word a director says to begin filming a scene is "Action!"
However, there are times when no "action" is necessary. This scene in NORTH BY NORTHWEST is one of those times. The repartee between Roger and Eve is so intimate, so risqué, so sexy--certainly for 1959--that we hang on to every word. The only "action" is the blurred landscape we see through their dining car window as the train moves across the country.
The only time the two actors are not on screen--either in reaction shots or 2-shots with the scenery whizzing by--is when Grant pulls out his matches and Hitchcock takes a tight-shot cutaway on the matchbook.
That matchbook provides two functions. First, its monogram--"R O T" for "Roger O. Thornhill"-- provides comic relief when Grant gives us one of his patented Cary Grant line-readings--"That's my trademark...ROT!" as only Cary Grant could. It's another wink at the audience as Grant seems to imply, "I've been around in movies so long, I'm going to rot!"

Or--and I am merely speculating here--could the "O" in "Roger's" monogram be yet another dig at David O. Selznick? Despite their collaboration on the Oscar-winning REBECCA, etc., their professional collaboration had ended after sparks had flown between them due to their wholly different approaches to filmmaking.
 
Selznick had reportedly added the "O" to distinguish himself from an uncle of the same name. We've already seen how, five years earlier in REAR WINDOW, Hitchcock cast Raymond Burr as the villain "Thorwald" because he could so easily be made to look like Selznick. So, while in REAR WINDOW he made Selznick the villain, in NORTH BY NORTHWEST he perhaps took another swipe by having Cary Grant say that the "O" stands for..."nothing."
 

The matchbook as prop also gives our two stars their only chance to actually touch in this scene. The matchbook business occurs right after Roger suavely accepts Eve's proposition that they spend the night together. Grant tears off a match, strikes it and holds it to the tip of her cigarette. She gently cups his hand. Once the cigarette is lit and he starts to take his hand away, she seductively pulls it back and gently, seductively, blows out the match. As he takes his hand away, she gives him a smoldering look that speaks volumes.

As we've seen in many of Hitchcock's earlier films, it's obvious he loved train travel, setting many scenes aboard trains. And it is true: there's nothing more romantic than train travel.
 

 

3. How is Hitchcock using sound design in this scene? Consider music and other background sounds in your answer.
 

FOR MOST OF THE CLIP, the music we hear underneath is the music piped in to the dining car--unobtrusive, easy listening dinner music underpinning the intimate conversation of two people who have just met and are getting to know each other. The other sound, of course, is the train's clickety-clacking on the tracks. This sound coupled with the dinner music creates a cozy atmosphere just right for intimate conversation.
Once the sexual proposition has been made--and accepted--when Roger pulls out the matchbook, the piped-in dinner music switches to Bernard Herrmann's wistfully romantic love theme.
While their conversation is undoubtedly sexy and revealing, in one way their dialog is not even necessary. One can watch this scene with the sound off and the looks Grant and Saint swap "say" everything, transmitting to the viewer the overwhelming attraction Roger and Eve have for each other. In fact, with or without sound, the viewer can almost get the sensation of having watched two people actually have sex.

Pardon the cliché, but they really don't make movies like this any more.

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1. Even at the level of the dialogue, this film is playing with the idea that two Hollywood stars are flirting with each other (e.g. the line, "I look vaguely familiar.") How does our pre-existing knowledge of these stars function to create meaning in this scene.

 

Aside of the above line, audiences enjoy seeing stars getting together (i.e. Bennifer, Brangelina, bla bla bla), so seeing two superstars flirting is a plus to a lot of people. Also, we could say that Grant was considered a "sex symbol", or noted by his physical looks and overall appearance (clothes, grooming, etc.) so I think it's kinda fun to see him here at a "disadvantage" by a relatively new and young star. Eva (or Eve, look at the similar names) always has the upper hand in the conversation, while Grant looks uncomfortable; not in a bad way, but rather caught off-guard by her honesty.

 

2. There is minimal action in this scene, so any deviation from the overall pattern of focusing on the faces of the two leads will have increased significance. In that sense, discuss how Hitchcock uses the R.O.T. matchbook as an important piece of acting business (or as a prop) in this scene.

 

The obvious closeup of the matchbook when he takes it out, it instantly draws the audience attention to the letters, while also revealing his real name (which she had already guessed). Him saying that the "O" stands for "nothing" might also be a hint of how irrelevant the actual plot is (the MacGuffin). Also, the match gives an opportunity to both actors to get closer, as he approaches to light her cigarette, which allows for one of the sexier moves from her (how she holds his hand, and how she blows the match).

 

3. How is Hitchcock using sound design in this scene? Consider music and other background sounds in your answer.

 

The music is subtle, there's little sound except for the low humming of the train. The focus is on their dialogue. The train horn near the end of the scene is fairly notable, but I'm not sure if there's any relevance to it.

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1. Even at the level of the dialogue, this film is playing with the idea that two Hollywood stars are flirting with each other (e.g. the line, "I look vaguely familiar.") How does our pre-existing knowledge of these stars function to create meaning in this scene.

 

I think it is less so for Eva Marie Saint. She had only made four films before North By Northwest. Cary Grant had made dozens and had a well-established persona. He was the quintessential charming leading man, good looking but not overly so, but with charm and wit that made him all the more attractive. He is used to seducing women. Hitchcock plays this against type. Eva Marie Saint is the one doing the seducing and Cary Grant is taken back by this, that a woman can be so open about the seduction.

 

2. There is minimal action in this scene, so any deviation from the overall pattern of focusing on the faces of the two leads will have increased significance. In that sense, discuss how Hitchcock uses the R.O.T. matchbook as an important piece of acting business (or as a prop) in this scene.

 

First of all, the matchbook plays an important role later in the film, so Hitchcock makes it perfectly clear what it is. This way, when it comes up again, we will instantly recognize it. It is treated the same way as other small but important objects in other Hitchcock films, like the key in Notorious or the ring in Shadow of a Doubt. If I was seeing North By Northwest for the first time, I might think that the matches just give Eva Marie Saint a way to seduce Cary Grant. She touches his hand to steady the match to light the cigarette, and just when you think she will let it go, she brings it back to blow it out.  I think there is also some Hitchcock social satire going on here. The trademark ROT for Roger O. Thornhill is not an attractive image, but probably better than the other options, RAT, RUT, RET, or RIT. Eva Marie Saint asks what the O stands for. Cary Grant says, Nothing. It is a character chosen for looks, not for meaning. The letter O is a circle with nothing inside, similar to a zero, also signifying nothing. I think Hitchcock is taking a jab at the superficiality of Madison Avenue advertising. At the time, Hitchcock was on TV every week openly mocking his sponsors on Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

 

3. How is Hitchcock using sound design in this scene? Consider music and other background sounds in your answer. 

 

It starts with very natural sounds. The sound of the train and when the music starts it almost sounds as if it could be music that would be playing in the dining car. I honestly don't know if they would have played music on a train back then. Before long the train sound is reduced to vague white noise. By the time, the seduction is really going, the music has changed to a theme that is used for Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint thoughtout the film.

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  1. Even at the level of the dialogue, this film is playing with the idea that two Hollywood stars are flirting with each other (e.g. the line, "I look vaguely familiar.") How does our pre-existing knowledge of these stars function to create meaning in this scene. 

    What a double entendre there is when Cary Grant says, "I know, I look vaguely familiar." I bet the theatre audience went crazy over that line. Eva Marie had bedroom eyes on him - all soft and dreamy. She's the open one, Cary had sunglasses to conceal himself. We're hanging on every word of what these two are saying by not saying it.

  2. There is minimal action in this scene, so any deviation from the overall pattern of focusing on the faces of the two leads will have increased significance. In that sense, discuss how Hitchcock uses the R.O.T. matchbook as an important piece of acting business (or as a prop) in this scene. 

    The matchbook is an excellent foreshadowing of the role it plays near the end of the film in warning Eve Kendall. In itself, the matchbook has little meaning, as the O in the initials signifies nothing. A jab toward the advertising business; they put meaning in little symbols and names that really have no meaning at all. But the matchbook serves a purpose - that of the first physical connection between the two characters, and how compatible and relaxed they are with each other.

  3. How is Hitchcock using sound design in this scene? Consider music and other background sounds in your answer. 

    The music is excellent background - the clicking of the rails, the lulling effect of a relaxed and pleasant dinner. The violins play a beautiful backdrop for the conversation that takes place - as if it's part of the conversation and the attraction that is very apparent between these two characters.

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  1. Even at the level of the dialogue, this film is playing with the idea that two Hollywood stars are flirting with each other (e.g. the line, "I look vaguely familiar.") How does our pre-existing knowledge of these stars function to create meaning in this scene.  Grant is a considered a suave well-dressed leading man that can sweep a woman off of her feet.  Here, he is the one being "approached" quite blatantly by Saint.  He is not accustomed to her directness, but is still enjoying the interplay...along with the audience.

  2. There is minimal action in this scene, so any deviation from the overall pattern of focusing on the faces of the two leads will have increased significance. In that sense, discuss how Hitchcock uses the R.O.T. matchbook as an important piece of acting business (or as a prop) in this scene. The matchbook is used as a prop in which to give Saint the opportunity to touch Grant's hand.  Just like offering a woman a cigarette and then a light...gave a man time to open a conversation with a woman.  The ROT matchbook is displayed here because it will be used later to deliver a warning.  Also, Thornhill states that the "O" doesn't mean anything.  Selznick also added an O to his name to add some rhythm or class or balance? to his name....is this another poke at Selznick? albeit belatedly.

How is Hitchcock using sound design in this scene? Consider music and other background sounds in your answer. The sounds of the train and low background, almost seductive, music adds to the seductive feel of this scene.

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Even at the level of the dialogue, this film is playing with the idea that two Hollywood stars are flirting with each other (e.g. the line, "I look vaguely familiar.") How does our pre-existing knowledge of these stars function to create meaning in this scene. 

 

Well Cary Grant is always Cary Grant he is a wonderful actor who can do drama, comedy, suspense but he is just the symbol of the perfect charming man.  I find that Eva Marie Saint is very strong and likeable.

 

There is minimal action in this scene, so any deviation from the overall pattern of focusing on the faces of the two leads will have increased significance. In that sense, discuss how Hitchcock uses the R.O.T. matchbook as an important piece of acting business (or as a prop) in this scene. 

 

It could be just a fun play that it means nothing or maybe we find out what it really means latter?

 

 

How is Hitchcock using sound design in this scene? Consider music and other background sounds in your answer

 

I honestly didn't really notice the sound too much and maybe that was to make sure that the focus was on dialogue.  

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1. This scene has the stars at the tops of their games and their flirtation is unsubtle. We know what they will get together but this set-up is clever and doesn't leave much to the imagination.

2. I think that the matchbook indicates that Thronhill's situation is rotten. And it leads up to a very seductive sequence when Eve blows out the match. Again, everything is in plain sight and nothing left to the imagination.

3. The sounds are the ordinary noise on a train that gets toned down for the seductive banter.

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  1. Even at the level of the dialogue, this film is playing with the idea that two Hollywood stars are flirting with each other (e.g. the line, "I look vaguely familiar.") How does our pre-existing knowledge of these stars function to create meaning in this scene. 
  2. There is minimal action in this scene, so any deviation from the overall pattern of focusing on the faces of the two leads will have increased significance. In that sense, discuss how Hitchcock uses the R.O.T. matchbook as an important piece of acting business (or as a prop) in this scene. 
  3. How is Hitchcock using sound design in this scene? Consider music and other background sounds in your answer.

 

This is Cary Grant doing what he does best. His amused surprise at Eve's forwardness is trademark Cary Grant -- sexy but never appearing to take himself too seriously. At this point in his career, Grant was becoming more self-conscious of the age gaps between himself and his leading ladies but Eva Marie Saint is so strong and direct in this scene that you know she can handle herself. The audience is drawn into the flirtation.

 

The matchbook in this scene is primarily a device to allow Saint to make that memorable gesture of pulling Grant's hand back and blowing out the match. But it also speaks to Thornhill's shallow life. The O stands for nothing in the same way the character stands for nothing, He's essentially a salesman and doesn't seem to have meaningful relationships or much purpose besides making money and meeting women. The harrowing situations he finds himself in actually force him to develop as a person. 

 

The sound design in the scene is all about seduction. The sounds of the train are soft and soothing. The music playing is similar to what would play in an intimate, upscale restaurant. It's subdued and lets the focus remain on the interaction between the two leads while creating a warm, relaxed feeling in the viewer. It enhances the scene and allows us to enjoy the flirtation more fully. In a sense, we are being seduced along with Grant.

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  1. Even at the level of the dialogue, this film is playing with the idea that two Hollywood stars are flirting with each other (e.g. the line, "I look vaguely familiar.") How does our pre-existing knowledge of these stars function to create meaning in this scene. 
  2. There is minimal action in this scene, so any deviation from the overall pattern of focusing on the faces of the two leads will have increased significance. In that sense, discuss how Hitchcock uses the R.O.T. matchbook as an important piece of acting business (or as a prop) in this scene. 
  3. How is Hitchcock using sound design in this scene? Consider music and other background sounds in your answer.

 

This is Cary Grant doing what he does best. His amused surprise at Eve's forwardness is trademark Cary Grant -- sexy but never appearing to take himself too seriously. At this point in his career, Grant was becoming more self-conscious of the age gaps between himself and his leading ladies but Eva Marie Saint is so strong and direct in this scene that you know she can handle herself. The audience is drawn into the flirtation.

 

The matchbook in this scene is primarily a device to allow Saint to make that memorable gesture of pulling Grant's hand back and blowing out the match. But it also speaks to Thornhill's shallow life. The O stands for nothing in the same way the character stands for nothing, He's essentially a salesman and doesn't seem to have meaningful relationships or much purpose besides making money and meeting women. The harrowing situations he finds himself in actually force him to develop as a person. 

 

The sound design in the scene is all about seduction. The sounds of the train are soft and soothing. The music playing is similar to what would play in an intimate, upscale restaurant. It's subdued and lets the focus remain on the interaction between the two leads while creating a warm, relaxed feeling in the viewer. It enhances the scene and allows us to enjoy the flirtation more fully. In a sense, we are being seduced along with Grant.

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I watched North by Northwest again and saw something I haven't noticed before. When Thornhill runs from the UN building after dropping the knife, outside there is a extreme long shot at a high angle. On the right is the building reminding us of the opening credits. In the center of the frame, as Thornhill runs to the street, the little plaza is in the shape of a piano suggesting he is being played.

 

 

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I had the extremely rare pleasure of meeting Eva Marie Saint after a screening of DUNKIRK in Hollywood over the weekend. She is 93 and extremely sharp, witty and charming (she also has a very firm handshake). She told me how hard it was to loop the dialog on the scene in the train dining car. She said it took her many takes to get "discuss love" to match "make love" in that scene. I think she did a great job because I never noticed it until it was brought to my attention in this course.

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1.    Even at the level of the dialogue, this film is playing with the idea that two Hollywood stars are flirting with each other (e.g. the line, "I look vaguely familiar.") How does our pre-existing knowledge of these stars function to create meaning in this scene. 

The playful sequence is possible due to the amazing star power Cary Grant had – one that would impress even an Oscar winner like Eva Marie Saint. After “I look vaguely familiar”, he continues the joke with: “You have the feeling you’ve seen me somewhere before. I have that effect upon people, it’s something about my face”. To which she replies: “It’s a nice face”. When he says women fight him and put him in disadvantage, it’s also something about his star persona. This is a bit that only makes sense for people who are familiar with Grant, and it surely made sense, as a tongue-in-cheek moment, in 1959.

 

2.    There is minimal action in this scene, so any deviation from the overall pattern of focusing on the faces of the two leads will have increased significance. In that sense, discuss how Hitchcock uses the R.O.T. matchbook as an important piece of acting business (or as a prop) in this scene. 

The prop is important for their first moment of intimacy, when he lights her cigarette – she touches his hand, that is the only thing in the frame with her. Lighting a cigarette as a romantic gesture makes me think of “Now, Voyager”, from 1942. And the prop makes her ask what the O stands for, and his reply, ‘nothing’, is supposed to a be joke on Hitchcock’s former boss, David O. Selznick, whose O meant nothing as well.

 

3.    How is Hitchcock using sound design in this scene? Consider music and other background sounds in your answer. 

The sound of the train moving is very suave and low. Most sounds come from the third unseen person here, the waiter, who takes and leaves plate, silverware and glasses to Grant. This, and the suave, almost inexistent score, make the scene very cozy and intimate – like a date in a restaurant.

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