A Hitchcock Movie For Summer Viewing?

North by Northwest (1959) is Alfred Hitchcock’s longest movie, yet is also one of his most engaging and entertaining.  It begins by adman Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) being mistaken for a fictional government agent while having drinks with friends at the Plaza Hotel in New York City.  He is then forcibly escorted to a Long Island estate where he meets foreign spy Phillip Vandamm (James Mason) who, with assistance, forces a bottle of liquor into him and puts him into a neighbor’s car to drive at night, which they hope will do him in.  It does not, of course, and the following scene in the local police station turns out to be one of the funniest of all time, with Grant trying to phone his mother (Jesse Royce Landis) for help in an extremely intoxicated state.

Thornhill ends up tracking down the real owner of the estate, who is speaking at the UN.  During their brief conversation, this gentleman is mortally stabbed in the back.  Thornhill is framed and must get out of NYC; he does so by a train bound for Chicago.  It is on the train that he meets (yes, a blond) Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint) who helps him evade the authorities, but is also not who she seems.  Kendall is apparently working with Vandamm and sends Thornhill on an “assignment” during which, yet again, he is to meet his doom.  This scene, set in a cornfield in the rural Midwest (actually Bakersfield, California), is probably the most famous scene in the film (see Time’s “Nail-Biting Allowed…The Crop Duster in North by Northwest”).  No, he does not die in this scene either, but his suit continues to get dirtier and dirtier as he is led on a journey forcing him to see outside of his everyday world and, possibly, become heroic.

The grand entertainment ends around and on (sorry, it only seems that way) Mount Rushmore as Thornhill helps Eve to safety while under the threat of himself being killed by Vandamm’s henchman.   One of the criteria for being called a comedy is that there should be a happy ending and, with all of the many humorous exchanges and scenes, I would definitely call this a satisfying comedy.  It does end happily as Mr. Hitchcock asks the viewer to think about how he or she identifies with the characters and the situations they are put in throughout the film.


Both of these titles are available in the Mercer County Library System and include chapters on North by Northwest:

Spoto, Donald.  The Art of Alfred Hitchcock, 2nd ed., Doubleday, 1992.  (ISBN:  9780385418133)

Wood, Robin.  Hitchcock’s Films Revisited, Columbia University Press, 1989.  (ISBN:  9780231065504)

  -Wayne N.


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