NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959) C widescreen 136m dir: Alfred Hitchcock

w/Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason, Jessie Royce Landis, Martin Landau, Leo G. Carroll, Philip Ober, Josephine Hutchinson, Adam Williams, Edward Platt, Robert Ellenstein, Les Tremayne, Philip Coolidge, Patrick McVey, Edward Binns, Ken Lynch

Master of suspense Hitchcock apparently had lots of fun directing this tongue-in-cheek spy thriller, and you'll have fun watching it. Innocent Grant gets mixed up with spies, and the heat is on.

From Georges Sadoul's Dictionary of Films : "North by Northwest is not dissimilar to The 39 Steps ... and Saboteur. Its fantastic chase across America, its deft wit, and its spirited style make this one of Hitchcock's best Hollywood films. Best known sequences: the hero lured to a remote Indiana prairie and attacked by a biplane 'crop dusting where there ain't no crops'; the climax on Mount Rushmore with the chase and fight on the gigantic sculptured faces of American presidents."

From The Movie Guide: "One of Hitchcock's most famous films, NORTH BY NORTHWEST has everything --- thrills, suspense, mystery, and black humor, as well as dark undertones of sexual exploitation and covert political machinations. ... The title of the film paraphrases Hamlet: 'I am but mad north-northwest; when the wind is southerly I know a hawk from a handsaw,' an implication that neither Thornhill [Grant], Hitchcock, nor Hamlet is mad. Although NORTH BY NORTHWEST is available on videotape, no small screen viewing can match the Technicolor, VistaVision experience of seeing this one in the theater. With James Mason a study in velvet villainy, but looking dowdy for once, next to Grant, and Landau as a chillingly effeminate gunsel."

Online article about the film from

"North by Northwest is a suspenseful, classic Alfred Hitchcock caper thriller. The box-office hit film is one of the most entertaining movies ever made and one of Hitchcock's most famous suspense/mystery stories in his entire career. One of the film's posters advertised: 'Only Cary Grant and Alfred Hitchcock ever gave you so much suspense in so many directions.' The film paired debonair Cary Grant with director Hitchcock for the fourth and last time: their earlier collaborations were in Suspicion (1941), Notorious (1946), and To Catch a Thief (1955). And Hitchcock also chose Oscar-winning Eva Marie Saint as the blonde heroine (to the studio's and Grant's surprise) --- one of many such female characters in his film repertoire.

"The film's themes include many plot devices and elements typical of Hitchcock films [especially The 39 Steps (1935) and Saboteur (1942)] --- predominantly the themes of mistaken identity for the innocent, ordinary, 'Wrong Man' hero. Another of its themes is false pretenses and survival in 20th Century America during the Cold War. (Note: The Leo G. Carroll character in the film --- the head of the American Intelligence Agency --- was possibly modeled after two 1950s real-life figures: Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and his brother Allen W. Dulles, head of the CIA.) Arthur Hiller's Hitchcockian Silver Streak (1976) paid homage to this film, with a similar train ride, dangerous circumstances, pursuit by police, and a mysterious woman.

"The quick-paced, glamorous espionage thriller includes a tongue-in-cheek odyssey away from the city --- a perilous adventure for a man who is normally sheltered by his wealth and prestige. A light-hearted and complacent hero/bystander (a successful Manhattan advertising executive in a corporate Brooks Brothers suit) is suddenly totally vulnerable, isolated, and caught up in an unexplainable series of events - after being accustomed to making up 'the truth' with slick ad copy for marketing purposes. After an abduction, he is victimized (mistaken for a government undercover Federal agent by a group of foreign spies), and then on-the-run as an implicated murder suspect (after being framed for a UN official's murder). He is pursued (cross-country across part of the US) by a seeming conspiratorial group of spies, the police, and the FBI. The American is eventually forced to assume another man's identity (George Kaplan, a non-existent US agent), while confronted with murder, mayhem, a world of spies and counterspies, a domineering and unbelieving mother, and an untrustworthy, mysterious blonde, femme fatale lover. His final salvation occurs on the Presidential faces carved on Mount Rushmore --- the most modern American image of all.

"As with many of Hitchcock's films, there were Academy Award nominations, but no Oscars. This film was nominated for three awards: Best Story and Screenplay (Ernest Lehman), Best Color Art Direction/Set Decoration, and Best Film Editing (George Tomasini). (Note: Some believe that the film's premise was based on the famous 1956 international espionage case titled: 'The Galindez Affair.') The film also included a superb score by Bernard Herrmann. However, there were no nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, or Best Score, to name only a few.

"Although much of the film was made in the studio, Hitchcock chose three prominent locales for brief segments of the photogenic film (Other Hitchcock films have included such famous locales as The British Museum, Albert Hall, and The Statue of Liberty.):

"Exciting set-pieces include the seduction scenes with steamy double entendres during a cross-country train ride, the seven-minute bi-plane crop-duster attack scene near a Midwest cornfield, the auction scene, and the dangling finale at Mount Rushmore, heralded in another film poster: From the killer plane in the cornfield to the cliff-hanger on George Washington's nose, it's suspense in every direction!

"The director's familiar MacGuffin in this film (the device or plot element that catches the viewer's attention or drives the logic of the plot) is the secret information sought by the spies, and secondarily, the mistaken identity at the film's start. Hitchcock's classic is filmed mostly in brilliant sunlight (especially in the famous crop-dusting scene) in glorious Technicolor, unlike so many other thrillers or dark film noirs, and the film takes full advantage of the wide-screen VistaVision process.

"The title of the film is an anomaly and a clue to the absurd, confused plot in which no one is what he/she appears to be --- there is no sharply delineated N by NW on a compass --- it is an improbable direction. Apparently, it refers in part to the directionless, surrealistic search of the befuddled hero/common man around the country for a fictional character. [Note: In Shakespeare's tragedy Hamlet (Act II, Scene II), Hamlet is quoted as saying: 'I am but mad north-north-west: when the wind is southerly, I know a hawk from a handsaw.'] The archetypal hero only finds a resolution to his disorientation and troubles by traveling from New York to Chicago by train and then flying north by Northwest (Airlines) to South Dakota and Mount Rushmore, a northwesterly trajectory. The allusion to traveling 'North' by Northwest (airlines) seems to be the most probable explanation for the film's title. (Note: At various stages of the script, the original working titles were Breathless, In a Northwesterly Direction, and The Man on Lincoln's Nose.)"

NORTH BY NORTHWEST was nominated for three Oscars: Best Original Screenplay (Ernest Lehman), Best Art Direction/Set Decoration: Color (William A. Horning, Robert F. Boyle, Merrill Pye, Henry Grace, Frank R. McKelvy) and Best Film Editing (George Tomasini).