North by Northwest

North by Northwest
North by Northwest

“North by Northwest,” released in 1959, is a classic suspense thriller directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Known for its thrilling plot, charismatic performances, and iconic set pieces, the film has become a benchmark for the genre. With its intricate storytelling, masterful direction, and memorable characters, “North by Northwest” remains a timeless classic. In this detailed review, we will explore the film’s key elements and its impact on cinema.


“North by Northwest” follows the story of Roger Thornhill (played by Cary Grant), a suave and successful advertising executive who becomes entangled in a case of mistaken identity. After being mistakenly identified as a government agent named George Kaplan, Thornhill is pursued by a mysterious organization headed by Phillip Vandamm (played by James Mason). Falsely accused of murder and on the run, Thornhill embarks on a thrilling cross-country adventure to clear his name and uncover the truth.

Suspense and Thrills:

The film is a masterclass in suspense, with Hitchcock expertly building tension through well-crafted set pieces and unexpected twists. From the famous crop-dusting sequence in the open fields to the climactic chase on Mount Rushmore, “North by Northwest” keeps viewers on the edge of their seats throughout. The film’s suspenseful moments are meticulously choreographed, employing innovative camera techniques and Hitchcock’s signature use of visual storytelling to create a sense of urgency and excitement.

Charismatic Performances:

Cary Grant delivers a charismatic and charming performance as Roger Thornhill. His portrayal perfectly balances humor and vulnerability, making Thornhill a relatable and likable protagonist. Eva Marie Saint shines as the enigmatic femme fatale, Eve Kendall, bringing depth and complexity to her character. James Mason delivers a captivating performance as the sophisticated and ruthless Phillip Vandamm, adding an air of menace to the film. The chemistry between the actors is palpable, elevating the tension and adding layers to the film’s relationships.

Cinematography and Set Design:

The film showcases stunning cinematography by Robert Burks, capturing the vast landscapes and urban environments with elegance and precision. The use of wide shots and intricate framing enhances the visual storytelling, emphasizing the characters’ isolation and vulnerability. The iconic scenes set at the United Nations Headquarters and Mount Rushmore are visually striking, taking advantage of their unique settings to heighten the suspense.

Innovative Storytelling:

“North by Northwest” stands out for its innovative storytelling techniques. The film features a meticulously constructed screenplay by Ernest Lehman, filled with witty dialogue and clever plot twists. The narrative takes the audience on a thrilling and unpredictable journey, blending elements of espionage, romance, and mystery. The use of mistaken identity as a driving force for the plot adds an extra layer of intrigue and uncertainty.

Memorable Scenes and Dialogues:

Several scenes in “North by Northwest” have become iconic moments in cinema history. The suspenseful crop-dusting scene, with its relentless pursuit and unexpected climax, is widely regarded as one of Hitchcock’s most memorable sequences. The climactic chase on Mount Rushmore, with its vertigo-inducing shots and perilous action, remains etched in the minds of viewers. The film is also filled with memorable dialogues, including the famous exchange between Thornhill and Kendall on the train, where Thornhill dryly remarks, “I’m an advertising man, not a red herring.”

Legacy and Influence:

“North by Northwest” has had a lasting impact on the thriller genre and remains a touchstone for filmmakers. Its expert blend of suspense, action, and wit has influenced countless films in the years that followed. The film’s iconic imagery, memorable characters, and Hitchcock’s directorial flair have solidified its status as one of the greatest and most influential films in cinematic history.

In addition to its cultural significance, “North by Northwest” was a critical and commercial success upon its release. The film garnered positive reviews from critics, who praised Hitchcock’s direction, the performances of the cast, and the film’s gripping plot. Audiences were captivated by the film’s thrilling sequences, engaging storyline, and the undeniable charm of Cary Grant.

From a technical standpoint, the film pushed the boundaries of filmmaking at the time. Hitchcock employed innovative techniques, such as rear projection, to create seamless and convincing action sequences. The crop-dusting scene, in particular, showcased the director’s mastery of suspenseful storytelling and his ability to create tension through editing, sound design, and visual effects.

Furthermore, “North by Northwest” showcased Hitchcock’s trademark themes and motifs. The film explored the theme of mistaken identity, a recurring theme in his filmography. It also delved into the idea of an innocent man caught up in a web of intrigue, struggling to clear his name and find the truth. These thematic elements, coupled with the film’s suspenseful plot and memorable characters, contributed to its enduring popularity and cultural impact.

The success of “North by Northwest” can also be attributed to the collaboration of a talented crew. The film’s screenplay by Ernest Lehman was instrumental in crafting the intricate plot, clever dialogue, and memorable characters. Lehman’s script expertly blended suspense, romance, and humor, creating a narrative that kept audiences engaged from start to finish.

Additionally, the film’s production design, led by Robert F. Boyle, added to its visual appeal. From the elegant interiors of the Plaza Hotel to the vast expanse of Mount Rushmore, the sets and locations contributed to the film’s atmosphere and heightened the sense of adventure and danger.

The performances in “North by Northwest” were widely praised. Cary Grant’s portrayal of Roger Thornhill showcased his versatility as an actor, effortlessly blending charisma, wit, and vulnerability. Eva Marie Saint brought depth and complexity to her character, Eve Kendall, as a woman torn between loyalty and self-preservation. James Mason’s portrayal of Phillip Vandamm exuded sophistication and menace, making him a formidable antagonist.

“North by Northwest” also benefited from Bernard Herrmann’s score, which added tension and excitement to the film. The iconic theme music is instantly recognizable and has become synonymous with the suspense genre.

In conclusion, “North by Northwest” is a cinematic masterpiece that continues to captivate audiences with its thrilling plot, charismatic performances, and innovative storytelling techniques. Alfred Hitchcock’s direction, coupled with the standout performances of Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, and James Mason, elevated the film to iconic status. Its memorable scenes, gripping dialogue, and enduring legacy have secured its place in cinema history. “North by Northwest” remains a timeless classic that showcases the genius of Hitchcock and the power of suspenseful storytelling.

Cast and Crew

“North by Northwest” (1959) had a talented cast and crew that contributed to its success. Let’s explore the key members involved in the making of the film:


1. Cary Grant as Roger O. Thornhill: Grant, one of Hollywood’s most iconic actors, portrayed the suave and mistaken identity-stricken advertising executive. His charismatic performance brought wit, charm, and vulnerability to the character.

2. Eva Marie Saint as Eve Kendall: Saint played the enigmatic femme fatale who becomes entangled in Thornhill’s predicament. Her portrayal of Eve Kendall added depth and complexity to the role, balancing allure and hidden motives.

3. James Mason as Phillip Vandamm: Mason portrayed the sophisticated and menacing antagonist, Vandamm, the leader of the mysterious organization pursuing Thornhill. Mason’s performance exuded charisma and created a formidable presence on screen.

4. Martin Landau as Leonard: Landau played Vandamm’s henchman, Leonard, who harbors suspicions about Kendall. His intense and brooding portrayal earned him critical acclaim.

5. Leo G. Carroll as The Professor: Carroll portrayed the government agent who aids Thornhill in his quest for the truth. His calm and authoritative presence added gravitas to the character.


1. Alfred Hitchcock (Director): Hitchcock, often referred to as the “Master of Suspense,” directed the film. His meticulous attention to detail and innovative storytelling techniques elevated “North by Northwest” to a thrilling and visually captivating experience.

2. Ernest Lehman (Screenwriter): Lehman crafted the film’s screenplay, blending suspense, action, and humor seamlessly. His script showcased the intricate plot, clever dialogue, and memorable characters that defined the film.

3. Robert Burks (Cinematographer): Burks was responsible for the film’s stunning cinematography. His camera work captured the vast landscapes, urban environments, and thrilling set pieces with precision, adding to the film’s visual appeal.

4. Bernard Herrmann (Composer): Herrmann composed the film’s score, enhancing its suspense and drama. His music added tension, excitement, and emotional depth to the narrative, becoming an integral part of the film’s identity.

5. Robert F. Boyle (Production Designer): Boyle led the production design team, creating the film’s striking visual aesthetic. From the sleek interiors of luxurious hotels to the iconic Mount Rushmore sequence, Boyle’s work added depth and atmosphere to the storytelling.

6. George Tomasini (Film Editor): Tomasini’s editing expertise played a crucial role in building suspense and pacing the film. His collaboration with Hitchcock resulted in the seamless integration of suspenseful sequences and heightened tension.

The collaborative efforts of this talented cast and crew contributed to the success of “North by Northwest.” Their combined skills and creative vision brought Hitchcock’s thrilling story to life, cementing the film’s status as a classic in suspense cinema.

“North by Northwest” achieved remarkable success both critically and commercially upon its release in 1959. Let’s delve into the movie’s success in detail:

Critical Reception:

The film received overwhelmingly positive reviews from critics, who praised its thrilling plot, engaging performances, and Hitchcock’s masterful direction. Critics admired the film’s suspenseful sequences, inventive storytelling, and the charismatic performances of Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint. The screenplay by Ernest Lehman was widely acclaimed for its witty dialogue, intricate plot twists, and seamless blend of suspense, romance, and humor. Alfred Hitchcock’s direction was lauded for its impeccable pacing, effective use of visual storytelling, and ability to sustain tension throughout the film.

Commercial Success:

“North by Northwest” was a resounding commercial success, becoming one of the highest-grossing films of 1959. It generated significant box office revenue both domestically and internationally. The film’s thrilling premise and strong marketing campaign, including its iconic poster featuring Cary Grant fleeing from a crop-dusting plane, drew audiences to theaters. Its success can be attributed to Hitchcock’s reputation as a master of suspense, the star power of Cary Grant, and the film’s reputation as a must-see cinematic experience.

Awards and Nominations:

The film received three Academy Award nominations, including Best Art Direction, Best Film Editing, and Best Writing (Original Screenplay). Although it did not win any Oscars, the nominations solidified its critical acclaim and recognition within the industry.

Enduring Legacy:

“North by Northwest” has maintained its status as a classic and continues to be celebrated for its contribution to cinema. It has influenced subsequent films in the suspense and thriller genres, inspiring filmmakers with its innovative storytelling, memorable set pieces, and charismatic performances. The film’s iconic scenes, such as the crop-dusting sequence and the Mount Rushmore climax, are widely regarded as some of the most thrilling and suspenseful moments in cinematic history.

Cultural Impact:

The film’s success contributed to the ongoing popularity and cultural significance of Alfred Hitchcock’s body of work. It further solidified Cary Grant’s status as a leading Hollywood star. The film’s themes of mistaken identity, espionage, and adventure became synonymous with Hitchcock’s trademark style, influencing numerous films and TV shows that followed.

Home Video and Re-releases:

“North by Northwest” has had multiple home video releases and has been digitally restored to preserve its visual quality. These releases have allowed new generations of viewers to appreciate the film’s brilliance and contributed to its continued popularity and relevance.

In conclusion, “North by Northwest” achieved both critical acclaim and commercial success. Its thrilling plot, charismatic performances, innovative storytelling, and Hitchcock’s masterful direction captivated audiences and critics alike. The film’s enduring legacy and cultural impact have solidified its status as one of the greatest suspense thrillers in cinema history.


The production of “North by Northwest” had several interesting behind-the-scenes stories and challenges. Here are a few notable ones:

1. United Nations Location Shoot:

To capture the authenticity of the United Nations (UN) setting, Alfred Hitchcock and his crew secured permission to film at the actual UN headquarters in New York City. This was the first time a feature film was allowed to shoot inside the UN building. However, due to strict regulations, the crew had limited access to specific areas and had to work quickly to complete the scenes within a tight timeframe.

2. Mount Rushmore Climax:

The iconic Mount Rushmore sequence presented numerous logistical challenges. Since filming on the actual monument was not permitted, a large-scale replica was built on a soundstage in California. The production team meticulously recreated the faces of the presidents and the surrounding environment to ensure authenticity. Special effects and skilled editing were employed to seamlessly blend the studio shots with location footage to create the illusion of characters scaling the monument.

3. Crop-Dusting Sequence:

The thrilling crop-dusting scene was filmed on location in Bakersfield, California. Hitchcock and his team faced numerous difficulties while shooting this sequence, including unpredictable weather conditions, logistical challenges with the low-flying plane, and ensuring the safety of the actors and crew. The scene required meticulous planning, timing, and coordination to achieve the desired suspense and realism.

4. Train Sequence:

The famous train scene, where Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) and Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint) have a suspenseful conversation, was shot on a soundstage rather than an actual moving train. To create the illusion of movement, the background scenery was projected onto a large screen behind the actors, while the train interior set was mounted on a platform that rocked back and forth to simulate the train’s motion. This technique allowed for greater control over the filming process and the ability to capture close-ups of the actors.

5. Costumes and Fashion:

Edith Head, renowned costume designer, was responsible for the film’s stylish and iconic wardrobe. Cary Grant’s tailored suits and Eva Marie Saint’s elegant dresses became fashion inspirations for many. The film showcased a sophisticated and glamorous aesthetic that perfectly complemented the characters and the film’s overall visual appeal.

6. MacGuffin:

“North by Northwest” introduced the concept of the “MacGuffin,” a plot device that drives the story but is ultimately less important than the characters’ interactions and the overall suspense. In this case, the MacGuffin is the mysterious figure of George Kaplan, who serves as a catalyst for the mistaken identity plot. The film’s focus remains on the thrilling journey and character dynamics rather than the specific details of the MacGuffin itself.

These behind-the-scenes anecdotes highlight the creative problem-solving, technical innovations, and meticulous planning that went into making “North by Northwest.” Hitchcock’s attention to detail and his ability to overcome challenges contributed to the film’s success and its enduring status as a masterpiece of suspense cinema.

“North by Northwest” is not particularly known for its hit songs, as it is primarily a suspense thriller rather than a musical. However, the film does feature a memorable and iconic score composed by Bernard Herrmann. The score, though not a collection of individual songs, plays a crucial role in creating tension, heightening suspense, and enhancing the overall atmosphere of the film.

Unforgettable scenes

As for unforgettable scenes, “North by Northwest” boasts several iconic sequences that have become synonymous with the film:

1. The Crop-Dusting Scene:

One of the film’s most famous and suspenseful moments is the crop-dusting sequence. Roger Thornhill finds himself stranded in the middle of nowhere when a mysterious crop-dusting plane starts attacking him. As the plane swoops down, attempting to kill Thornhill, he frantically tries to escape. This scene is masterfully executed, filled with tension, and showcases Alfred Hitchcock’s exceptional ability to create suspense.

2. The Mount Rushmore Climax:

The climactic sequence at Mount Rushmore is an unforgettable and visually stunning part of the film. Roger Thornhill and Eve Kendall find themselves pursued by the villains on the iconic monument. The scene involves a thrilling chase, precarious climbs, and a dramatic confrontation on the presidential faces. The combination of the dramatic location, Hitchcock’s direction, and the visual effects makes this sequence an enduring highlight of the film.

3. The UN Assembly Scene:

The film’s opening sequence, set at the United Nations headquarters, sets the stage for the mistaken identity plot. Roger Thornhill is mistaken for a government agent and targeted for assassination. The tension builds as Thornhill tries to convince the UN officials of his innocence while simultaneously evading capture. This scene showcases Hitchcock’s ability to create suspense in a confined space, and it sets the tone for the thrilling cat-and-mouse chase that follows.

4. The Auction House Scene:

In this memorable scene, Roger Thornhill attends an art auction, where he becomes entangled in a dangerous situation. The scene involves a tense exchange of coded messages, hidden microfilm, and a thrilling escape. It exemplifies the film’s blend of suspense and humor, with Cary Grant’s quick-witted dialogue and the clever use of visual cues.

Regarding memorable dialogue, “North by Northwest” is known for its sharp and clever exchanges. While the film is not heavily reliant on one-liners or catchphrases, the script by Ernest Lehman is filled with witty and memorable lines. Some notable quotes include:

– “I don’t like the way Teddy Roosevelt is looking at me.”

– “In the world of advertising, there’s no such thing as a lie. There’s only the expedient exaggeration.”

– “I’m an advertising man, not a red herring. I’ve got a job, a secretary, a mother, two ex-wives, and several bartenders dependent upon me, and I don’t intend to disappoint them all by getting myself ‘slightly’ killed.”

These quotes, along with other clever and humorous exchanges throughout the film, add to the overall charm and enjoyment of “North by Northwest.”

In summary, while “North by Northwest” may not be known for hit songs, its score by Bernard Herrmann sets the tone and enhances the suspense of the film. The crop-dusting scene, Mount Rushmore climax, UN Assembly sequence, and the auction house scene are some of the most memorable and iconic moments in the film. The script features sharp and witty dialogue that adds to the film’s charm and quotability. Together, these elements contribute to the film’s enduring status as a suspenseful and thrilling classic.

“North by Northwest” (1959) is a thrilling and captivating film that weaves an intricate tale of mistaken identity, espionage, and suspense. As the film reaches its conclusion, the audience is taken on a rollercoaster ride of excitement, danger, and resolution.

The climactic sequence at Mount Rushmore serves as the pinnacle of the film’s suspense. Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant), now aware of the true identity of the villains and their nefarious plans, races against time to save the woman he loves and prevent a catastrophic event. The iconic Mount Rushmore monument provides a visually stunning backdrop as the characters engage in a thrilling chase, climbing precarious heights and facing off against their enemies.

During the dramatic confrontation on the presidential faces, Thornhill manages to expose the villains and their sinister intentions. In a nail-biting moment, Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint) reveals her true allegiance, assisting Thornhill in his battle against the villains. The scene is filled with tension, as Thornhill and Kendall fight for their lives and try to outwit their adversaries.

The combination of Alfred Hitchcock’s masterful direction, Bernard Herrmann’s evocative score, and the visual effects create a sense of impending doom and heighten the tension to a fever pitch. The audience is kept on the edge of their seats, uncertain of the outcome and rooting for Thornhill and Kendall to emerge victorious.

In a thrilling and satisfying conclusion, Thornhill manages to defeat the villains, exposing their organization and saving the day. The film ends with a dramatic escape from Mount Rushmore, as Thornhill and Kendall hang precariously from the monument’s cliffs. Their survival and triumph add a sense of relief and closure to the narrative, providing a satisfying resolution to the suspenseful journey.

However, the conclusion of “North by Northwest” is not just about the resolution of the plot. It also delves into the personal growth and transformation of the main characters. Thornhill, who initially finds himself caught up in a web of intrigue and danger, evolves from a self-centered, nonchalant advertising executive into a determined and resourceful hero. His journey forces him to confront his own vulnerabilities and discover inner strength and courage.

Similarly, Eve Kendall undergoes her own transformation throughout the film. Initially presented as a mysterious and alluring femme fatale, she reveals her complex layers and inner turmoil. Her true loyalty and feelings for Thornhill are unveiled, showcasing her strength, intelligence, and resilience.


The conclusion of “North by Northwest” also addresses the theme of identity. Thornhill’s mistaken identity becomes a catalyst for his journey of self-discovery and growth. By the end of the film, he not only unravels the conspiracy surrounding him but also gains a deeper understanding of who he is and what truly matters in life.

In addition to the thrilling climax and character development, the conclusion of “North by Northwest” also offers moments of humor and charm. The banter between Thornhill and Kendall, even in the face of danger, adds a touch of levity to the intense situation. This balance of suspense and humor is one of the film’s defining characteristics and contributes to its enduring popularity.

As the film draws to a close, Hitchcock skillfully ties up loose ends and provides a satisfying resolution to the various plot threads. The audience is left with a sense of fulfillment, having embarked on a thrilling journey filled with suspense, action, romance, and unexpected twists and turns.

In conclusion, the final act of “North by Northwest” delivers a breathtaking and satisfying conclusion to the film’s suspenseful narrative. The climactic sequence at Mount Rushmore, the resolution of the plot, the personal growth of the characters, and the balance of suspense and humor all contribute to a deeply engaging and memorable conclusion. Hitchcock’s masterful direction, coupled with the outstanding performances of Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint, solidifies “North by Northwest” as a true cinematic masterpiece.

The conclusion of the film leaves a lasting impact on the audience, not only through its thrilling action and resolution but also through its exploration of deeper themes. It delves into the idea of identity and the notion that circumstances can shape and redefine who we are. Roger Thornhill’s journey from an ordinary advertising executive to an unlikely hero showcases the resilience of the human spirit and the capacity for personal growth in the face of adversity.

Moreover, the conclusion of “North by Northwest” underscores Hitchcock’s recurring motif of the innocent man caught up in a web of intrigue. Thornhill’s quest for justice and redemption resonates with audiences, tapping into universal themes of survival, heroism, and the triumph of good over evil. The film serves as a commentary on the fragility of identity and the complexities of navigating a world where appearances can be deceiving.

The cinematography in the film’s conclusion is exceptional, with breathtaking shots of the Mount Rushmore monument and the treacherous heights. The visual grandeur, combined with Herrmann’s evocative score, intensifies the tension and elevates the suspense to its peak. Hitchcock’s meticulous attention to detail is evident in every frame, creating a visual and auditory experience that leaves a lasting impression.

Furthermore, the chemistry between Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint adds an extra layer of depth and emotion to the film’s conclusion. Their nuanced performances bring the characters to life and convey a sense of shared danger, trust, and romance. The resolution of their relationship provides a satisfying emotional payoff, as they overcome obstacles and find solace in each other amidst the chaos.

The conclusion of “North by Northwest” leaves audiences with a sense of exhilaration and fulfillment. It encapsulates the essence of Alfred Hitchcock’s filmmaking genius, combining suspense, romance, humor, and memorable set pieces into a cohesive and captivating narrative. The film’s enduring popularity over the years is a testament to its timeless appeal and the lasting impact of its conclusion.

In conclusion, the final act of “North by Northwest” is a culmination of suspense, action, and character development. It delivers a satisfying resolution to the plot while exploring deeper themes of identity and the human capacity for growth and resilience. The film’s conclusion, brought to life by Hitchcock’s masterful direction, outstanding performances, and stunning visuals, solidifies its status as one of the greatest films in cinema history. As the credits roll, the audience is left with a sense of awe and a lingering appreciation for the enduring brilliance of “North by Northwest.”

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