Pitch perfect is a good way to describe the Alfred Hitchcock masterpiece. Known as the master of suspense, Hitchcock also mastered humor, sexual innuendo, and anti-cold war sentiments into this thriller that unfolds like a thousand-dollar grey flannel suit, without a wrinkle. Hitchcock had dabbled in the ‘wrong man accused’ plot many times before, but to me, this is his crowning achievement. The through-line is always the same, a person is going about their normal, everyday life, and they are suddenly thrust into a world and circumstances that threaten their everything and are forced to find a way out and clear their name.
Hitchcock’s ‘common touch’ is at full strength during the entire film. Most notably brought about by his ability to reveal character by having the plot attack the protagonist. Through this, he weaves an indelible empathetic connection to the character. In North by Northwest, he starts off, already halfway down the block on Empathy Street, by brilliantly casting the charismatic, Cary Grant in the role of Roger Thornhill. Thornhill is a New York ad exec, back in the late ’50s when that meant something, being ripped from his three-martini lunch, by a case of mistaken identity. His mistake? He merely stands up in the Plaza Hotel’s Oak Room at the exact wrong moment.
As the plot piles on, Thornhill must catch on – or be dead. Being innocent of everything the bad guys, the police, and the newspapers are accusing him of doesn’t matter, all that matters is survival. Hitchcock then ups the temperature by giving us a false glimmer of hope, some alphabet soup, three-letter agency, deep within the federal government knows Thornhill is innocent but in a chilling bureaucratic moment of callousness decide that he is expendable.
So, he’s toast. But then Thornhill, fighting to stay alive, starts to threaten the government’s interests, and they are reluctantly forced to ‘seemingly’ come to his aid.
A stroke of brilliance that keeps the wrong man theme ever-present is that for all but the last minutes of the film, Thornhill is in the same grey flannel suit he was abducted in. At one point escaping a death trap on the dusty plains of the Midwest in his Brook Brother’s only to have it “sponged and pressed” in 20 minutes so he could go on being so out of place in the wrong battle uniform against the forces of evil. Namely, the uniform of the corporate dweeb as he stumbles through and defeats by the skin of his teeth plot after plot to dispatch him with extreme prejudice.
As I write this, I am beginning to see where the inspiration for my new book, Forgive Us Our Trespasses sprang from. In fact, the subtitle for this sequel to my #1 bestseller, Give Us This Day is; Innocent is not a Defense. Hmmm…
Okay, so imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.