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North by Northwest (1959) - Illustrated Reference

Updated on April 25, 2017

North by Northwest was directed by Sir Alfred Hitchcock and premiered on the 17th July 1959. Starring Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason, Martin Landau and Leo G. Carroll. Screenplay by Ernest Lehman. Music by Bernard Herrmann. 131 mins.

Roger Thornhill, a middle aged advertising executive, is kidnapped by a gang of spies in the mistaken belief he is government agent George Kaplan.

After Vertigo Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980) had chosen to direct The Wreck of the Mary Deare for MGM. But screenwriter Ernest Lehman suffered writer’s block and couldn’t come up with a working screenplay. Hitchcock told him that they would find another project to work on.

Hitch and Lehman worked closely together on a story about a spy ring and an innocent man on the run (surprise!), some of the ideas they came up with include a man being murdered at the United Nations, a fake agent used as a decoy and a chase on Mount Rushmore.

Eve Kendall: Roger O. Thornhill. What does the O stand for?
Roger Thornhill: Nothing.

Cary Grant (1904-1986) / Roger Thornhill, mistaken by Vandamm and his men for the non-existent agent George Kaplan, invented by a US Intelligence Agency to act as a decoy to protect their real agent.

Born in Bristol, England, Cary Grant is one of the Hollywood greats and has starred in many classic movies including 3 more for Hitchcock – Suspicion (1941), Notorious (1946) and To Catch a Thief (1955).

Roger Thornhill: The moment I meet an attractive woman, I have to start pretending I have no desire to make love to her.
Eve Kendall: What makes you think you have to conceal it?
Roger Thornhill: She might find the idea objectionable.
Eve Kendall: Then again, she might not.

Eva Marie Saint (1924-) / Eve Kendall, Vandamm’s mistress who is also revealed to be a government agent. Sophia Loren and Cyd Charisse were considered for the part.

Born in New Jersey, USA, Eva Marie Saint won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for On the Waterfront (1954). Her last movie role was as Martha Kent in Superman Returns (2006).

Phillip Vandamm: Seems to me you fellows could stand a little less training from the FBI and a little more from the Actor's Studio.
Roger Thornhill: Apparently the only performance that will satisfy you is when I play dead.
Phillip Vandamm: Your very next role, and you'll be quite convincing, I assure you.

James Mason (1909-1984) / Phillip Vandamm, a foreign spy attempting to smuggle microfilm containing government secrets out of the U.S. Yul Brynner was considered for the part.

Born in Yorkshire, England, one of the great English actors James Mason has appeared in over 100 films and was Oscar nominated for his roles in A Star is Born (1954), Georgy Girl (1966) and The Verdict (1982).

Leonard: You're not taking her on the plane with you?
Vandamm: Of course I am. This matter is best disposed of from a great height, over water.

Martin Landau (1928-) / Leonard, Vandamm’s personal secretary and right hand man.

Born in Brooklyn, New York, a versatile actor, Martin Landau has appeared in many films and hit TV series such as Mission Impossible (1966-1969) and Space 1999 (1975-1978). Landau won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar playing Bela Lugosi in Tim Burton’s Ed Wood (1994).

Roger Thornhill: I don't like the games you play, Professor.
The Professor: War is hell, Mr. Thornhill. Even when it's a cold one.

Leo G. Carroll (1886-1972) / The Professor, chief of the government intelligence agency out to get Vandamm.

Leo G. Carroll has appeared in more Hitchcock films than any other actor – Rebecca (1940), Suspicion (1941), Spellbound (1945), The Paradine Case (1947), Strangers on a Train (1951) and North by Northwest (1959). He also played Alexander Waverly in the popular 60’s spy series The Man from U.N.C.L.E (1964-1968).

Clara Thornhill: You gentlemen aren't REALLY trying to kill my son, are you?

Jessie Royce Landis (1896-1972) / Clara Thornhill, Roger’s disbelieving mother. Born in Chicago, Illinois, Landis was only 7 years older than Cary Grant. She played Grace Kelly’s mother in Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief (1955).

“North by Northwest” was the working title for the film with the assumption a better title would be found later. Filming took place between August and December 1958.

The phrase is spoken by Hamlet in Shakespeare’s play – “I am only mad north by northwest. When the wind is southerly I know a hawk from a handsaw.” Hamlet is telling Rosencrantz and Guildenstern that he is only feigning madness.

Roger Thornhill: Now you listen to me, I'm an advertising man, not a red herring. I've got a job, a secretary, a mother, two ex-wives and several bartenders that depend upon me, and I don't intend to disappoint them all by getting myself "slightly" killed.

James Stewart had wanted the lead role in North by Northwest but Hitchcock was disappointed by the poor box office of Vertigo the year before, the studio wanted Gregory Peck but Hitch decided Cary Grant was the right man for the job.

Filming around the United Nations was prohibited, Hitchcock used a hidden camera inside a truck to film Cary Grant exiting a cab and walking up the steps to the UN building.

Man at Prairie Crossing: That's funny, that plane's dustin' crops where there ain't no crops.

The famous cropduster sequence came about after Hitchcock had the idea of the hero being stranded in the middle of nowhere, a great open space where you weren’t sure where the threat would come from. He suggested to Lehman that the villains try to kill him with a cyclone, Lehman wondered how the villains were supposed to work up a cyclone. As the afternoon chat wore on the cyclone turned into a cropdusting plane.

Cary Grant seems to flub one line when he says “Look who’s here… our friend who’s assembling the general assembly this afternoon” (at the United Nations) instead of “addressing the general assembly.”

When Eve Kendall pulls a gun on Thornhill in the Rushmore cafeteria watch the little boy sitting behind Eve, he puts his fingers in his ears before the gun goes off.

Hitchcock’s cameo is one of his most memorable he misses a bus at the end of the opening credits.

Roger Thornhill: I don't like the way Teddy Roosevelt is looking at me.

The film’s famous climax takes place on Mount Rushmore National Memorial in Rapid City, South Dakota. Permission to film on Mount Rushmore was denied, so replicas of parts of the monument were built on studio sets for the actors and stuntmen to climb on (and fall off). The matte artists completed the effect.

At one point Hitchcock wanted Cary Grant to hide in Lincoln’s nose and than have a sneezing fit, but snooty National Park officials did not see the funny side and the idea was nixed.

One of the films chosen for preservation by the National Film Registry in 1995. It was ranked #55 in AFI’s 100 Greatest Films List, #4 on AFI’s 100 Greatest Thrills list and #7 on the AFI's Top 10 Mystery Films.

North by Northwest was nominated for three Oscars – Best Writing, Best Editing and Best Art Direction.

The film ends with Cary Grant pulling Eva Marie Saint up on the upper bunk of a train compartment followed by a shot of the train speeding into a tunnel. The sexual metaphor a perfect finish to Hitchcock’s hugely enjoyable spy romp.

North by Northwest is the quintessential Hitchcock thriller with a witty script, great actors and a thrilling score by music maestro Bernard Herrmann. Unmissable entertainment.

The Critic’s Wrote -

"A suspenseful and delighful Cook's Tour of some of the more photogenic spots in these United States... With Mr. Hitchcock at the helm "North by Northwest" is a colorful and exciting route for spies, counterspies and lovers." (New York Times)

"Metro's "North by Northwest" is the Alfred Hitchcock mixture as before--suspense, intrigue. comedy, humor. Seldom has the concoction been served up so delectably." (Variety)

"That master magician has done it again... The Mt. Rushmore scene alone is worth the money." (News of the World)

"Fifty years on you could say that Hitchcock’s sleek, wry, paranoid thriller caught the zeitgeist perfectly. But there’s nothing dated about this perfect storm of talent, from Hitchcock and Grant to writer Ernest Lehman, composer Bernard Herrmann and even designer Saul Bass, whose opening-credits sequence still manages to send a shiver down the spine." (Time Out)

"A real shaggy dog spy story which taken seriously makes no sense whatsoever. This is fortunate because, taken seriously, its implications about the heroine's morals, the methods of American intelligence agencies and sundry other matters are alarming to say the least. It is amazing, nevertheless, how entertaining the picture is." (Moira Walsh, America)

"For its mixture of humour and thrills, it has rarely been matched. For those who like to spot homophobia in Hollywood films, try the relationship between the two villains, James Mason and Martin Landau; and for lovers of phallic symbolism, there's also the treat of the train carrying Cary Grant and Eve Marie Saint into a tunnel." (Chris Tookey)

North by Northwest Trailer


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    • Steve Lensman profile image

      Steve Lensman 6 years ago from London, England

      Thank you for the kind words Cyndi. This is one film I never tire of watching and I'm already looking forward to watching it again at Xmas.

    • Cyndi10 profile image

      Cynthia B Turner 6 years ago from Georgia

      Hello Steve, This is a favorite movie of mine, also. My brother just completed a paper on the movie for his film class. I wish I had seen your hub so that he could have referenced some of your points about the movie, with credits to you of course. But then, I don't know, your article may have come up when he Googled. At least I hope it did. I give this an A+. Thanks so much for sharing.

    • Steve Lensman profile image

      Steve Lensman 6 years ago from London, England

      Well that's a shame Flora. I wonder how near you can get to them, I don't want to get there and have to look through a telescope to get a good view, I want to climb into Lincoln's nose and have a sneezing fit.

    • FloraBreenRobison profile image

      FloraBreenRobison 6 years ago

      My family drove near Mount Rushmore several times in our drive to Dad's parents's place in P.A.each July. dad doesn't like to fly unless he is in charge of the plane, so we usually drove or took th train. I found out years later that I was as near as half an hour from the Mountain but never saw it. We would drive non-stop with mom and Dad taking turns while the other slept. Oh, well.

    • Steve Lensman profile image

      Steve Lensman 6 years ago from London, England

      Hey thanks David, appreciate the comment. I wouldn't mind visiting Mount Rushmore one day, it's a little far from England but I'd love to look up and see those great stone faces for real. :)

    • profile image

      Davidwork 6 years ago

      Great Hub.

      One of my all time favourite films; and I know this sounds crazy, but I always think of it as a film to enjoy on an autumn Sunday evening, for some reason!

      I went to New York in October 2008, and I visited the UN Building. (I was surprised to find that it is open to the public).

      The Foyer of the UN Building hadn't changed a bit, it still looked the same as it had in the film 49 years earlier. I also visited Grand Central Station, for the sole reason that it had been featured in the film.

    • Steve Lensman profile image

      Steve Lensman 6 years ago from London, England

      Hahaha actually it would have been fun if someone clicked on it and it took them to an Amy hub. :)

      I remembered you doing a hub on Carroll so I looked for it.

      Anybody else wants links to their hubs? I'm here till 2. :)

    • FloraBreenRobison profile image

      FloraBreenRobison 6 years ago

      I clicked on the link and it took me to the hub I wrote on Leo G. Carroll, not my cat hub. :) Thanks for the link! I didn't realize or I would have thanked you right away.

    • Steve Lensman profile image

      Steve Lensman 6 years ago from London, England

      I haven't got it. Oh in the movie of course. :)

      Btw Flora if you click on Leo G. Carrol's name on my hub it'll take you to one of your hubs, completely random, last time I clicked it took me to one of your cat hubs...

    • FloraBreenRobison profile image

      FloraBreenRobison 6 years ago

      I love Arabesque. Not as good as Donen's previous film Charade but lots of fun. I love when Peck rides his bike home through all that traffic after being drugged by the kidnappers and arrives safely. "Cipher. Cipher. who's got the cipher?"

    • Steve Lensman profile image

      Steve Lensman 6 years ago from London, England

      Thanks Rob, your comments are appreciated. i'm trying to picture Yul Brynner as the villain, Sophia Loren as the girl and Gregory Peck as the hero. Well, it would have been interesting for sure.

      btw Peck and Loren did star together in Stanley Donen's Hitchcockian thriller Arabesque in 1966. A fun movie worth catching in full widescreen if available. Music by Henry Mancini.

    • Robwrite profile image

      Rob 6 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      Another great Hitchcock film. The guy made so many classics, he was a real genius. Cary Grant is great in this, as he is in all of Hitch's films. (Hard to believe that anyone would turn down Jimmy Stewart, though.) So many iconic images in one film.

      Pre-"Mission Impossible" Martin Landau made a good baddie here. (As a kid, I was a big fan of his "Space: 1999" series) and James Mason is always an asset to any film. Eva Marie Saiint worked well with Grant, and I don't think the flirtations would have been as convincing with Jimmy Stewart.

      Another fun hub. Great pictures.


    • Steve Lensman profile image

      Steve Lensman 6 years ago from London, England

      Cogerson, Flora, Jools, thanks for the comments they are very much appreciated.

      Cogerson, the link on your James Mason hub has given this hub a boost in views already, thanks amigo.

      Flora, there were so many great quotes to choose from I was tempted to post the entire script. ;)

      That first poster was my fave too.

      Btw that balding henchman who died recently was Robert Ellenstein, Star Trek fans might remember him as the Federation President in Star Trek IV The Voyage Home, you can see him in one of the screenshots above, RIP.

      Jools, thanks for the kind words. I use a program to take snapshots from my DVDs, some come out better than others. I thought the shot of the UN building came out very well.

    • Jools99 profile image

      Jools99 6 years ago from North-East UK

      Lensman, Brilliant hub and I especially loved the photos. Where on earth do you get such amazing, high quality photos, they're wonderful. The quotations were another great touch; I am getting this for Christmas now on DVD - I need to see it again soon! Voted up.

    • FloraBreenRobison profile image

      FloraBreenRobison 6 years ago

      First of all a confession. I had no idea that TCm had added Seattle to its list of Summer series of airing classics on the big screen around United states and that this film was the one playing in Seatle. Each city gets a different film with a different surviving star introducing the movie. It was not originally on the list and I didn't check for updates. I found out in September that I could have seen Eva Marie Saint introduce this movie. Seattle is 4 hours away of driving plus a lot of time at the border. I was alternately heart broken and ticked off. Rear window remains the only Hitch film I have seen on the big screen.

      I have said repeatedly that this movie is second only to rear window as my favourite Hitchcock film. It is my favourite film among the careers of everyone involved in the movie except Hitchcock.

      The only person I can't stand-and we are not meant to if we see the movie from Grant's perspective) is his mother. She drives me nuts in her not believing anything.

      One of the henchmen died just last year (the balding man who apparently dies in the airplane as we never see him again.)

      My favourite lines/interchanges are:

      "Something wrong with your eyes?" "Yes, they're sensitive to questions."

      (In a police station) "Somebody call the police."

      The speeches about bartenders and the actor's studio.

      "What contact? I've never even been in Pittsberg."

      "No Mother I have not been drinking"

      "First a libation. Bourbon."

      "What little drama are we here for today?"

      Of course, the O in ROT is a reference to David O selznick.

      And Eve Kendall's quote in the dining car was a voice over. The original words didn't get past the censor. But if you read her lips she is actually saying "I never make love on an empty stomach."

      My favourite poster you have is the first one."

      I cannot pick out my favourite photograph. I love them all.

    • Cogerson profile image

      UltimateMovieRankings 6 years ago from Virginia

      Thanks for the links they are greatly appreciated. That is an excellent program that you are using for your pictures....I am very impressed.

    • Steve Lensman profile image

      Steve Lensman 6 years ago from London, England

      Thanks Cogerson, appreciate the comments and kind words as always. I linked both your Cary Grant and James Mason hubs to the 'cast' section of this hub.

      For the few who don't know Cogerson has produced excellent hubs on all the great actors and actresses, directors too.

      I have a very good program that takes snapshots or frame grabs from my films. I've included the subtitles on a few of them here.

    • Cogerson profile image

      UltimateMovieRankings 6 years ago from Virginia

      Excellent hub on one of my favorite movies period. My father loved this movie as well. My dad would always talk amount different scenes in the movie...and those scenes became my favorites as well. Those scenes include the auction scene, the fake death scene, and of course the finale on Mount Rushmore.

      I especially liked the review from Time Out talk about a reviewer being on the mark with their review. Great photos...I am always amazed that your photos turn out so crystal clear. I especially liked the one with hotel overlooking the pool. One of my favorite things to watch for in the the little boy extra who covers his ears before the gun goes off in the fake death of the best bloopers out there. As for your hub...voted up awesome and interesting....I will be linking this hub to my James Mason hub.


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