I have always been a big Alfred Hitchcock fan and "North by Northwest" was in my view his most entertaining and important film. It certainly rates a high position in my "Top Ten" films list!! This is a fast moving witty thriller that never lets up in its 130 minutes running time. The film is in beautiful Technicolor and Cary Grant gives the performance of a lifetime as Roger O. Thornhill being mistaken for government agent George Kaplan. He is thrust into one life threatening situation after another on the run from both the police and the bad guys! It's a roller coaster ride of thrills, suspense, comedy and romance skilfully put together with the expert Hitchcock touch. There are so many MEMORABLE LINES in this movie (brilliantly written by Ernest Lehman) that one hardly knows where to start in recalling favourite gems.
How about Jessie Royce Landis in the hotel elevator asking the would-be assassins: "You gentlemen aren't really trying to kill my son are you?".
Or when Grant meets James Mason for the first time: Mason: "Not what I expected - a little taller, a little more polished than the others". Grant: "I'm so glad you're pleased Mr Townsend". Mason: " ... but I'm afraid just as obvious". Grant: "Not that I mind a slight case of abduction now and then but I do have tickets to the theatre tonight and it was a show I was looking forward to and I get, well, kind of unreasonable about things like that". Mason: "With such expert play-acting you make this very room a theatre".
Grant (to group in Townsend's house): "What a performance!". Jessie Royce Landis (to Grant): "Roger ... pay the two dollars". Or Cary Grant trying to explain to Eva Marie Saint why the police are after him: "Seven parking tickets!". Grant introducing himself to Saint on the train: "Jack Phillips. Western sales manager of Kingby Electronics". Saint: "No you're not. You're Roger Thornhill of Madison Avenue and you're wanted for murder on every front page in America. Don't be so modest!". Grant to Saint: "Why are you so good to me?". Malcolm Atterbury (to Grant on Highway 41): "That's funny, that plane's dusting crops where there ain't no crops". Grant to Mason: "Apparently the only performance that's going to satisfy you is when I play dead". Mason: "Your very next role. You will be quite convincing, I assure you". Grant (to Adam Williams): "Sorry old man. Too bad. Keep trying!". Grant (to Leo G. Carroll): "I'm an advertising man, not a red herring. I've got a job, a secretary, a mother, two ex-wives and several bartenders dependent on me and I don't intend to disappoint them all by getting myself slightly killed. The answer is no". Mason discussing how to get rid of Saint: "This matter is best disposed of from a great height - over water!". And Mason again to a police officer: "That wasn't very sporting, using real bullets". "North by Northwest" was Cary Grant's fourth collaboration with legendary director Alfred Hitchcock and in my opinion was the best! Everything came together in this one - the acting by the principals was first class, the brilliant script by Ernest Lehman was packed with sparkling and witty dialogue and the music score by Bernard Hermann was outstanding. There were some fine supporting roles in the film - Jessie Royce Landis was excellent as Grant's mother (in reality she was only a few months older than him!). She had played Grace Kelly's mother in an earlier Hitchcock film "To Catch a Thief". Martin Landau (in his first screen role), Adam Williams and Robert Ellenstein were impressive as Mason's sinister and threatening confederates. Veteran actor Leo G. Carroll was making his sixth appearance for Hitchcock as the CIA/FBI agent known only as the "Professor". One of my favourite actresses Doreen Lang had the small part of Grant's secretary Maggie and can also be seen in other Hitchcock films such as "The Wrong Man" and "The Birds". "North by Northwest" returned to Hitchcock's favourite theme of the innocent man on the run from both the villains and the police and being trapped in one tight corner after another. There were some marvellous and professionally photographed Hitchcock set pieces in unusual locations such as the United Nations Building, New York's Grand Central Station, Mount Rushmore, and who can forget the famous crop dusting sequence at Prairie Stop on deserted Highway 41. (Incidentally, it was on this very same road that James Dean had his fatal car accident in 1955). Other Alfred Hitchcock films using the "man on the run" idea were notably "The 39 Steps" (1935) and "Saboteur" (1942). "North by Northwest" was one of Hitchcock's own favourites as he explained to me in a personal letter I received from him back in the sixties when he listed his own six favourite films. Surprisingly, "North by Northwest" did not win any Oscars and Hitchcock, Cary Grant and the film itself were not even nominated which in my opinion was a regrettable oversight! It is not generally known that James Stewart was very keen to play the part of Roger Thornhill in this film and constantly pestered Hitchcock for the role having starred in four of Hitchcock's previous films. Hitchcock had Cary Grant in mind from the very beginning but did not want to upset Stewart by refusing him outright! However, when James Stewart was cast in "Anatomy of a Murder" that gave Hitchcock the opportunity to sign Grant - the actor he had wanted all along - and who, in retrospect, was the ideal actor for the role. It had been said that Hitchcock thought that Stewart looked too old for the part but he was in actual fact four years younger than Grant!!
The following may contain SPOILERS so only read on if you have seen the film.
Although "North by Northwest" is one of my favourite Hitchcock films I have been baffled and amazed by the number of mistakes, errors and goofs that were allowed to get through in the finished print! For example at the very start of the film when Cary Grant and his secretary Maggie arrive at the Plaza Hotel in New York a car can be seen through the rear window of their taxi which is bright orange. When Grant leaves the taxi the car behind is a completely different make and colour. As the taxi pulls away the secretary has apparently disappeared from the back seat. When Grant and his mother are in Kaplan's hotel room the telephone has a coiled cord but when Grant uses the phone a couple of minutes later it is straight. In the stabbing scene at the United Nations Grant pulls the knife from Townsend's back with the blade pointing down but in the very next shot he is holding the knife upright. When Grant is photographed at the United Nations Building with the knife in his left hand he is holding a newspaper cutting in his right hand. Later when this photograph is seen at the ticket seller's office in Grand Central Station his right hand is empty. In the train dining car the flowers on the table change size and shape in each shot and when Grant picks up his wine glass it keeps jumping from his hand to the table. On Highway 41 when the bus picks up Malcolm Atterbury the bus driver slams the door in Grant's face before waiting to see if Grant was boarding the bus. In the crop dusting scene when Grant runs out of the cornfield dust can be seen on his shoulders but there is no dust on them when he falls under the truck. In Eva Marie Saint's hotel room she writes a message on a pad. After she leaves the room Grant rubs a pencil over the pad to reveal the message that had been on the next sheet. He rubs in a horizontal motion left to right but when the message is shown in close up the impression is vertical up and down. In the Chicago patrol car the policeman sitting next to Grant (Ken Lynch) forgets to lean as the car simulates a turn. Grant can be seen pushing him to one side. During the scene in the restaurant at Mount Rushmore one of the extras (a young boy) can be seen covering his ears BEFORE Eva Marie Saint fires the gun at Grant. He had his back to the camera but obviously knew there would be a loud bang from previous "takes". When Grant is taken away by ambulance at Mount Rushmore after the shooting the vehicle transporting him has only one rear opening door. When he arrives in the forest to meet Eva Marie Saint it has two doors. After escaping from the hospital at Rapid City Grant takes a taxi to James Mason's mountain hide-out. How did he know the address? He had never been there and it had not been mentioned before. At Mason's hide-out Grant is in Saint's room writing a message in a book of matches to warn her of danger. The matchbook is only half full of matches. When Saint picks up the matchbook and reads the message it is now completely full. Also Grant writes the message in three lines but when Saint reads it the message takes up four lines. In the final scenes on Mount Rushmore Saint slips and tears Grant's right back trouser pocket. In later scenes it is intact.
Having identified all these errors please let me assure you that "North by Northwest" still remains one of my favourite films of all time. I only pointed them out as a matter of interest and for your enjoyment in spotting them for yourself next time you see the film. I never caught on to any of these mistakes the first time I saw the film on the big screen. It is only through many repeated viewings on TV and on DVD that they became apparent.
There have been several good books written about Alfred Hitchcock (and I have many of them) but for a good read I can recommend "It's Only a Movie" by Charlotte Chandler and an excellent reference guide is "The A-Z of Hitchcock" by Howard Maxford.