One of the great "what ifs" in cinema history is the pondering of an Alfred Hitchcock-directed entry into the James Bond franchise. Hitch was British and had amazing visual styles. He knew how to crank up the tension and shoot an action scene.
But what if we already got a great Bond-esque movie from this master? A movie that might be better than almost every Bond out there.
You know what, I'll double down and say he made a movie better than every Bond. It's North by Northwest.
Check out this video from The Royal Ocean Film Society, and let's talk after.
Was North by Northwest the Original James Bond Movie?
In 1959, Hitchcock's masterpiece North by Northwest came out. A few years before any Bond film, it works as a prototype for each Bond that came after it.
The camera movements, femme fatale, and set pieces all feel like they're of the Bond world, especially the Bond of the 1960s and '70s. North by Northwest is the story of an advertising executive that gets swept up in a spy ring after his identity is mistaken for a fictitious secret agent.
While Cary Grant's character is not an agent himself, he learns the ways of this world and fits in nicely. There's even a very Bond-like tag at the end of the film where Grant and Eva Marie Saint take a memorable train ride together through a tunnel.
Aside from all that, this movie is not gritty. It takes a gentleman out on the town to pretend to be a secret agent. There are fancy drinks, suits being ironed, sexy women, and lots of double-crosses. And when it comes to set pieces, they're fun, original, and take wits. Those are things that Bond has thrived on, especially the one-liners and often humorous moments that stick out in this genre.
And let's not belabor it, but the villains in North by Northwest are such classic Bond villains. You have the megalomaniac in an evil lair, the double agent woman, and even the henchmen you want to see get it in the end.
Of course, the Ian Fleming Bond books had been written before North by Northwest, but it's easy to see Fleming as more of a contemporary of Hitchcock. Both were working in suspense and thriller genres that hooked the audience and swept them from scene to scene. When the team began to make North by Northwest, the goal was to utilize all of Hitchcock's talents on the screen; charm, fear, camera work, locations, and casting. Those are all tenets of the Bond franchise.
Regardless of where Bond went and where North by Northwest stayed, each contributed strongly to the way we see and feel the spy genre today. Both are responsible for building the gentleman spy we see across film and television now, even in the tropes that are often subverted.
As a huge Hitchcock fan, I never feel like we missed out on what he could do with a franchise Bond movie because I think he created an imitable force in North by Northwest. It's my favorite of his films, and a great one to revisit any time you have the chance.
Let me know what you think in the comments.
Source: The Royal Ocean Film Society