AFI Catalog of Feature Films
Movie Detail
Name Occurs Before Title Offscreen Credit Print Viewed By AFI
North by Northwest
Alternate Title: In a Northwesterly Direction
Director: Alfred Hitchcock (Dir)
Release Date:   Jul 1959
Premiere Information:   World premiere in Chicago: week of 9 Jul 1959
Production Date:   26 Aug--19 Dec 1958
Duration (in mins):   136
Duration (in feet):   12,256
Duration (in reels):   16
Print this page
Display Movie Summary


Cast:   Cary Grant (Roger Thornhill)  
    Eva Marie Saint (Eve Kendall)  
    James Mason (Phillip Vandamm)  
    Jessie Royce Landis (Clara Thornhill)  
    Leo G. Carroll (Professor)  
    Josephine Hutchinson (Vandamm's sister, also known as Mrs. Townsend)  
    Philip Ober (Lester Townsend)  
    Martin Landau (Leonard)  
    Adam Williams (Valerian)  
    Edward Platt (Victor Larrabee)  
    Robert Ellenstein (Licht)  
    Les Tremayne (Auctioneer)  
    Philip Coolidge (Dr. Cross)  
    Patrick McVey (Chicago policeman)  
    Edward Binns (Capt. Junket)  
    Ken Lynch (Chicago policeman)  
    Alfred Hitchcock (Man rushing toward bus)  
    John Beradino (Sgt. Emile Klinger)  
    Nora Marlowe (Housekeeper)  
    Doreen Lang (Maggie)  
    Alexander Lockwood (Judge Anson B. Flynn)  
    Stanley Adams (Lt. Harding)  
    Lawrence Dobkin (Cartoonist)  
    Harvey Stephens (Stockbroker)  
    Walter Coy (Reporter)  
    Madge Kennedy (Housewife, also known as Mrs. Finlay)  
    Tommy Farrell (Starter)  
    Jimmy Cross (Taxi driver)  
    Baynes Barron (Taxi driver)  
    Frank Marlowe (Taxi driver)  
    Harry Seymour (Captain of waiters)  
    Frank Wilcox (Weltner)  
    Robert Shayne (Larry Wade)  
    Carleton Young (Fanning Nelson)  
    Ralph Reed (Bellboy)  
    Paul Genge (Lt. Hagerman)  
    Robert B. Williams (Patrolman Waggonner)  
    Maudie Prickett (Maid)  
    James McCallion (Valet)  
    Doris Singh (Indian girl)  
    Sally Fraser (Girl attendant)  
    Maura McGiveney (Girl attendant)  
    Susan Whitney (Girl attendant)  
    Ned Glass (Agent)  
    Howard Negley (Conductor)  
    Jack Daly (Steward)  
    Tol Avery (Detective)  
    Tom Greenway (Detective)  
    Ernest Anderson (Porter)  
    Andy Albin (Farmer)  
    Carl Milletaire (Clerk)  
    Olan Soule (Assistant auctioneer)  
    John Damler (Police lieutenant)  
    Len Hendry (Police lieutenant)  
    Sara Berner (Telephone operator)  
    Wilson Wood (Photographer)  
    Bobby Johnson (Waiter)  
    Taggart Casey (Man with razor)  
    Bill Catching (Attendant)  
    Dale Van Sickel (Ranger)  
    Harry Strang (Assistant conductor)  
    Patricia Cutts (Hospital patient)  
    Jesslyn Fox    
    Helen Spring    
    Lucile Curtis    
    Anne Anderson    
    Malcolm Atterbury    
    Sid Kane    
    Hugh Pryor    
    Charles Postal    

Summary: In New York City, advertising executive Roger Thornhill attends an informal business meeting at The Plaza hotel, where, intending to send his mother a wire, he summons a bellboy who has just paged George Kaplan. Across the room, two men, Valerian and Licht, believe Roger’s summons is acknowledgment that he is Kaplan and when Roger leaves the bar, forcibly take him to a waiting car and drive him to the private home of Lester Townsend in Glen Cove. There he is met by the suave Phillip Vandamm, who Roger believes is Townsend. Vandamm dismisses Roger’s claim that he is not Kaplan and urges him to reveal the information he wants. When Roger continues to deny being Kaplan, Vandamm's secretary, Leonard, forces Roger to drink an entire bottle of bourbon then places him behind the wheel of a car on a mountain road. Although completely befuddled by the liquor, Roger revives sufficiently to drive erratically down the hill until he is picked up by police. At court the next day, Roger and his lawyer describe his abduction and near murder, prompting the judge to order an investigation by county detectives. In the company of his mother and the detectives, Roger returns to the Townsend home but there is no sign of the kidnapping incident. A woman claiming to be Mrs. Townsend indicates Roger attended a party at the house the previous evening and reveals that Townsend is at the United Nations addressing the General Assembly. Roger and his mother return to The Plaza hotel in search of Kaplan. In Kaplan’s room, Roger finds a newspaper photograph of Vandamm who he still believes is Townsend, but is forced to flee when he realizes that Valerian and Licht have followed him. At the U.N., Roger requests to see Townsend, but is confused when the man he meets is not Vandamm. Perplexed, Roger is about to show Townsend the newspaper photo he found in Kaplan’s room when Townsend is struck in the back by a knife hurled by Valerian, who then escapes. As Townsend collapses into Roger’s arms, Roger grabs the knife in shock and is photographed by a nearby photo journalist. Horrified, Roger runs away. Later that day at the U. S. Intelligence Agency, a group of agents led by a man known as the Professor, discuss Townsend’s murder and Roger’s involvement. The Professor and his group are investigating Vandamm for selling government secrets and have created a fictitious agent named George Kaplan in hopes of forcing Vandamm into the open. When the agents wonder if they should intervene on Roger’s behalf, the Professor refuses, declaring that despite the danger to Roger, he is diverting attention from another agent working undercover with Vandamm. Meanwhile, Roger is labeled by newspapers as the U.N. murderer. Having learned that Kaplan has checked out of the hotel and is heading for Chicago, Roger sneaks aboard the Twentieth Century Limited. On board Roger meets an attractive blonde, Eve Kendall, who misdirects the police while he hides. Roger evades the conductors after the train gets underway, then visits the dining car where he is seated with Eve. Roger and Eve flirt with one another when she admits to tipping the waiter to seat Roger with her, but she also reveals to having seen the newspaper coverage accusing Roger of Townsend’s murder. When the train makes an unscheduled stop to allow two police detectives to board, Eve offers to hide Roger in her compartment overnight. Unknown to Roger, Eve is an associate of Vandamm, who is also onboard the train with Leonard. Upon arriving in Chicago the next morning, Roger disguises himself as a porter and escorts Eve off the train. Having concluded that Kaplan can lead him to Vandamm, Roger intends to meet Kaplan and Eve offers to make the arrangements so that Roger might maintain a low profile. After Roger changes clothes, he meets Eve who claims she has contacted Kaplan at the hotel and received explicit directions for their meeting. Roger follows Eve’s directions and by mid-afternoon waits for Kaplan alongside a deserted road in the middle of empty farm fields where a crop duster works in the distance. After several cars go by without stopping, the crop duster abruptly turns towards Roger and, to his amazement, makes several attacking passes at him. Roger seeks refuge in a corn field, but the plane dusts the field with a chemical powder, forcing Roger back into the open. Spotting an oncoming tanker truck, Roger desperately flags it down and stands directly in its path, forcing the tanker to stop. Still pursuing Roger, the plane swoops down at him and smashes into the tanker. When passers-by stop to gape at the scene, Roger steals a pickup and drives back to Kaplan’s Chicago hotel. There he is stunned to learn that Kaplan checked out before Eve’s purported conversation with him from the train station. Moments later, Roger spots Eve in the lobby and follows her to her room where she is startled to see him. Insisting that they cannot get involved with each other, Eve demands that Roger depart. Later, Roger follows Eve to an auction at an art gallery where she joins Vandamm and Leonard. Hurt over Eve’s betrayal, Roger angrily confronts them. Vandamm and Leonard scoff at Roger’s indignation, then bid on and win a small Mexican Tarascan Warrior figure, unaware of the Professor’s presence in the bidding audience. When Valerian and Leonard block the exits, Roger creates a scene, starting a fight in order to get himself arrested. The patrolmen report Roger’s seizure and are instructed to take him to the airport where he is met by the Professor, who explains about the fictitious Kaplan and the need to capture Vandamm with incriminating evidence before he departs the country from his ranch in South Dakota. Roger refuses the Professor’s request to continue posing as Kaplan until the Professor admits that Eve is their inside operative, and that she is now in grave danger of being exposed unless they can convince Vandamm of her loyalty. Upon arriving in Rapid City, Roger sets up a meeting with Vandamm at the cafeteria of the Mount Rushmore memorial. Just as he meets Vandamm, Roger stages an argument with Eve, climaxing in her shooting him with blanks. With Vandamm and Leonard convinced that Roger is critically wounded, the Professor takes Roger to meet Eve secretly and the two apologize to each other for their misunderstandings. Roger is dismayed, however, when Eve discloses that to maintain her cover she must accompany Vandamm out of the country that night. The Professor allows Eve to return to Vandamm and places the angered Roger in protective custody at a hospital. That night, Roger escapes and takes a cab to Vandamm’s ranch, beside which a small airplane runway is lit. Hiding near an open window, Roger overhears Leonard and Vandamm discussing the secret microfilm hidden in the warrior figure. Leonard then tells Vandamm that his long suspicion of Eve has been justified and demonstrates that Eve’s gun is filled with blanks. Deeply angered, Vandamm tells Leonard he will get rid of Eve during their flight that night. Alarmed, Roger climbs up the side of the house to warn Eve, but she leaves her room before he can talk to her. Writing a warning message on a matchbook bearing his initials, Roger then tosses it into the living room where Eve waits with Vandamm and Leonard as their private plane lands outside. After reading Roger’s note, Eve meets him in her room where he tells her of the microfilm and Vandamm’s plan to do away with her. When Eve joins Vandamm outside, Roger attempts to sneak out of the house but is held at gun point by the housekeeper. After escaping from the housekeeper, Roger steals Valerian’s car and races to retrieve Eve, who has snatched the warrior figure and darted away from Vandamm. Stopped by a locked gate, Roger and Eve proceed on foot, followed by Valerian and Leonard. Realizing they are trapped on top of Mount Rushmore, Roger and Eve start down the monument, but Roger is attacked by Valerian and Eve tussles with Leonard. After Roger hurls Valerian off the mountain, Leonard takes the figure and pushes Eve down the cliff where Roger comes to her aid as she dangles perilously on the edge of the monument. As Leonard menaces the couple, the Professor and his men come to the rescue, killing Leonard and arresting Vandamm in the process. Roger and Eve return to New York as man and wife, sentimentally taking the train. 

Production Company: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp. (Loew's Inc.)
Distribution Company: Loew's Inc.  
Director: Alfred Hitchcock (Dir)
  Robert Saunders (Asst dir)
  Mickey McCardle (Asst dir)
Producer: Alfred Hitchcock (Prod)
  Herbert Coleman (Assoc prod)
Writer: Ernest Lehman (Wrt)
Photography: Robert Burks (Dir of photog)
  Len South (Cam op)
  Paul Weddell (Asst cam)
  Mike Joyce (Cam loader)
  Howard Cashion (Cam mechanic)
  Kenny Bell (Stills)
  Bud McNeil (Best boy)
  Tom Smith (Grip)
  Howard Bradner (Grip)
  Bill Shaw (Gaffer)
Art Direction: Robert Boyle (Prod des)
  William A. Horning (Art dir)
  Merrill Pye (Art dir)
Film Editor: George Tomasini (Film ed)
  Edward Milkis (Asst ed)
Set Decoration: Henry Grace (Set dec)
  Frank McKelvey (Set dec)
  Harry Edwards (Props)
  John Ricardo (2d props)
Costumes: Harry Kress (Ward)
Music: Bernard Herrmann (Mus)
Sound: Franklin Milton (Rec supv)
  Howard Voss (Sd mixer)
  Charles Wallace (Sd mixer)
  Tom Overton (Boom)
  Bert Mott (Boom op)
  Tom Hadley (Boom op)
Special Effects: A. Arnold Gillespie (Spec eff)
  Lee LeBlanc (Spec eff)
  Saul Bass (Titles des)
Make Up: Sydney Guilaroff (Hair styles)
  Peggy Shannon (Hairdresser)
  William Tuttle (Makeup)
  Stan Smith (Makeup)
Production Misc: Peggy Robertson (Scr supv)
  Ruby Rosenberg (Unit mgr)
  Robert Foss (Loc auditor)
  Leonard Murphy (Casting dir)
Stand In: Saul Gorss (Stunt double for Cary Grant)
Color Personnel: Charles K. Hagedon (Col consultant)
Country: United States
Language: English

Music:
Songs:
Source Text:

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Loew's Inc. 30/6/1959 dd/mm/yyyy LP13942

PCA NO: 19156
Physical Properties: Sd: Westrex Recording System
  col: Technicolor
  Widescreen/ratio: VistaVision

 
Genre: Drama
Sub-Genre: Suspense
 
Subjects (Major): Chases
  Deception
  Espionage
  Mistaken identity
  Romance
 
Subjects (Minor): Abduction
  Advertising executives
  Airplanes
  Attempted murder
  Auctions
  Chicago (IL)
  Drunkenness
  Government agents
  Hotels
  Impersonation and imposture
  Jealousy
  Knives
  Lawyers
  Microfilm
  Mothers and sons
  Mount Rushmore National Memorial (SD)
  Murder
  New York City
  Police
  Rapid City (SD)
  Seduction
  Trains
  United Nations

Note: Working titles for the film were In a Northwesterly Direction , In a North West Direction , The Man on Lincoln’s Nose , The CIA Story and Breathless . The film’s opening title sequence, designed by Saul Bass, features the M-G-M logo with the company’s lion mascot in black and white against a bright green screen. The next screen is also bright green, with dark angled lines on a north-westerly diagonal slant. Cast and crew names enter and exit from the top and bottom of the frame, imitating the movement of elevators going up and down and stopping on various floors. Midway into the credits, the lines dissolve into the windows on the front of the United Nations building, reflecting New York City street traffic below. The credit sequence closes with crowds of people hurrying in and out of the subway and city buildings. Director Alfred Hitchcock makes his signature onscreen appearance as his credit appears, hastening to reach a bus, only to have it drive away after slamming its doors in his face.
       According to an undated letter from New York Tribune editor Otis Guernsey in the biographical file on Alfred Hitchcock at the AMPAS Library, Guernsey and Hitchcock had discussed a plot idea based upon an American salesman accidentally being drawn into an espionage drama due to mistaken identity. In a synopsis, Guernsey includes a romance between the American and a woman who is a double agent, and has the salesman eventually break the dangerous spy ring. Guernsey indicates in his letter to Hitchcock that he could not develop the idea further, despite having worked on a 65-page treatment. According to information in a documentary on the making of North by Northwest , Hitchcock and writer Ernest Lehman were initially to complete an adaptation of The Wreck of the Mary Deare (see below) for M-G-M, but when Lehman expressed frustration while developing the script, Hitchcock suggested that Lehman work with him on the mistaken identity-espionage plot that the director would sell to M-G-M
       North by Northwest was the first film Hitchcock made with M-G-M. Information in the film's production file at the AMPAS Library indicates that Hitchcock suggested including a chase scene at Mount Rushmore and a murder at the United Nations. After Lehman began work on the script for North by Northwest , Hitchcock requested that Guernsey divest himself of all interests in the story. Guernsey willingly relinquished all participation in the ultimate development of the script. Modern sources reveal that while Hitchcock failed to elaborate on the source of the film’s title, he denied that it was in any way connected to the Shakespeare line from Hamlet : “I am but mad north-north-west. When the wind is southerly I know a hawk from a handsaw.” The direction of “north by northwest” is not a legitimate point on a compass.
       A documentary on the making of the film indicates that during pre-production, Hitchcock considered casting as “Roger Thornhill” James Stewart, with whom the director had recently made several films, but concluded the actor might present too serious a demeanor for the part. Hitchcock then turned to Cary Grant, with whom he had made three films. The documentary adds that M-G-M suggested Cyd Charisse for the role of “Eve Kendall,” but the director preferred Eva Marie Saint. Jesse Royce Landis, who played Roger’s mother, was nearly a year younger than Grant. HR casting information adds Chuck Courtney, Skip McNally, Francis De Sales and Rufe Davis to the cast, but their appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. Hitchcock makes his customary cameo appearance as a man rushing to catch a bus.
       The film was shot on location in New York, Chicago and South Dakota according to production information in the AMPAS files. In modern interviews, Hitchcock indicated that although Lehman and production designer Robert Boyle were allowed to tour and sketch the interior of the United Nations building, shooting inside and outside was prohibited. Using a camera hidden inside a van, Hitchcock was able to photograph Grant and Adam Williams (“Valerian”) exiting cabs and walking up the steps to the entrance of the U.N. building. Shots of real-life ambassadors were included in the film, but actors played all diplomatic roles. In 2005, the Sidney Pollack-directed Universal Pictures release The Interpreter became the first film allowed to be shot inside the U.N.
       Correspondence in the M-G-M Collection at the AMPAS Library indicates that the studio reproduced with great accuracy the interior of the U.N., but that at the request of U.N. officials, the Delegates’ Lounge was renamed the Public Lounge. Further correspondence from the M-G-M legal department indicates concern about securing rights for the use of the image of the Mount Rushmore monuments. Officials representing the National Park Service objected to an early script draft that included a scene in which Eve and Roger slide down Lincoln’s nose. Establishing shots of the monument and the balcony outside of the tourist cafeteria were allowed. All other shots on and around the monument and “Vandamm’s” modern-style ranch were photographed at the M-G-M studios, utilizing matte paintings and other visual effects.
       After the film's premiere, a Jul 1959 DV article indicated that the U.S. Department of the Interior complained that the agreement between the National Park Service and M-G-M had been violated. The agreement in part stated: “No scenes of violence will be filmed near the sculpture, on the Talus Slope below the sculpture, or any simulation or mockup of the sculpture or Talus Slope, or any public-use area of Mount Rushmore.” Upon lodging a complaint with M-G-M and the MPAA, the Department of the Interior requested that the acknowledgment for the cooperation of the U.S. Department of the Interior and the National Park Service in the actual filming of scenes at Mount Rushmore National Memorial, S.D., be removed so that audiences would not believe the scenes were shot on the monument. Although some prints were released with the acknowledgment, later prints did not include it.
       In the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, the PCA expressed concern over the script’s characterization of “Leonard” as effeminate and repeatedly asked for the “flavor of homosexuality” surrounding his character to be downplayed. The PCA also recommended that Eve not be labeled outright as Vandamm’s mistress and objected to some lines of dialogue implying Eve’s promiscuity. The description and the dialogue remained in the film.
       The crop-dusting scene, one of the most famous and recognized in Hollywood films, was shot northwest of Bakersfield, CA, near the community of Wasco. In numerous contemporary interviews Hitchcock described his intention to create a scene that would derive suspense by using the opposite of standard espionage dramas where the hero is placed in jeopardy on a dark city street full of potential danger behind every corner. Hitchcock and Lehman placed Roger in a completely open field, in broad daylight, with no avenue of escape or cover and had the threat come from the least expected source. Early drafts of the script had Roger hiding behind a telephone pole, but that was later deleted and only the cornfield remained as possible cover. The script indicates that “Licht,” one of Roger’s kidnappers, is on the plane, firing shots at Thornhill. The film never shows who is on the plane (Later, the headline of the paper in Eve's room states: “Two Die in Crop Duster Crash, Driver Survives”), but Licht does not appear in the film from that point on.
Another scene that has been written about extensively is the film’s conclusion in which the scene cuts quickly from Roger struggling to pull Eve up the dangerous monument cliff side, to Roger pulling Eve up onto their train berth and addressing her as “Mrs. Thornhill.” The final shot of the film is the train speeding into a tunnel. According to biographies on Grant, during production the star repeatedly expressed confusion over the film’s plot, which he found implausible and unclear. Grant purportedly worried that the film would be a failure and was delighted with an enthusiastic response at a preview of the film. North by Northwest has become one of the popular of Hitchcock thrillers. Fans of the film enjoy pointing out the glaring gaffe in the scene where Eve shoots Roger, of a little boy extra seated in the cafeteria who covers his ears before the shots are fired. North by Northwest was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Screenplay, Best Film Editing and Best Art Direction. The film was ranked 55th on AFI's 2007 100 Years…100 Movies--10th Anniversary Edition list of the greatest American films, moving down from the 40th position it held on AFI's 1997 list. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Box Office   6 Jul 1959.   
Daily Variety   30 Jun 59   p. 3.
Daily Variety   9 Jul 1959   p. 6.
Daily Variety   31 Jul 1959.   
Film Daily   1 Jul 59   p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter   12 Aug 1958   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   22 Aug 1958.   
Hollywood Reporter   29 Aug 1958   pp. 7-8.
Hollywood Reporter   10 Sep 1958   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   19 Sep 1958   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   23 Sep 1958   p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter   25 Sep 1958   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   12 Dec 1958   p. 12.
Hollywood Reporter   30 Jun 59   p. 3.
Los Angeles Mirror   27 Jul 1959.   
Life   13 Jul 1959.   
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   4 Jul 59   p. 324.
New York Times   2 Aug 1959.   
New York Times   7 Aug 59   p. 28.
Variety   1 Jul 59   p. 7.

Display Movie Summary
 
Advanced Search
Join us for the DWW Open House
Support our efforts to preserve hisotory of film

© 2014 American Film Institute.
All rights reserved.
Terms of use.