By: Alex Phuong (A Toast) –
One of the key elements to a great motion picture is its screenplay. Indeed, a film would hardly receive acclaim if it does not have a compelling plot and memorable characters. Ernest Lehman is responsible for some of the greatest screenplays that Hollywood has ever known, including the “Best Picture” winner West Side Story (1961), the beloved musical The Sound of Music (1965), and the infamous Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966). Alfred Hitchcock is also well-known for suspenseful thrillers that engage audiences from beginning to end. Teaming these two talented men resulted in one of the greatest films ever made, the seminal classic North by Northwest (1959).
This film is not just a Hitchcock classic, but it contains one of the greatest plots to ever grace the silver screen. It features Cary Grant in one of his greatest roles, Eva Marie Saint as yet another talented blonde ingénue that Hitchcock was known for featuring in his films, and a screenplay that failed to acquire an Academy Award in spite of its very original story. Some film historians attribute that famous loss to the simple fact that Hollywood censors wanted to tone down some of the risqué material that Ernest Lehman originally wrote. For example, Eva Marie Saint’s character was originally meant to say, “I never make love on an empty stomach,” but that line had to be changed to “I never discuss love on an empty stomach” in order to appease the censors. Even with the challenges associated with Hollywood censorship, this film still contains one of the most thrilling plots ever imagined, and remains a classic for devoted Hitchcock fans.
Ever since the inception of cinema, there has always been controversy that surrounds what could (or even should) be shown on screen. One of the most famous examples of such an occurrence was when Rhett Butler tells Scarlett O’Hara, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn” in Gone with the Wind (1939). Film-making styles have actually changed a lot over the years, and films in modern times are now more overt when it comes to displaying mature content (as of 2018). For example, the notorious Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy would have never been made during the 1950s.
Nevertheless, it is a blessing to know that great films are the byproduct of great writing, which is one of the many reasons why films like North by Northwest continue to endure. Albert Einstein is well-known for saying that imagination is sometimes more powerful than knowledge, and he is definitely right in so many ways. Ernest Lehman himself once famously remarked, “I wanted to write the Hitchcock picture to end all Hitchcock pictures,” and it is safe to say that Lehman might have achieved his goal after writing this beloved screen gem.
North by Northwest (1959) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: every time Eva Marie Saint wears a beautiful outfit
Take a Drink: every time Cary Grant finds himself in a dangerously harrowing situation
And Do Not Be Sober: during the thrilling climax of this beloved motion picture classic