December 27, 2009
The complete Man From U.N.C.L.E. box set is currently on sale at Amazon for $115.99. The 41-disc set, which was designed to look like an attache case, contains each season housed in its own box and slipcase as well as a number of additional discs with bonus material. The set includes one of the theatrical films (One Spy Too Many) and the pilot episode (Solo). More from Amazon by Donald Liebenson:
For Baby Boomers, owning a season or two of a fondly remembered TV series on DVD is enough to satisfy any nostalgic yearnings. The Man From U.N.C.L.E., though, warrants the full-series treatment. It's a wild '60s flashback to the Espionage era that was ushered in by Ian Fleming's James Bond adventures. According to a series retrospective that's just one of this cleverly packaged set's prodigious extras, Fleming himself was recruited to create a spy series for American television. His contribution was the name "Napoleon Solo," the moniker of a crime boss in Goldfinger. That movie, which would kick Bond and spy mania into overdrive, had not yet opened when viewers were introduced to Robert Vaughn's Solo and David McCallum's Illya Kuryakin, agents of the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement. This covert agency operated out of Del Floria's Tailor Shop in New York under the command of true Brit Alexander Waverly (Leo J. Carroll, playing much the same character he portrayed in North by Northwest). The Man from U.N.C.L.E. offered a bit of hope in Cold War America that an American and Russian could work together to stop a common enemy, THRUSH, a ruthless organization bent on world domination. The intriguing conceit of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was to give audiences an empathetic surrogate who would be plucked from their humdrum lives for whirlwind adventures with Solo and Kuryakin. In the pilot episode, Patricia Crowley guest-stars as a housewife who acts as bait to foil the plans of her former college boyfriend, who is plotting the assassination of a world leader. In a series benchmark, "The Never-Never Affair," a pre-Get Smart Barbara Feldon stars as an U.N.C.L.E. translator who unwittingly becomes involved in actual espionage. Seasons one and two are the series' best, with a stellar roster of guest stars ("The Project Strigas Affair" features the first onscreen pairing of William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy), stylish direction by directors who would go on to some renown (Michael Ritchie, Richard Donner), smart scripts, and great action (a movie theatre shoot-out in "The Never-Never Affair"). In its third season, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. adopted Batman's campy and absurdist tone with shark-jumping results While this season has its share of groaners (in one episode, Sollo watusis with a gorilla), several "Affairs" stand out. Jack Palance and Janet Leigh as a long cool woman in a white dress are great villains in "The Concrete Overcoat Affair." Harlan Ellison wrote the witty "The Pieces of Fate Affair," in which he takes some sly digs at television and literary critics (a THRUSH operative is a book reviewer). Joan Collins makes like Eliza Doolittle in a dual role as a Bronx stripper and a countess in "The Galatea Affair." The series went back to basics in Season Four, but by then, The Avengers was a bigger hit and the writing was on the wall for this once trendsetting series. This lavish box set affair contains upward of ten hours of bonus features, including the unaired series pilot, a series retrospective, an interview with a reunited Vaughn and McCallum, dossiers on each season's guest stars, one of the U.N.C.L.E. feature films edited and expanded from a two-part episode, segments about the great gadgets and cool music, U.N.C.L.E. designs and blueprints, and season-specific booklets.This definitive box set does full justice to a series that had such an impact on popular culture (as witness the bonus Tom & Jerry cartoon, "The Mouse From H.U.N.G.E.R."). More than a blast from the past, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is still a potent blend of "cloak and swagger."
December 25, 2009
Before Pierce Brosnan uttered his "Christmas in Turkey" line in 1999's The World is Not Enough, George Lazenby kept 007 in a frantic Christmas rush for survival in 1969's On Her Majesty's Secret Service. No holiday rest for secret agents! After a heart-pounding ski chase down a mountain at night, Bond is rescued by Diana Rigg- another reason to love this classic! Here in French. Happy Holidays from Spy Vibe.
December 23, 2009
Secret Squirrel found its fun Spy Vibe elements in conventions like lethal gadgets- a spy squirrel with a machine gun cane? Now that's 1960s surreal thinking! Episodes showed up on a recent DVD release of classic 60s cartoons and I enjoyed revisiting this dangerous little rodent. But as I started to look at other spy-related programming for kids during that era, I found that they all offered the same basic package: nitwit comedy cloaked in a throwback to hard boiled crime fiction- the trench coat. As we saw on Spy Vibe earlier this year, it was the peeling off of these drab macs that helped give 1960s spies a fashionable boost over their private eye counterparts. Bond's tux hidden under the tight wetsuit! Yet, the trench coat endured throughout spy fiction and remains a catch-all symbol for sneaky intentions (no connection to "dirty mac" stories here- we're PG13). 1960s London counter-culture centerpiece, Barry Miles, said that there was a major turning point in the early-mid 1960s when the cash-earning baby boomers started to come of age. To paraphrase, he said that before the shift, young people all dressed to look like middle-aged people. But after the shift, everyone started trying to dress like young people. So when Cold War spies became popular entertainment, we saw examples of productions embracing the youth-generated curve of that shift. Great examples were The Avengers with those kinky leathers and The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. with Mod outfits and miniskirts. In the comedy productions, especially those made for kids, there was a slightly middle-aged approach that downplayed the sexuality and expressiveness that otherwise was a great part of 1960s liberation. Instead of cartoon characters in wild new fashions, the form was watered down for mass consumption and took on the trappings of the older generation. Replace the stubble and Fedora of the private eye with sunglasses and a gadget and you've easily turned the symbol of the 1930s-1950s "gumshoe" (Philip Marlow, Sam Spade) into the symbol of a "spy-in-disguise." Luckily overcoats were more popular back then- maybe a trench coat spy might have had a chance of blending in with the commuters!
There are two claims to the invention of the trench coat, but Burberry certainly has a firm hold on the garment's history. They originally began producing long coats to protect officers from the elements during the Boer War in 1895. A few modifications and wars later, the jacket began to evolve closer to its modern image during WWI, when it was dubbed the "trench coat" as officers wore them in the first trench battles. I'm sure that there are scholars of pulp fiction, Black Mask magazine, etc who could trace when the jacket became indelibly linked with crime fiction. Early pulps pictured private eyes dressed in the look we all associate with Bogart's portrayals of heroes by Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. 1965's Secret Squirrel even borrowed from the Bogart lexicon by giving him a sidekick based on Peter Lorre! The WWI aviator's version of the trench coat showed up in European intrigue films, like Fritz Lang's Spione (1928). The trench coat look swept into fashion, and was acculturated for rush hour workers; men and women throughout the decades standing on metrolpolitan train platforms. As Hugh Hefner's sexual revolution took hold in the 1950s and beyond, he was in many ways rebelling against that grey flannel suit/raincoat lifestyle. Bond and the spies that followed in his wake ran with the young crowd in sexy, thin gear. But for kids and spy comedy? It was keep on the baggy side of life.
Imagine we were producing the major spy comedies targeted for younger viewers during the spy boom. We are like Mr. Briggs or Mr. Phelps of the Impossible Missions Force, flipping through our portfolio of secret agents: Boris Badinov (Bullwinkle), Secret Squirrel, Max Smart and Agent 99 (Get Smart), Cool McCool, Fred Flintstone (Man Called Flintstone), Lancelot Link, MAD's Spy Vs. Spy. They all have the outfit. Even the bungling Inspector Clouseau (Pink Panther) had the right wardrobe to face international intrigue, as did other spoof-film characters played by Doris Day (Glass-Bottomed Boat), Fabian (Dr. Goldfoot), and others. The comedy-spy characters of the 1960s clearly had the same tailor. Just as Bond baddies dressed "Nehru," this batch came from Central Casting with one requirement- wear a trench coat. The costuming and storytelling did not alter much among this group. They didn't have great style. But the characters made us laugh and remain important to 1960s spy culture (and the contemporary spin-off market). In some cases, like the bikini-wow Dr. Goldfoot films, the trench coat reads as a kind of "straight man" symbology in the comedy. What most of these productions lacked in fashion, they made up for in fun gadgets- a theme taken up years later by another trench coat-wearing crime/comedy firgure, Inspector Gadget.
The one major spy character for adults in the 1960s to actually look right in a mac was Michael Caine's Harry Plamer (The Ipcress File). Somehow his working bloke's portrayal brought authenticity to the jacket. It read more as ubiquitous than iconic; character-driven rather than cartoony.
To step into the Swingin' 60s side things, check out Spy Vibe's PEELING OFF THE TRENCH COATS. And because I love getting The Beatles into any discussion if possible, check out The Dirty Macs, a one-off 1968 band that included John Lennon, Keith Richards, Mitch Mitchell, and Eric Clapton!
December 17, 2009
In the wake of the James Bond phenomenon, the world of entertainment and merchandising brought Cold War spies into the fold alongside cowboys and army men. As we saw in the Mattel toy commercials earlier this month, fantasy play took on a taste for intrigue and gadgets- for the stylish world of Espionage! Spy Vibe takes a look back at some of the secret agent programming for kids that was part of the Spy Boom in the mid-1960s.
Secret Squirrel made his debut in Hanna-Barbera's The Wold of Atom Ant and Secret Squirrel in 1965. He was Agent 000 for the International Sneaky Service and took his orders from his chief in England, Double-Q. Secret shared his missions with a fez-wearing sidekick named Morocco Mole (with Peter Lorre accent). Taking cues from the 007 franchise, Secret battled a Goldfinger-like baddie named Yellow Pinkie with a cool spy arsenal -hat and trench coat filled with gadgets and a machine gun cane. The main voice actors were veterans Mel Blanc (Looney Tunes), and Paul Frees (Boris Badenov in the Bullwinkle Show and the voice of John Lennon and George Harrison in The Beatles cartoon!). Secret Squirrel ran both solo and as part of the Atom Ant show for three seasons.
Secret Squirrel Lyrics
What an agent, what a squirrel
He's got the country in a whirl.
What's his name?
He's got tricks, up his sleeve,
Most bad guys, won't believe.
A bullet proof coat, a cannon hat,
A machine gun cane with a rat tat tat tat.
Fights foreign spies
In his disguise,
Takes him many places,
He's a squirrel of many faces,
December 15, 2009
It's always interesting to look back at film and television projects to see who might have won the leading roles had auditions gone differently. LIFE magazine has posted a wonderful collection of photos from the auditions held to fill Sean Connery's tux for On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969). I seem to remember having a copy of the magazine and seeing some of the images, but a number of unpublished photos have been added to their website. Chosen from 400 hopefuls, five actors were in the running: John Richardson (She, One Million Years B.C.), Anthony Rogers (El Dorado, Camelot), Robert Campbell, Hans de Vries (Shalako), and commercial actor George Lazenby.
As seen in the photos, each candidate went through screen tests to determine their on-screen chemistry to woo women, dispatch baddies, and sip martinis. The story is that Lazenby broke a stuntman's nose during the tests, which gave him a physical edge over the others. But take a look at the still test shots over at LIFE. It seems to me that Lazenby shines with a kind of charisma and rises above the rest. I think he was a fantastic Bond and On Her Majesty's Secret Service remains among my top few 007 faves. Check out the audition pictures. Who would you have chosen as James Bond? If you could go back in time to cast the 1969 film, who would you have suggested for the role?
December 14, 2009
December 9, 2009
The watchful eye of Spy-Fi Channel has spotted a little gem on Hulu that will be of interest to Spy Vibers. Hulu is currently showing the MST3K version of Secret Agent Super Dragon (1966) starring Ray Danton and the ever-lovely Marisa Mell (Danger Diabolik). The film is also available in the MST3K Vol 12 box set. Check it out for a limited time on-line for free.
December 7, 2009
Spy Vibers can pick up this ultra-cool classic right now from Amazon- the complete series- for $27.99. From the organ-fueled lounge music of Barry Gray, to the purple wigs, mini-skirts, Nehru jackets, and Anderson-style high-tech gadgetry, UFO is one of those must-see programs that defines the Spy Vibe mission: 1960s Style Meets Action. Pick up the megaset if you don't have it in your collection. On a completely different aesthetic note, 1960s TV fans may also be interested to know that the complete Wanted Dead or Alive series with Steve McQueen is on sale right now at Amazon for $12.99.
December 3, 2009
The classic Irwin Allen television series tie-in comic book Land of the Giants returns in one complete volume collecting all five issues. Hermes Press Land of the Giants The Complete Series features stunning artwork by Lone Ranger artist and Silver Age great Tom Gill. In addition to the complete reprint of all the comic books, Land of the Giants The Complete Series features essays about the show, behind-the-scenes and never-before published documentary photos, blue-prints, models, design artwork, and more. Now for the first time in over forty years Land of the Giants fans can again read all the comic book adaptations of this classic sci-fi television show, completely re-mastered and looking better than when they were originally issued! Pre-order on Amazon.
November 24, 2009
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November 10, 2009
In this Cold War-influenced classic, Logan's Run is a cautionary tale about a post-nuclear society that copes with overpopulation by killing off its citizens at age 30 (the novel and 2010 re-make set expiration around 21). Humanity has been confined for generations in a shopping mall-like dome, allowing for some very cool futuristic set design by Dale Hennesy (In Like Flint, Fantastic Voyage, Dirty Harry) and Set Decorator Robert De Vestel (Batman, Green Hornet, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea). Spy Vibers will recognize a 70s slant on a number of elements we've explored here in 1960s design, including globe lamps and monitors and Kubrick-style white, minimal rooms. With its famous electronic score by Jeremy Goldsmith, its revealing (!) unisex wear and jumpsuit uniforms by Bill Thomas (The Black Hole), the tone of the future, like THX 1138 by Lucas and Fahrenheit 451 by Truffaut, is quite lulled into submission by consumerism and pleasure (in this case- sensual pleasure). At age 30, everyone enters a Colosseum-like chamber where they float up into an electric field that vaporizes them. To desire life and to run from this ritual is deemed deviant by society and punishable by death. Logan, the main character of the film, is indeed an assassin- a member of a sanctioned death squad that hunts down 'runners' and executes them with laser blasters. Logan is sent undercover on a mission to join the runners and expose what the government fears is an underground railroad to freedom in a place whispered about in dark alleys called Sanctuary. So begins Logan's Quest that brings him, and his community, toward self-awareness and survival. The film was released in 1976, just prior to Star Wars, and remains a stylish and evocative experience. Logan's Run is out today on Blu-ray and includes commentary by director Michael Anderson, star Michael York, and costume designer Bill Thomas. Additional cast includes Jenny Agutter, Farrah Fawcett, and Peter Ustinov. Movie trailer and score/photo video on the Spy Vibe website. We'll let the lovely Agutter guide us on a tour of the sets and costumes:
November 9, 2009
News from my insider at Barnes and Noble: Starting Tuesday all Criterion Collection DVDs and Blu-ray are 50% off at Barnes and Noble shops and on-line. This offer is through the end of the year while supplies last. One of the great pleasures of my life has been working as a film programmer for schools and communities. At the center of those efforts has been the Criterion Collection. For those who don't know them, Criterion began in the days of Laser Discs as a company dedicated to searching the globe for the most pristine film sources and working with film cast and crew to package the definitive editions of important films in cinema culture. Criterion covers the great auteurs: Kurosawa, Welles, Hitchcock, Truffaut, Godard, Renoir, Fellini, Bergman, Powell, etc, and classic genre films. All of their titles exhibit an artistic flair- and flair is what Spy Vibe loves most! Criterion began releasing Blu-ray editions recently, which include The Third Man starring Orson Welles (now oop), and the wonderful NASA documentary For All Mankind. When I was a student I literally had their catalog under my pillow so I could pour over film stills and descriptions and learn about film history. Now it's all on-line. The Criterion website itself is gorgeous and fascinating, and I think Spy Vibers new to the company will discover a treasure trove there (including movie clips and direct viewing options). Because we at Spy Vibe are interested in espionage, style, fashion, architecture, design, and 1960s culture, here is just a small list of some of the films I suggest looking at during this sale:
A trio of crooks relentlessly pursue a young American (Audrey Hepburn) through Paris to recover the fortune her dead husband stole from them. The only person she can trust is a suave, mysterious stranger (Cary Grant). A deliciously dark comedic thriller, Stanley Donen’s Charade dazzles with style and macabre wit to spare. [see the Spy Vibe reflection].
The best known of Hitchcock’s British films, this civilized spy yarn follows the escapades of Richard Hannay (Robert Donat), who stumbles into a conspiracy that involves him in a hectic chase across the Scottish moors—a chase in which he is both the pursuer and the pursued. Adapted from John Buchan’s novel, this classic Hitchcock “wrong man” thriller encapsulates themes that anticipate the director’s biggest American films (especially North by Northwest- now on Blu-ray!), and is a standout among his early works. [read the review at Permission To Kill]
A cockeyed fusion of science fiction, pulp characters, and surrealist poetry, Godard’s irreverent journey to the mysterious Alphaville remains one of the least conventional films of all time. Eddie Constantine stars as intergalactic hero Lemmy Caution, on a mission to kill the inventor of fascist computer Alpha 60. [See the review on Permission to Kill].
Branded to Kill, the wildly perverse story of the yakuza’s rice-sniffing “No. 3 Killer,” is Seijun Suzuki at his delirious best. From a cookie-cutter studio script, Suzuki delivered this brutal, hilarious, and visually inspired masterpiece. Criterion presents the DVD premiere of Branded to Kill in a pristine transfer from the original Nikkatsu-scope master.
In July 1969, the space race ended when Apollo 11 fulfilled President Kennedy’s challenge of “landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.” No one who witnessed the lunar landing will ever forget it. Al Reinert’s documentary For All Mankind is the story of the twenty-four men who traveled to the moon, told in their words, in their voices, using the images of their experiences. Forty years after the first moon landing, it remains the most radical, visually dazzling work of cinema yet made about this earthshaking event.
A frank exploration of voyeurism and violence, Michael Powell’s extraordinary film is the story of a psychopathic cameraman—his childhood traumas, sexual crises, and murderous revenge as an adult. Reviled by critics upon its initial release for its deeply unsettling subject matter, the film has since been hailed as a masterpiece.
Now out of print- find copies locally if possible. Pulp novelist Holly Martins travels to shadowy, postwar Vienna, only to find himself investigating the mysterious death of an old friend, black-market opportunist Harry Lime—and thus begins this legendary tale of love, deception, and murder. Thanks to brilliant performances by Joseph Cotten, Alida Valli, and Orson Welles; Anton Karas’s evocative zither score; Graham Greene’s razor-sharp dialogue; and Robert Krasker’s dramatic use of light and shadow, The Third Man, directed by the inimitable Carol Reed, only grows in stature as the years pass.
After making such American noir classics as The Naked City and Brute Force, blacklisted director Jules Dassin went to Paris and embarked on his masterpiece: a twisting, turning tale of four ex-cons who hatch one last glorious heist in the City of Lights. At once naturalistic and expressionistic, this melange of suspense, brutality, and dark humor was an international hit and earned Dassin the Best Director prize at the Cannes Film Festival.
In Notorious, a brilliant allegory of love and betrayal, Hitchcock fuses two of his favorite elements: suspense and romance. A beautiful woman with a tainted past (Ingrid Bergman) is enlisted by American agent Devlin (Cary Grant) to spy on a ring of Nazis in post-war Rio. Her espionage work becomes life-threatening after she marries the most debonair of the Nazi ring, Alex (Claude Rains). Only Devlin can rescue her, but to do so he must face his role in her desperate situation and acknowledge that he’s loved her all along. Stunning performances, Ben Hecht’s excellent script, and Hitchcock’s direction at its best make Notorious a perfect film.
One of the greatest films about film ever made, Federico Fellini’s 8 1/2 (Otto e mezzo) turns one man’s artistic crisis into a grand epic of the cinema. Guido Anselmi (Marcello Mastroianni) is a director whose film—and life—is collapsing around him. An early working title for the film was La Bella Confusione (The Beautiful Confusion), and Fellini’s masterpiece is exactly that: a shimmering dream, a circus, and a magic act. The Criterion Collection is proud to present the 1963 Academy Award winner for Best Foreign-Language Film—one of the most written about, talked about, and imitated movies of all time—in a beautifully restored new digital transfer. A Blu-ray is due in January 2010!
Secluded in the French countryside, a brilliant, obsessive doctor attempts a radical plastic surgery to restore the beauty of his daughter’s disfigured face—but at a horrifying price. At once ghastly lyrical, Eyes Without a Face is a true rarity of horror cinema and has influenced countless films. The Criterion Collection is proud to present Georges Franju’s classic in a long-awaited, fully restored DVD edition.
The Man Who Fell to Earth is a daring exploration of science fiction as an art form. The story of an alien on an elaborate rescue mission provides the launching pad for Nicolas Roeg’s visual tour de force, a formally adventurous examination of alienation in contemporary life. Rock legend David Bowie, in his acting debut, completely embodies the title role, while Candy Clark, Buck Henry, and Rip Torn turn in pitch-perfect supporting performances. The film’s hallucinatory vision was obscured in the American theatrical release, which deleted nearly twenty minutes of crucial scenes and details. The Criterion Collection is proud to present Roeg’s full uncut version, in this exclusive new director-approved high-definition widescreen transfer.
In a career-defining performance, Alain Delon plays a contract killer with samurai instincts. A razor-sharp cocktail of 1940s American gangster cinema and 1960s French pop culture—with a liberal dose of Japanese lone-warrior mythology—maverick director Jean-Pierre Melville’s masterpiece Le Samouraï defines cool. Spy Vibers should look at other Melville titles.
Special-effects wunderkind and genre master Byron Haskin (The War of the Worlds, The Outer Limits) won a place in the hearts of fantasy-film lovers everywhere with this gorgeously designed journey into the unknown. When his spaceship crash-lands on the barren wastelands of Mars, U.S. astronaut Commander “Kit” Draper (Paul Mantee) must fight for survival, with a pet monkey seemingly his only companion.
John le Carré’s acclaimed best-selling novel about a cold-war spy on one final, dangerous mission is every bit as precise and ruthless on-screen in this adaptation directed by Martin Ritt. Richard Burton delivers one of his career-defining performances as Alec Leamas, whose hesitant but deeply felt relationship with a beautiful librarian (Claire Bloom) puts what he hopes will be his last assignment, in East Germany, in jeopardy. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is a hard-edged and finally tragic thriller, suffused with the political and social consciousness that defined Ritt’s career.
November 7, 2009
Our Man in Vermont Steve Bissette is winding down a multi-part exploration of the career of master illustrator Frank McCarthy. In "McCarthy Does 007 (& nobody does it better), Steve offers up a fantastic review of McCarthy's spy images from the 1960s, including promotional art for Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, On Her Majsty's Secret Service, The Venetian Affair (Man From U.N.C.L.E.), and a discussion of McCarthy's collaboration with fellow artist Robert McGinnes. Head over to learn more and to check out some very cool 60s poster and album art. Steve adds praise for Peter's Illustrated 007 blog as one of the best resources of Bond art on the Internet. Spy Vibers will be familiar with Peter's complete archive of 007 artwork and will be pleased to hear that he has recently accepted an invitation to join the COBRAS. Peter, welcome to our Spy Network!
November 3, 2009
Spy Vibe fans of Alfred Hitchcock will be happy to hear that his classic North By Northwest is now available on Blu-ray. Although Hitchcock had already developed his trademark conventions (the maguffin, the wrong man, climax in an epic location), North By Northwest is remembered by many as the ultimate Hitchcock thriller. A suave, successful New York advertising executive finds himself mistaken as a spy and is embroiled in a web of intrigue, lost microfilm, seduction, and murder. Stars Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint (Grand Prix), James Mason, Martin Landau (Mission Impossible, Space 1999), Leo G. Carroll (The Man From U.N.C.L.E.), and Edward Platt (Get Smart).
Hitchcock set out to create a theme endearing to Spy Vibers in North By Northwest by accentuating the main character's isolation in the lap of mid-century modernist luxury. As Sandy MacLendon points out on JetSetModern, Hitchcock created a carefully crafted world of affluence that would be recognizable to a mass audience: The director himself chose Eva Marie Saint's wardrobe from Bergdorf Goodman and jewelry from Van Cleef. Chris from Clothes On Film discusses Grant's famous grey Kilgour suit, which has been recognized by GQ as an iconic look for men. Characters were put behind the wheels of the latest chic cars by Mercedes, Lincoln, and Cadillac. But where the film really shines for design fans is in its choice of locations: Plaza Hotel/New York, estate house/Long Island, UN Building/New York, Grand Central Station/New York, aboard the Twentieth Century Limited train to Chicago, and the piece de resistance- the modernist Vandamm home in the style of Frank Lloyd Wright. According to MacLendon, Wright had agreed to design a previous Hollywood film- for ten percent of the project's budget! Never to be thwarted, Hitchock had his design crew set to work on a Wright-style house that audiences would recognize, using Wright's signature materials and lines, and through matt photography, placed it atop Mount Rushmore. They added support beams for dramatic effect, providing a way for Grant's character to climb into the house undetected. MacLendon points out that "The living room set was dressed in the best of 1958’s furniture and art, and it makes a very interesting point. The furniture is largely Scandinavian Modern. There is Chinese art, and a Pre-Colombian statue figures prominently in the action. Greek flokati rugs are on the floors. Vandamm’s spying is meant to set the nations of the world at war, but it seems they co-exist peacefully enough under his roof!"
The title sequence by Saul Bass is also noteworthy. Bass had begun to design for Hitchcock on his previous film, Vertigo, and Bass pushed the theme of modernity further for North By Northwest. As the Design Museum describes: "In 1958’s Vertigo, his first title sequence for Alfred Hitchcock, Bass shot an extreme close-up of a woman’s face and then her eye before spinning it into a sinister spiral as a bloody red soaks the screen. For his next Hitchcock commission, 1959’s North by Northwest, the credits swoop up and down a grid of vertical and diagonal lines like passengers stepping off elevators. It is only a few minutes after the movie has begun - with Cary Grant stepping out of an elevator - that we realise the grid is actually the façade of a skyscraper." The use of bold fonts and animation based on perspective accentuated the geometric, sleek modern tone of the film.
According to John Patterson at The Guardian, "North By Northwest has been called the first James Bond movie (screenwriter Ernest Lehman called it "the ultimate Hitchcock picture" while he was writing it, but no matter). And the similarities are evident. In 1960 Hitchcock himself briefly considered directing Thunderball. Ian Fleming originally wanted Grant (who was a good friend of Bond producer Cubby Broccoli) to play 007 in Dr No, and North By Northwest surely had a lot to do with that (Grant turned down the part). 1959 was also the year Fleming published Goldfinger, the first truly ridiculous Bond novel (delightful though it is), which, as the third Bond movie, would perfect the NXNW-style template from which the series would barely deviate until the advent of Daniel Craig." Patterson's review of Goldfinger notwithstanding, the idea of a Hitchcock-directed Bond has been a point of discussion among 007 fans.
The film has been ranked #7 in the top-ten greatest mystery films of all time by the American Film Institute.