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The following FAQ entries may contain spoilers. Only the biggest ones (if any) will be covered with spoiler tags. Spoiler tags are used sparingly in order to make the page more readable.
For detailed information about the amounts and types of (a) sex and nudity, (b) violence and gore, (c) profanity, (d) alcohol, drugs and smoking, and (e) frightening and intense scenes in this movie, consult the IMDb Parents Guide for this movie. The Parents Guide for North by Northwest can be found here.
A case of mistaken identity sends Manhattan advertizing executive Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) on a wild goose chase from the eastern seaboard to the hills of South Dakota as he tries to outwit two kidnappers and escape various policemen looking to apprehend him for car theft and murder. Aided by beautiful blonde Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint), Roger attempts to track down the elusive "George Kaplan" everyone believes him to be. But not everything is as it appears.
North by Northwest is based on a screenplay written by Ernest Lehman, who wanted to write "the Hitchcock picture to end all Hitchcock pictures."
In an interview with Peter Bogdanovich in 1963, director Hitchcock says that the title was taken from a line in Shakespeare's Hamlet (Act II, Scene 2), in which Hamlet, feigning madness to throw off potential suspects in a deadly cat-and-mouse game as he investigates the circumstances of his father's death, warns his treacherous boyhood school chums Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, "I am but mad north-north-west: when the wind is southerly, I know a hawk from a handsaw." However, screenwriter Ernest Lehman has stated that the working title for the film was In a Northwesterly Direction, because the story was to start in New York and end in Alaska, that is, until the head of the story department at MGM suggested North by Northwest. Another title that was suggested but not used was The Man on Lincoln's Nose. The Northwest Airlines reference in the film also plays off the title.
This is an easy scene to miss if you aren't paying close attention to the background noise at the beginning of the film when Roger enters the Oak Room at NYC's Plaza Hotel. He joins three men at a table and is introduced all around as Roger Thornhill. Roger then realizes that he instructed his secretary to call his mother but that the secretary won't be able to reach her because Mother is playing bridge at a friend's house, so he decides to send her a telegram. Kidnappers Valerian (Adam Williams) and Licht (Robert Ellenstein) have been waiting in the dining room, hoping to run into George Kaplan, who is currently registered at the hotel. Just before Roger raises his hand to summon a waiter in order to send his telegram, a page for "George Kaplan...Mr George Kaplan" can be heard in the background. Valerian and Licht assume that Thornhill has raised his hand in response to the page, conclude that he is Kaplan, and the mistaken identity takes off from there.
George Kaplan is a government agent who is attempting to stop Phillip Vandamm (James Mason) from smuggling microfilmed secrets out of the country. Valerian and Licht have been hired by Vandamm to locate and kidnap Kaplan in order to get Kaplan off his tail. Not long into the film, however, it is revealed that Kaplan is a fictional agent, created to distract Vandamm from the real agent.
They were the plane's pilot and another person who was shooting at Thornhill with a machine gun. Though the two men inside the plane are not shown, it is strongly speculated by some viewers that one of them (maybe the shooter) was Licht (one of Vandamm's henchmen) because Licht is never seen again in the film from this point onward.
Actually, he seems to move more westernly than north. His saga begins in New York. From there, he travels to Chicago, Illinois. His final stint is to Rapid City, South Dakota where he ends up traipsing across Mount Rushmore.
THE twist? North by Northwest has more twists, turns, and switchbacks than a mountainous road in the Idaho Sawtooths. By the middle of the movie, innocent businessman Roger Thornhill has been mistakenly identified as a government agent, kidnapped, forced to drink a bottle of bourbon, arrested for car theft and drunk driving when he escapes, branded a murderer when someone knifes a government employee in the back, met the Mata Hari to end all Mata Haris, shot at and dusted with pesticide in a cornfield -- and the twists are just beginning.
In order to protect Eve, Thornhill agrees to help The Professor (Leo G. Carroll). He meets Vandamm in the cafeteria at Mount Rushmore and offers to help him get out of the country in return for his leaving Eve behind, but Vandamm refuses. In a staged fight, Eve shoots Thornhill (using blanks). His body is whisked away by The Professor and taken to an isolated spot where Eve meets him and confesses that she staged the shooting so that Vandamm would take her with him when he leaves the country that night with the secret microfilm. The Professor wants to hide Thornhill, but Thornhill gets away and sneaks into Vandamm's mountain home near Mount Rushmore. Hiding in the wings, he overhears Leonard (Martin Landau), Vandamm's assistant, proving to Vandamm that Thornhill's shooting was faked by shooting Vandamm with Eve's gun, which is still loaded with blanks. Vandamm decides to throw Eve out of the airplane once they get airborne. As Vandamm and Eve prepare to depart, Thornhill alerts Eve by tossing her a booklet of matches with his initials "ROT" written on it. Just as they're about to board the plane, Eve escapes with the microfilm. She and Thornhill are chased across Mount Rushmore by Leonard and Valerian, Valerian falling to his death. Eve slips, but Thornhill grabs one of her hands as she dangles precariously. Holding on to the rock face so that he won't fall, Thornhill tries to pull her up but Leonard grinds his shoe on Thornhill's hand. Suddenly, a shot rings out and Leonard falls off the cliff. Thornhill and Eve are saved by the Professor and a police marksman. In the final scene, Thornhill pulls Eve to "safety" into an overhead train bunk, calling her "Mrs Thornhill." They are on their honeymoon.
No and no. The house at the top of the Rushmore monument was not designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright nor was it ever built there. Set designers designed the house based on FLW's style because Hitchcock felt that a FLW design was the epitome of sophistication and luxury. Sets of the house's interiors were built on MGM's lot in Culver City, and the exterior was the result of a special effect called "matting." For more information on the creation of this lavish house, see here.
Alfred Hitchcock is known for placing himself in cameo scenes in each of his movies. In North by Northwest, his cameo scene is in the beginning of the movie, right after the credits. At the end of the credits, the view changes to a ground-level perspective at the front of a building. Bustling, aimless and apparently chaotic crowds fill the New York streets. The masses of workers head down to subways, cross the busy streets, descend staircases, and compete for taxis. Hitchcock makes his customary cameo appearance in the rush hour crowd, rushing to a bus that slams its door in his face. See here for a 240-pixel-high screenshot of his cameo.
About 44 minutes into the movie, when the train conductor is checking the passengers' tickets right before Roger emerges from his hiding place, the conductor is seen checking the ticket of an elderly seated lady (screenshots here). Some people claim this person is played by Hitchcock; others claim it is actress Jessilyn Fax (images for comparison here), who is indeed in the film and who closely resembles Hitchcock.
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