Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest has been hailed as his most entertaining film. With a case of mistaken identity putting a man in danger and being hunted across the country, it is an exciting time. Throw in some planes, trains, automobiles and Mount Rushmore, the thrills take some unexpected turns over and over again. Top it off with a dash of romance to twist the plot further and that trademark Hitchcock suspense and North by Northwest is nearly perfect.
The story is that of average ad man Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant), an unglamorous bachelor complete with a badgering, overbearing mother (Jessie Royce Landis). He is mistaken by a group of foreign spies as government agent George Caplan, kidnapped and taken to a mansion owned by a Mr. Townsend. There, his kidnapper (James Mason) forces him to drink copious amounts of bourbon and sends him off down a dark, twisty road in a sports car. This is got to be one of the most memorable, and thrilling drunk driving scenes on film. In jail, no one believes the intoxicated Thornhill. When he tries to prove his story, it seems that his captors have covered everything up and merely posed as Townsend. Realizing that only the real Mr. Townsend can prove his innocence, Thornhill goes to the UN only to leave there wanted for murder. He has no choice but to run from both the police and his assailants while trying to track down this George Caplan, which turns out to be one hell of a goose chase.
On the train ride from New York to Chicago, Thornhill finds a companion to keep him busy and even helps hide him from the authorities. Eve (Eva Marie Saint) is another one of Hitchcock’s blond beauties to watch out for. While she aids Thornhill and pulls him in with her beauty, she has her own agenda. But when Thornhill finds out, he still cannot let her go, and his chivalry leads to a daring rescue and chase, scaling Mount Rushmore.
One of the most memorable scenes of this film is the crop duster scene. After making it out of Chicago, Thornhill is told to wait for a ride, out in the middle of harvested corn fields. The flat, expansive and isolating scene perfectly depicts the fields of the mid-west. When a plane in the distance seems to be “dustin’ crops where there ain’t no crops,” tension builds and it is a kick to see Grant run and dive from a swooping plane. It’s one of the most iconic moments of the film, and ends with quite an unexpected bang.
I’ve got to say, I love how this trailer shows Hitchcock selling this movie like a vacation package. In 1959, people were flooding to theaters to see big epic films, like Ben Hur. That was some fierce competition. So why not send them from New York, to Chicago and on to Mount Rushmore with some murder and suspense? I guarantee you will never see that monument the same way after watching North by Northwest.
However, while Hitchcock was selling it, the Academy was not buying it. In the end, North by Northwest took home no trophies for its three Oscar nominations: Original Screenplay, Editing and Art Direction in a Color Film.
Today, North by Northwest that is an essential Hitchcock film and can still make for a fun time. When I meet someone that has never seen a Hitchcock film, I suggest North by Northwest along with Psycho and The Birds. Of those three, it’s the one that is most fast paced, fun and as the plot continually twists, you have to keep on your toes.
“I don’t like the way Teddy Roosevelt is looking at me.”