North by Northwest

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Template:Infobox Movie

North By Northwest is a 1959 MGM thriller by Alfred Hitchcock and is generally considered one of his best works. The film stars Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason, Leo G. Carroll, and Martin Landau. The screenplay was written by Ernest Lehman, who wanted to write "the Hitchcock picture to end all Hitchcock pictures"[1] ( It is one of several Hitchcock movies with a film score by Bernard Herrmann. The film also features a famous title sequence by the graphic designer Saul Bass.



A Manhattan advertising man, Roger Thornhill (played by Cary Grant), is mistaken for a government agent and pursued by spies who want to kill him. Thornhill is framed for murder and forced to elude the police as well as the secret agents. The film has several plot twists and a sly sense of humor, as well as a number of famous scenes, including one in which Grant's character is chased by a crop duster, and another in which Grant and leading lady Eva Marie Saint clamber over the faces of Mount Rushmore in an attempt to evade their enemies.


Alfred Hitchcock planned the film as a change of pace after his dark romantic thriller Vertigo a year earlier. In an interview with Francois Truffaut ("Hitchcock / Truffaut"), Hitchcock said that he wanted to do something fun, light-hearted, and generally free of the symbolism permeating his other movies. Hitchcock, however, was not above inserting a Freudian joke as the last shot (which, notably, made it past contemporary censors). Despite its frothy appearance, the movie carries a number of underlying themes, the most important being that of theater and play-acting, wherein everyone is playing a part; no one is who they seem; and identity is in flux. This is reflected by Thornhill's line: "The only performance that will satisfy you is when I play dead."

Grant was distressed with the way the plot seemed to wander aimlessly, and he actually approached Hitchcock to complain about the script. "I can't make heads or tails of it," he said, without realizing that he was quoting the very words he would speak when playing the role of Thornhill. In fact, even the title North by Northwest refers to a compass direction that does not exist (the correct term is "North-northwest"), thereby adding to the fantasticality of the film, as Hitchcock noted in an interview with Peter Bogdanovich in 1963. (The title does makes sense in reference to when Thornhill travels north via Northwest Airlines.)

There are similarities between this movie and Hitchcock's earlier film Saboteur (1942), whose final scene on top of the Statue of Liberty foreshadows the Mount Rushmore scene in the later film. In fact, North by Northwest can be seen as the last and best in a long line of "wrong man" films that Hitchcock made according to the pattern he established in The 39 Steps (1935).

Missing image
Grant on the run, trying to travel incognito on the 20th Century Limited train

North By Northwest has been referenced and parodied in many works, mostly for the crop duster scene. The Simpsons parodied the scene in two episodes (one with a young Marge, another with Elton John). The film is also used as a plot engine in the Family Guy episode "North by North Quahog."


North by Northwest was nominated for three Academy Awards for Film Editing (George Tomasini), Art Direction, and Original Screenplay (Ernest Lehman). It is #40 on the American Film Institute's 100 Years, 100 Movies, #4 on its 100 Years, 100 Thrills, and is consistently in the top 25 on the Internet Movie Database's Top 250. The film has been deemed "culturally significant" by the Library of Congress, and selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.

External links

Template:Alfred Hitchcock's filmsde:Der unsichtbare Dritte es:Con la muerte en los talones ja:北北西に進路を取れ


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