North by Northwest (1959)
One of Hitchcock's most cram-packed films, North By Northwest is in many ways Hitch at his most ambitious, but at the same time one of few films where he allows himself to loosen up completely and let what's fun come before maintaining his artistic integrity. North by Northwest doesn't mind being meticulously plotted, shamelessly packed with edge-of-your-seat action or having a basically fearless protagonist who acts more at the audience than at the drama that unfolds in front of him. With Cary Grant, in his usual seductive shape, chased around the most audacious of settings, North by Northwest is at once both Hitchcock at his most kitsch and at his most elegant.
The film is not the most original Hitchcock has delivered, but it is perhaps the most back-to-back suspenseful, as we're taken from one memorable, quintessential scene to another. Grant and Saint never become the hottest couple on screen, but they clearly share the same idea of fun and conjure up a charismatic interplay. In other roles, James Mason gives a suitably aristocratic performance, whereas the most interesting character belongs to Martin Landau whose layered Leonard improves with each view. Robert Burks cinematography is so glossy that it seems almost unreal, and Bernard Herrmann's dazzling score is the icing on the cake.
In addition to classic scenes like the train sequence, the crop-dusting, and Grant's wonderful display at an Chicago auction, North by Northwest is above all a testament to a director who was actually able to make film that met both the demands of the critics and the public. This is pure entertainment of sheer class.