Reviews — May 17

Even at his most macabre, Alfred Hitchcock sprinkled his suspense with humor, but in his 1959 action epic “North by Northwest,” the comedy flows organically from the delightful premise: Cary Grant plays Roger Thornhill, a flannel-suited everyman who has the misfortune to stand up in a hotel lobby at the exact moment a U.S. double agent named George Kaplan is paged. The bad guys pounce, unaware that Kaplan is a phantom, invented by the Feds to lead them astray.

“North by Northwest” is unique in the Hitchcock canon: It’s a roller coaster movie, with the increasingly exasperated Grant caught up in a cross-country cat-and-mouse game, running and climbing for his life in a series of visually interesting locales — Grand Central Station, the United Nations Building and Mount Rushmore.

Eva Marie Saint is also on board, and the chemistry between her and Grant is electric and the sexually-charged banter is hilarious. Hitchcock certainly made plenty of other films as exciting as this action thriller, but he never made one so deliberately fun.

“North by Northwest” (1959) Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Starring Cary Grant (in his fourth and final collaboration with Hitchcock), Eva Marie Saint, James Mason, Martin Landau and Jessie Royce Landis. Unrated. 136 minutes.


I’m not sure “enjoy” is the right word to use when talking about reading a book about a teacher twice accused of raping underage girls. But I did like “Salem Falls,” the 2002 entry in Jodi Picoult’s list of novels about social issues. It’s pretty well-written, fast-paced and thought-provoking.

As the book begins, Jack St. Bride has just been released from eight months in prison. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor sexual abuse charge rather than take his chances with a jury, even though he didn’t commit the more serious crime of which he was accused: having sex with one of his students.

He randomly chooses to live in a small town whose residents believe is free of crime and criminals, Salem Falls — not accidentally, it’s a name that reminds us of Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” and the Salem witch trials.

Jack registers as a sex offender, as required. But when he lucks into a job at the local diner, he doesn’t mention his status to his new employer who — conveniently, for Picoult and her readers — quickly falls in love with him.

Unfortunately, a teenage girl sets her sights on him as well, even as her neighbors find out about his sex offender status and attempt to run him out of town. When he turns her down, she accuses him of rape.

The legal case that follows turns the town upside down. Everyone is involved, it seems, and many of them are involved in multiple ways.

Picoult can be a little heavy-handed, as if she doesn’t quite trust readers to get the point. Characters Picoult wants us to see as “good” are often just too perfect. For instance, Jack is not only innocent, he’s handsome, well-bred, empathetic and kind.

And some of the events, such as the love story, seem less than realistic; they’re more like devices included simply to move the plot along. However, she does treat the sensitive subject matter well, without minimizing or excusing the problem of sexual violence.

I do wish the novel focused more on the town’s reaction — there’s a little, but then that storyline just fades away.

“Salem Falls,” by Jodi Picoult, 2002, Washington Square Press.

Starla Pointer

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