Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Hitchcock in Hindsight: The Master of Images

For the last month, I've covered almost everything there is to cover about Hitchcock's use of art in some of his most famous films. Granted, I haven't covered everything- that would be practically impossible- but I hope I have given you a comprehensive look at the varying significance Hitchcock places upon works of art and how he uses these works in a variety of ways in his films. And I've had a real blast while doing it.

If you've been following for long enough, you'll know that I have a great appreciation and devotion to Hitchcock's films. I could talk (or blog) for hours about the mastery that's evident in his movies and why his films make him the greatest director of all time. But as any good writer will tell you- it's better to show through subtle exposition of evidence than to tell openly. So I hope I have- I certainly tried! For me, the last month has been a fascinating journey into greater knowledge about what I knew and discovery of information I never even thought about. I'm glad that I'm able to share my knowledge with you!
For your reference, like at the beginning of the month, I've included links to all my posts about the Hitchcock films I've covered so far. I've put them in chronological order of the film's release date. This is not the end of Hitchcock- I assure you- you'll be hearing more from me shortly. But I think it's about time to move on a little and cover more of the varied and wonderful world of movie art.

Rebecca (1940)

Suspicion (1941)

The portrait of Lina's father, General McLaidlaw, carries much significance throughout the film. 

Spellbound (1945)

Rope (1948)

In Rope, the apartment is tastefully decorated with paintings: a sure sign of an oily modern villain. 

Strangers on a Train (1951)

Rear Window (1954)

The Trouble with Harry (1955)

Vertigo (1958)

North by Northwest  (1959)

Psycho (1960)

Sunday, July 28, 2013

The General McLaidlaw Portrait in Hitchcock's "Suspicion" (1941)

I’m returning once more to the world of portraiture, specifically the portraits of the dead to conclud my series on Hitchcock. Call to mind the oft-mentioned Portrait of Carlotta in Vertigo (1958), the de Winter ancestor portrait in Rebecca (1941), the Alice Alquist Empress Theodora portrait in Gaslight and the Laura portrait in Laura, just to mention the few. Early on in my blog, I made very direct attempts to point out how directors use such portraits to represent the eerie presence of the dead through large, realistic portraits. In many cases, the sitter of the portrait might never be seen actually alive on screen, instead they only maintain a ghostly presence through their surviving portrait (ala Vertigo). But in this instance, the sitter’s “life” in a way endures through the portrait after a death in the film.

Suspicion was made in 1941, after the success of Hitchcock’s first American picture Rebecca. In many ways, Hitchcock seemed to try to recreate the formula of Rebecca: Joan Fontaine starred as the delicate leading lady, a popular actor served as her dark husband, the setting was in England and most of all, it was based on a bestselling novel of the time, Before the Fact by Frances Illes. As far as Hitchcock films go, it’s very solid, almost a great film. Joan Fontaine plays an utterly convincing role as the victimized wife (at the time she was in real life a victimized wife) and Cary Grant is even fairly believable as the ne’er do well cad. Hitchcock also must have been confident in himself after the success of Rebecca because Suspicion shows some bold innovative camera angles, uses of lighting (even in glasses of milk), a fantastic strong musical score by Franz Waxman and a fairly dark storyline for contemporary audiences.
In Suspicion, Hitchcock makes the most out of bold images like the
famed "Milk scene" at the end of the film.
I actually had the chance to read a different screenplay for the story by the American author Nathanial West, which in all honesty, I enjoyed more the film. Suspicion is supposed to the story of a dowdy woman, swept off her feet by a debonair gold-digger and gradually comes to realize that he is not only crooked, he’s a murderer. Or at least, she begins to suspect this (hence the title). Hitchcock thought it would be fascinating to tell the story of discovering a murderer from the victim’s perspective- and it would have been, if the studio had allowed it. RKO feared that portraying Cary Grant as a cold-blooded murdered would hurt his popularity and therefore harm future pictures. The ending is sufficiently unsatisfying and left Hitch complaining about it for years.
Johnnie (Cary Grant) "comforts" Lina (Joan Fontaine)
As I said, the film begins with Lina (Fontaine) being swept off her feet by the disarmingly charming Johnnie (Grant). Lina’s father, the wealthy, respectable General McLaidlaw (Cedric Hardwicke) disapproves of Johnnie instantly and can see right through his oily façade and forbids Lina to marry him. Johnnie persists and the two elope, despite the fact that Johnnie turns out to be not only completely broke, but a liar and a thief who was planning on living off of Lina’s allowance and later inheritance. Lina, as it turns out, has a very small monthly allowance from her father and when the General dies he leaves Lina only a portrait of himself “by the distinguished artist Sir Joshua Nettlewood.” It is to this portrait, that I now (finally) turn.
Johnnie proposing under the watchful eyes of her father, General McLaidlaw
Earlier in the film, Johnnie proposed to Lina in front of this same portrait of her father which hung prominently in the home. Resplendent in military uniform, the general dominates the scene and conveys a sense of characteristic disapproval over the events that transpire (despite the lack of his physical presence). Recall, at this point in the film, the General is still very much alive. During their interchange, Johnnie addresses the portrait multiple times, mockingly asking the General for his daughter’s hand. At one point, Johnnie, scoffing at the General’s dislike, taps on the portrait itself, and the painting falls to the ground.
The Portrait Speaks: When Johnnie taps the painting, it begins to fall-
a physical sign of the General's disapproval
What a moment! What a revelation! Thus far, portraits have come and gone. They have stared down their viewers, haunted their admirers, and judged the events that take place in their absence, but very rarely have they interacted in the scene in such a physical way. Through the movement that occurs, Hitchcock suggests a two points. The first is obvious: that the portrait, in a way, is in fact the general- disapproving of Johnnie to the point of falling upon him. This will play a part later. Secondly, the portraits falling acts as a general symbol for the chaos that will ensue, the falling apart of conservative order that Lina has experienced thus far in her life.
General McLaidlaw (Sir Cedric Hardwicke):
 Openly disapproving in life and death
When the General dies, he bequeaths only this portrait to his daughter. Again, two things should be noted from this portrait in this scenario. The first is that the General will continue to watch his daughter and Johnnie and continue to disapprove of Johnnie’s actions from the vantage point of the canvas. Also, the presence of the portrait in scenes reminds viewers of the General’s earlier warning about Johnnie. So, when Lina has her suspicions about her husband, the watchful eyes of her father behind her will remind the audience that the General already had similar suspicions.
Despite its lowly position in the background, the General's portrait
manages to dominate scenes and serves as a reminder of his own suspicions about Johnnie
Finally, when Lina takes the portrait in her home, it doesn’t hang in a prominent place like it did in her parents’ home. Instead, it leans against the wall on the floor, as if Johnnie is attempting to put the painting as far away in the background as possible. Instead of hanging the conservative, orderly portrait of General McLaidlaw over his fireplace, Johnnie hangs a modern landscape. Also hung prominently in the home is a cubist still life, reminiscent of Picasso’s early Cubist work. Some critics suggest that this painting, which gets only very brief screen time, contrasts the orderly portrait of the General and suggests the frazzled nature of Lina’s abstract suspicions.
A landscape, not the portrait, dominates Johnnie's wall
In all respects, General McLaidlaw’s painting serves as one of the most symbolic and also underrated members in the Film Art portrait gallery. As such, I thought I would be able to find the artist with ease. Alas! That was not the case. While the General’s will gives the artist as a distinguished “Sir Joshua Nettlewood,” as far as I can tell, no such man exists. I a few thoughts on this. The first is that the artist was given in the novel, which I did not read, and in that case, no other thought should be given to it. More likely though, the name is a play on Sir Joshua Reynolds, the famed 18th Century portrait artist in Britain. While Sir Cedric Hardwicke has had paintings commissioned of himself, I could not find this one in another record. Most likely, the “painting” was created as the Laura painting was: from a painted-over photograph. Because it’s a fairly unique pose in a fairly unique outfit (military uniform), if this is so, than the photograph was probably posed for by Hardwicke for an RKO photographer whose name may have been lost to the annals of history.
The abstract Cubist still life briefly serves as a comparison to the dethroned
portrait of the General and a suggestion of Lina's frazzled mental state. 
Like I said, Suspicion is by no means the perfect film. It does however contain some quintessential Hitchcock elements that make it a classic. For our purposes though, the General McLaidlaw portrait serves as another instance where the painted portrait serves as a ghostly reminder of an absent or deceased person. It is by no means the most impressive, or even the most important (much like Suspicion itself in comparison with Hitchcock’s larger breadth of work), but as is a truly excellent textbook example of the weight a simple, or maybe not so simple, painting can carry. 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Hitchcock's "Rope" (1948) Apartment: Evil and the Appreciation of Art

This is going to be a brief post, because frankly, there's not to much to say on the matter. But there is something to say, and I'm going to be the one to say it. It concerns the Hitchcock melodrama Rope (1948). Specifically, it concerns the art which hangs in the apartment that serves as the setting of the whole drama that plays out.
Rope is a fascinating, albeit unsettling film. Based on a successful theatrical drama, Rope is often considered to be a loose interpretation of the sensational Leopold and Loeb murder case, which occurred in the 1920s. In Rope, two young "intellectuals," Brandon (played to icy perfection by John Dall) and Phillip (Farley Granger, who later starred as a hero in another Hitchcock drama, Strangers on a Train) commit the "perfect murder" as an intellectual exercise to prove their intellectual superiority over fellow men. 
The film begins with Brandon and Phillip murdering a young friend, David, with the titular rope. They then hide the body in an antique oak chest and then host a dinner party with their victim's family, friends, and girlfriend. Included in their party is a former teacher, Rupert (James Stewart) who originally introduced Phillip and Brandon to the ideas of Nietzsche, superiority and a detached attitude towards murder. Unfortunately for Phillip and Brandon, they are not as detached as they want to be as they are both greatly mentally unstable (despite their delusions of grandeur), and gradually the truth dawns upon Rupert who is then forced to face a crime that he perhaps inspired. It's fascinating stuff, really, and its relatively short as far as films go, so its worth the time, in my opinion. 
A lovely view of the guests, the coffin, and the magnificent art collection
One thing you notice when you're watching this really fascinating and at times horrifying drama is (besides the obvious fact that Brandon and Phillip are a couple) is that Brandon has a very, I mean very nice apartment. It has a great, open floor-plan, a very devoted and efficient housekeeper, a great living room, and most of all a beautiful, tasteful and varied collection of art. 
Not the Cubist painting in behind Farley Granger
It's by no means as impressive as Ingrid Bergman's art collection in Indiscreet, but it's still worth noting. I personally can't identify any pieces in the collection, but I can tell they're of varied genres and mediums. There's a few I'm going to mention by name and ponder at their significance, and then I'm going to get to the point. 
"a new young American Primitive" 
The first painting I'm going to point out is one that Janet (Joan Chandler) actually points out the prominently hung painting in the midst of the film. Brandon replies that its by a "new young American Primitive." Primitive art is of course, no more than glorified folk art, and is suggestive of earlier, simpler times. Janet, a modern woman, scoffs at the art, making some comment about how her sister could make something better than it. So, here we have a conflict with a modern, but a conventional young woman and a more unconventional man with prehistoric, nonexistent ethics. Brandon, is in fact, the new young American Primitive! Not the painter, but he is a new American primitive. Not a Native American from antiquity. Rather, a morally primitive result of the Atomic age. Granted, this is all pure conjecture, but hear me out. 
Note the pre-Columbian statues in both stills from Rope
This idea of prehistoric ethics that justify unnecessary killing is echoed in the presence of multiple pre-Columbian statuettes throughout the apartment. Perhaps, the inclusion of these statuettes in the apartment is simply to add diversity to the decoration of the apartment. Or perhaps, once again Hitchcock points to the ancient, even barbaric motivations that Brandon and Phillip use to justify their "perfect murder." Interestingly enough, such pre-Columbian statues and artifacts also feature prominently in a later Hitchcock film, Marnie
The supporting women of Rope
There are also three distinct separate works that feature women as subjects. In the hall, there is a tiny modern print of a woman's face. In their magnificent sitting room there is a prominent sketch, perhaps charcoal or pencil, of a woman's face. Finally, in the dining room, there is an abstract, even perhaps cubist painting of a woman. What do these women suggest? To be honest, I don't know!
But more importantly, the presence of all this art is not that surprising at all. Recall what I noted in the North by Northwest post: the Hitchcock villain (or in Hitch's mind, the modern villain) is a sophisticated, oily man, whose charm and breeding are evident in his collection of art. Is such a man trying to force beauty in his life while his soul is devoid of love and grace? Is he trying to compensate for his moral deficiencies? Or is he merely trying to make a statement that he is- get ready for it- superior than the "normal man." I feel this may be the exact point that Hitchcock is making. His villains not only excuse themselves from normal codes of conduct, stooping to some pretty low evils, but are able to mingle in high society (think once more of the James Mason's slick Vandamm). They consider themselves as morally superior, which allows them to commit crimes. More important to their ego, they consider themselves intellectually superior as well, allowing them cultivate and appreciate an art collection. 
The closing scene of Rope
Whatever the point Hitchcock was making, it is clear that he associates art appreciation with evil and superiority, even presumed superiority on the part of the villain. And I must say, for all their moral deficiencies, Brandon and Phillip certainly do have a great eye for art.

Monday, July 22, 2013

John Ferren's Expressionist Paintings in Hitchcock's "The Trouble with Harry" (1955)

With Hitchcock’s characteristic mix of comedy and suspense, it is not entirely unexpected that in 1955 he ventured into the sometimes iffy area of “black comedy” with Universal’s The Trouble with Harry. The film served as the debut for Shirley MacLaine and costarred John Forsythe, Mildred Natwick and Edmund Gwenn; all together a fairly good cast. See, I feel that the trouble with The Trouble with Harry (for me, at least) is that everything is only fairly good. The dialogue was fairly good, the plot was fairly good and the jokes were all pretty fairly good. That’s how I feel at least, you have the freedom to think otherwise of course.

The slightly wonderful thing about The Trouble with Harry is that it’s one of the wonderful films (for me) that has an artist as a main character. Let me do some brief plot summarizing: Sam Marlowe, a “talented” but free-spirited artist in New England discovers a body in the midst of a beautifully lush autumn forest. He later discovers Harry’s wife, and neighbors who all think that they accidentally killed him. The comedy is mainly situational because the characters are more fazed by the inconvenience of the whole thing rather than the fact that a man is dead. It’s actually rather charming in parts.
Marlowe's art clutters both the inside and outside of Mrs. Wiggs' store,
creating bold strokes over color across the screen.

Besides having a carefree, friendly spirit, Sam is also an accomplished artist. By accomplished artist, I mean that he’s created a ton of very abstract expressionist art that is featured quite prominently in the film. It fills the inside and outside of the colloquially charming Wiggs’ Country storm, where Sam attempts to sell his works of art. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of abstract expressionism and I’m not going to lie, despite my love of Hitchcock, I cannot make myself love, or even like, this art. I have, however, gained a begrudging appreciation for it and its contributions to the film as a whole. Let me explain.
The Troublemakers in The Trouble with Harry
(L-R): Shirley MacLaine, John Forsythe, Mildred Natwick, Edmund Gwenn

For all its flaws, and there are a few, The Trouble with Harry is one of the films that is sometimes just a joy to watch purely because of the compositions that are created on screen. The setting is the beautifully lush New England countryside in fall, so the screen is filled with rich hues of oranges, reds, and yellows (many of which are fabricated- Hitch filmed The Trouble with Harry on location, but by the time he got there, a lot of the leaves had already fallen). The movie is also filmed in gorgeous Technicolor, which I think makes everything look better. Hitchcock did this purposely. He wanted his black comedy to be filmed with a lovely, bright backdrop to add literal lightness to the sometimes dark jokes.
A view of Sam Marlowe's stand outside the country store

In this respect, the abstract expressionist paintings fit in beautifully because they are more composition than subject-matter. The colorful bold canvases serve the same purpose as the autumn foliage- they add to the film’s composition as a whole and fill it with vibrant colors.
Another view of Marlowe's (Forsythe) outdoor stand

The paintings were all created by John Ferren, a fairly talented artist and a Hitchcock collaborator. Of note, Ferren designed the slightly bizarre Jimmy Stewart nightmare sequence in Vertigo as well as the haunting Portrait of Carlotta. While Carlotta was certainly a lovely painting, the works that appear in The Trouble with Harry were more Ferren’s style. In fact, they were exactly Ferren’s style. While Ferren did prolifically work in Hollywood, he also was an accomplished painter by his own respect and was influenced highly by the likes of the Expressionist greats like Kandinsky and Marc. Some of the paintings are in fact sloppy, even by abstract expressionistic standards, because of the limited time frame of the film’s production. According to Susan Felleman’sfascinating criticism of modern art in the movies, “Decay of the Aura” from thesummer 2011 issue of Jump Cut, Hitchcock turned to Ferren for the paintings for multiple reasons, including the bright color palette, the bold movement and most of all the aura of mystery and disorientation the avant-garde works suggested.
Mrs. Wiggs (Mildred Dunnock) pondering over Marlowe's (John Forsythe)
Expressionist paintings

In this light, Sam’s, or more specifically, Ferren’s works serve a dual purpose in The Trouble with Harry, neither technically essential, but valuable nonetheless: they reflect both the color palette and sense of disorientation in the film as a whole.

It is also worth noting that while Stanley Wright, a local artist in Stowe, Vermont, claimed that he painted many, if not all of the works in The Trouble with Harry, many critics scoff at such a suggestion. Felleman notes that Hitchcock had indeed sparred with Wright, a talented realist painter, during filming, but most likely did not use any of his paintings. It is however, not out of the possibility that a Wright Expressionist painting exists somewhere on screen.
The sketch of Harry shows definite inspiration from Rouault, one of
Hitchcock's favorite artists (see below)

On a secondary note, I once read a brief note on The Trouble with Harry that pointed out the similarity of a sketch Marlowe does of the corpse with the work of Rouault. If you recall, Hitchcock was highly inspired by the work of Georges Rouault, a fellow modern Catholic artist. I noted the striking Rouault imitation in Strangers on a Train earlier. When you really study that sketch of poor, dead Harry you can really see a vague resemblance to some of Rouault’s own charcoals. 
Rouault's Ecce Homo
I’ve included an insert of Rouault’s Ecce Homo, a contemplative look at the suffering Christ that Rouault made around 1940. Felleman noted that in an interview she conducted with Ferren’s widow, Rae Ferren, Rae claimed that she, herself an artist, made the charcoal of Harry.

Marlowe confronted by his own rendered face of death

It’s kind of funny: The Trouble with Harry features art and artists more than almost any other Hitchcock. Yet the pieces in The Trouble with Harry lack centrality to the plot and significant symbolic importance. Because of this, the paintings and artwork in The Trouble with Harry often seems to fade into obscurity. I’ll wager this is because audiences view the pieces in the wrong light. As I stated earlier, Ferren’s paintings are not intended to bear huge significance in the usual sense. Rather, they mirror the gorgeous New England autumn color palette and at the times the general sense of confusion that intentionally pervades the screen. And in this respect, they are-in every sense- beautifully vivid.
Jerry Mathers in his own debut role as Shirley MacLaine's son, Arnie

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Reel Connections: Vandamm's "Frank Lloyd Wright" House on Mt. Rushmore in Hitchcock's "North by Northwest" (1959)

One of Hitchcock’s most successful (and commercial) films was the classic thriller North by Northwest (MGM 1959). Hitch’s previous film Vertigo (Paramount 1958), while certainly an artistic success and a cinematic masterpiece, did not fare so well in the box office. It was a little too dark and a little too slow for the contemporary audiences. Hitch desperately needed a giant success and therefore he returned to his forte of sorts: the romantic thriller. North by Northwest is indisputably one of Hitch’s finest films and it features the Hitchcock repertoire of great elements: a stellar cast led by one of Hitch’s favorite actor’s Cary Grant, a sparkling dialogue, moments of great situational humor, a beautiful cool blonde love interest (played by Eva Maria Saint), a mysterious MacGuffin and a fast-moving, smooth, and of course, suspenseful plot.
Saul Bass' famous title design

It also features another Hitchcockian element that I’ve touched one in previous posts, but never mentioned by name: the Hitchcock villain. Who is the Hitchcock villain, you may ask. I’ll tell you. For one, he’s wealthy, showing that he’s successful at whatever kind of evil he practices. He’s suave and charming. He’s sophisticated and moves in high society with oily ease. He may be foreign, but then again, he may not, but he will almost certainly have an attribute that sets him apart. He is personified by James Mason, who plays Philip Vandamm, the criminal mastermind in North by Northwest. James Mason plays one of my favorite villains and he does it with such ease, it’s hard not to love to hate him. (It’s also interesting to note that North by Northwest is often cited as the forerunner of the Bond films, with its suave leading man, large-scale chases, and oily, foreign criminal mastermind).
Roger Thorndale (Cary Grant) in the famous "Crop-dusting Scene"

In the film, Cary Grant (who’s at the top of his game in this great role that’s funny, charming and completely believable) plays Roger Thorndale Madison Ave executive who is mistakenly identified as a spy, “George Kaplan” by the wicked Vandamm and as an assassin by the rest of the country. Roger is forced to flee and attempt to figure out who George Kaplan is and why people want to kill him in an attempt to clear his own name. Gradually, it’s revealed that while Kaplan is not a spy, or (spoiler) even a real person, Roger’s going to have to do some pretty complex intelligence work for the US government and retrieve a bunch of government secrets on microfilm from Vandamm who’s about to smuggle them out of the country. This brings him to Rapid City, the site of the Mt. Rushmore monument, the film to its critical climax and it brings us to the point of the post.
A view of Roger approaching the house- obviously a matte
Roger is forced to break into Vandamm’s mountaintop mansion so he can save his love interest Eve (Eva Maria Saint) and recover the film. He creeps into the house, which appears to be near the top of Mt Rushmore, and eventually vaults himself onto a balcony to get into the house. But that’s all a side-note- back to the house.
An interior view of the house's flat open floorplan

Vandamm lives in a modernist mansion, which reeks of Frank Lloyd Wright. Blending into its mountaintop setting, it features a sharp horizontal design and numerous cantilevers. Once inside, you realize that the house features many natural elements including wood and limestone and a flat open floor plan, another Wright specialty. The house looks like a Wright, but it is one hundred percent NOT. Once again, Hitch turned to shameless copying to achieve a look he desired. (Remember his copying of Roualt in Strangers on a Train). But what look is Hitchcock looking for this time?
Phillip Vandamm (James Mason): the suave supervillain

As I said before, Vandamm, the typical Hitchcock villian, while essentially evil, he is also sophisticated (he’s an accomplished art collector) and wealthy (he can afford to be an accomplished art collector). So obviously, he has to live in a home that reflects this wealth and sophistication. At the same time, it required a level of coldness and isolation that befit a great villain, but also befits the film itself which thematically introduces an element of loneliness in the modern world and the plight of a man alone in such a world. Wright’s “Prairie Style” modernism fits the bill in every regard.  

Wright's iconic Fallingwater 

In the late ‘50s, Frank Lloyd Wright had become not only a household name, but one of the most famous and recognizable architects of any style in the United States. The 50s American audience not only recognized Wright’s work like Fallingwater but also appreciated its modern luxury and its great expense. In Hitch’s mind, that made it perfect for his perfect villain.
A close-up detail of the Vandamm house (also a matte)

According to an essay written by Sandy McLendon in JetsetModern, Hitchcock realized that Wright fit all his requirements for the house but that he could not, under any circumstance accord Wright’s designer fee.  So, “Hitchcock seized upon the idea of having MGM staff design a house in Wright’s manner. It was a sensible idea; Wright used materials and themes in his designs that could be conveniently appropriated. All those magazine articles had already conditioned the audience to know that those materials and themes meant "Frank Lloyd Wright" and nobody else. Hitchcock would get the look and the recognition- without the expense” (McLendon, 2001).
Boyle's preliminary designs for the Mt Rushmore house

Hitchcock then turned to his artistic director Robert F. Boyle and the production team of MGM:  William A. Horning, Merrill Pye, Henry Grace, and Frank McKelvey. Boyle, as it happens, was a Hitchcock veteran, having worked on films with Hitch earlier. While, I’m focusing on one particular element of his work in this film, the level of quality he brought to the whole of North by Northwest is truly admirable. But I digress.
Hitchcock initially envisioned a chase scene on Mount Rushmore as the inspiration for North by Northwest.
 Boyle also had to create the iconic monument on the Culver City backlot. 
As it turned out, copying a Wright design would be easy enough compared to the other problems the production team had to overcome. Obviously, a set could not be built on the top of Mt. Rushmore, the National Park service would have none of that. (Besides, creating this house, which was quite an accomplishment, Boyle and Co. had to recreate Mt. Rushmore in Culver City for that great final chase scene: no easy (or cheap task), trust me.) Finally, Hitchcock not only couldn’t afford a real Frank Lloyd Wright house, he couldn’t afford the price of any real house. So they’d have to fake it.
A rear view of the house which reveals a carport and an additional balcony

The “house” as it so happens, was not even a real house. It wasn’t even a miniature, like Manderly, in Rebecca.  It was a mix of interior sets, matte designs by matte artist Matthew Yuricich and a few choice exterior shots of the house’s support, which Grant had to climb in one scene. I looked to see if Yuricich’s mattes were still in existence, but it appears when MGM cleaned shop in the 60s and 70s, a lot of great stuff was thrown out or “lost” and I believe these mattes were included in that “lost” list.
An interior view of Vandamm in his home, which features the finest of
contemporary home fixtures: including modern furniture and a TV

Of course, certain rooms had to be real so that the lighting and such wouldn’t be completely wrong when viewed on screen. McLendon noted that in many cases real materials were used only sparingly, when the audience could notice the difference between say, plaster and limestone, and real glass (which could reflect they crew) was often not used. It’s an instance of classic Hollywood trickery and magic, but it is certainly excellent magic.
Roger climbing up to Eve's balcony.
This part of the house was actually built. 
One of my issues with the Vandamm house is those exterior support beams. It’s not that they’re such an eyesore, because they certainly aren’t. But they are certainly not an element Wright would have used. He would have hidden the supports, like in Fallingwater, so they would have more seamlessly blended with the environment. Granted, I know they’re essential for Roger to climb into the house, but I feel they’re the one element that gives the house a way as a “fake,” in more than one way.
Hitch in the original trailer for the film. 

North by Northwest certainly didn’t introduce modernism to the silver screen but it was one of the first films to openly highlight the sophistication and luxury of a modernist palace like Vandamm’s mountainside retreat. It is groundbreaking, in a way, as it established modernism as the successful criminal’s architectural style of choice (ala Goldfinger). Vandamm may not have had a lot of redeeming qualities, but he did have an excellent artistic eye and you have to be grateful for that, especially when you get to enjoy sumptuous views of his Frank Lloyd Wright “original.”  
A close up of Eva Maria Saint with a great view of Vandamm's house in the background. 

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