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  • Writer's pictureRonny Duncan Studios

North by Northwest (1959) Revisit

Original Episode: #2 North by Northwest (released March 5, 2020)

New Episode: #116 North by Northwest Revisit (released June 1, 2022)

Plot Summary: Madison Avenue Ad Man, Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant), is mistaken for George Kaplan, a government agent, is kidnapped, and taken to meet a mysterious man Lester Townsend (James Mason). The man wants to know what information he has. Unable to answer, Thornhill is forced to drink excessively and put in a car for a staged accident. While Thornhill is able to escape, he is still in imminent danger, and needs to piece together what happened. However, when Thornhill meets the real Townsend, Townsend is suddenly murdered, and Thornhill becomes the prime suspect. Now sought for murder, he sets out to find the real Kaplan. Aided by Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint), Thornhill travels across country, side-stepping attempts to kill him, to finally clear his name.


  • Cary Grant as Roger Thornhill

  • Eva Marie Saint as Eve Kendall

  • James Mason as Phillip Vandamm

  • Jessie Royce Landis as Clara Thornhill

  • Leo G. Carroll as The Professor

  • Josephine Hutchinson as "Mrs. Townsend"

  • Philip Ober as Lester Townsend

  • Martin Landau as Leonard


  • North by Northwest is listed among the canonical Hitchcock films of the 1950s and is often listed among the greatest films of all time.

  • After its first screening, reviewers for The New Yorker and The New York Times immediately hailed it as a masterpiece of comedic, sophisticated self-parody.

  • It was Nominated for Best Film Editing, Art Direction, and Original Screenplay.

  • In 1995, North by Northwest was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the United States Library of Congress.

  • In June 2008, after polling over 1,500 people from the creative community. North by Northwest was acknowledged as the seventh-best film in the mystery genre for the AFI's 10 Top 10.

  • It was also listed as No. 40 in AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (1998); No. 4 in AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills; and No. 55 in AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition - 2007).

Did You Know?:

  • While filming Vertigo (1958), Sir Alfred Hitchcock described some of the plot of this project to frequent Hitchcock leading man and "Vertigo" star James Stewart, who naturally assumed that Hitchcock meant to cast him in the Roger Thornhill role, and was eager to play it. Actually, Hitchcock wanted Cary Grant to play the role. By the time Hitchcock realized the misunderstanding, Stewart was so anxious to play Thornhill that rejecting him would have caused a great deal of disappointment. So Hitchcock delayed production on this movie until Stewart was already safely committed to filming Otto Preminger's "Anatomy of a Murder (1959)" before "officially" offering him the role in this movie. Stewart had no choice but to turn down the offer, allowing Hitchcock to cast Grant, the actor he had wanted all along.

  • This movie has been referred to as "the first James Bond film" due to its similarities with splashily colorful settings, secret agents, and an elegant, daring, wisecracking leading man opposite a sinister yet strangely charming villain. The crop duster scene inspired the helicopter chase in From Russia with Love (1963). And another Bond nod to this film is the person in a couchette scene, used in a slightly different way in the 1973 007 film "Live and Let Die."

  • Cary Grant found the screenplay baffling, and midway through filming told Sir Alfred Hitchcock, "It's a terrible script. We've already done a third of the picture and I still can't make head nor tail of it!" Hitchcock knew this confusion would only help the movie; after all, Grant's character had no idea what was going on either. Grant thought the movie would be a flop right up until its premiere, where it was rapturously received.

  • The scene where the crop duster is chasing and shooting at Thornhill was filmed with a real airplane while the shot where the plane crashes into the fuel truck was done using large models of both truck and plane.

  • Rather than go to the expense of shooting in a South Dakota woodland, Sir Alfred Hitchcock planted one hundred ponderosa pines on an MGM soundstage.

  • Thornhill appears on the left side of the screen for almost the entire movie.

  • It was journalist Otis L. Guernsey, Jr. who suggested to Alfred Hitchcock the premise of a man mistaken for a non-existent secret agent, which was used for 'North by Northwest' (1959). He was inspired, he said, by a real-life case during World War II, known as Operation Mincemeat, in which British intelligence hoped to lure Italian and German forces away from Sicily, a planned invasion site. A cadaver was selected and given an identity and phony papers referring to invasions of Sardinia and Greece. The Man Who Never Was (1956) recounted the operation.

  • In François Truffaut's book-length interview, Hitchcock/Truffaut (1967), Sir Alfred Hitchcock said that MGM wanted this movie cut by fifteen minutes so its length would run under two hours. Hitchcock had his agent check his contract, learned that he had absolute control over the final cut, and refused.

Stanley Rubric:

Original Legacy Score: 9

New Legacy Score: 8.5

Original Impact/Significance Score: 5

New Impact/Significance Score: 9

Original Novelty Score: 6

New Novelty Score: 9.5

Original Classicness Score: 7.5

New Classicness Score: 9

Original Rewatchability Score: 8

New Rewatchability Score: 9.88

Original Audience Score: 9.4

New Audience Score: 9.2 (90% Google, 94% RT)

Original Total Score: 44.9

New Total Score: 55.08

Remaining Questions:

  • How did the Red-Cap's uniform fit Thornhill? They were very different statures.

  • Does the crop duster scene invent all of the ever-increasingly ridiculous ways that villains try to kill spies in movies instead of just shooting them when they have a chance?

  • How did Vandamm get access to Townsend's home, and how did he know it would be available?

  • If you were mistaken for George Kaplan, how long do you think you would last?

  • I think we're going to do a list on this eventually, but is 1959 the greatest year in movie history?

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