Masked Men: Masculinity and the Movies in the Fifties

By Steven Cohan | Go to book overview

1
The Spy in the Gray Flannel Suit

The poster for North by Northwest ( 1959), reproduced as figure 1, offers an arresting image of male vulnerability: Cary Grant suspended helplessly in space. Although he stretches out his arms as if ready to break the fall with his hands, Grant's bent legs and flung feet indicate an utter inability to support himself were he to reach the ground. What's more, the expression on his face—his mouth agape, his eyes closed—testifies to, if not fear, then horror at his plight. The inclusion of Eva Marie Saint in the background behind Grant—where she stands, gun in hand, as the apparent cause of his danger—encourages us to read the poster as a reference to an actual moment in the film: when Eve Kendall (Saint) pretends to shoot Roger 0. Thornhill (Grant), who is posing as the nonexistent American spy, George Kaplan, in order to convince her lover, Phillip Vandamm ( James Mason), that she has not wavered in her affection or loyalty. The choice of this scene for the poster was obviously a calculated one on the studio's part. Those who hadn't yet seen the film would presumably interpret Eve's shooting of Roger much as Vandamm himself does, deducing that Eva Marie Saint plays the part of a treacherous siren who puts Cary Grant's life in jeopardy. The theatrical trailer for the film uses voiceover narration to instruct uninitiated spectators to view the relation between Grant and Saint in just this fashion. It begins by addressing the star himself: "You can't fight it, Cary. Someone's out to get you ..." And it closes by promising audiences: "It's one surprise after another. Adventurous Cary, romanced by the kind of blonde that gets into a man's blood, even if she has to shoot her way in." To illustrate, the trailer then shows the shooting scene.

The publicity instructs audiences to watch for a crucial scene in North by Northwest, the turning point in fact, since it results in Roger Thornhill's recuperation as a full-fledged hero who acts rather than reacts. 1 George M. Wilson maintains that the false shooting scene constitutes "the death of Roger Thornhill" (65), but it would be more precise to say that this scene achieves the demise of George Kaplan, that fictional identity which has been serving as an

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Masked Men: Masculinity and the Movies in the Fifties
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Arts and Politics of the Everyday *
  • Masked Men - Masculinity and the Movies in the Fifties *
  • Contents *
  • Acknowledgments *
  • Introduction *
  • 1: The Spy in the Gray Flannel Suit *
  • 2: The "Paradox" of Hegemonic Masculinity *
  • 3: Tough Guys Make the Best Psychopaths *
  • 4: The Body in the Blockbuster *
  • 5: The Age of the Chest *
  • 6: Why Boys Are Not Men *
  • 7: The Bachelor in the Bedroom *
  • Epilogue: Who Was That Masked Man? *
  • Notes *
  • Select Filmography *
  • Works Cited *
  • Index *
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