Movie Mirrors Index

North By Northwest

(1959 c 136')

En: 8 Ed: 7

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, an advertising man is kidnapped by agents who are being sought by the FBI. He has various dangerous adventures while falling in love with a beautiful woman who is also an agent.

            Roger O. Thornhill (Cary Grant) dictates a letter to his secretary Maggie as they walk out of the building and on the busy street. He claims a medical emergency to take a cab and climbs in with her. He pays for the cab and gets out. He goes into a restaurant and meets some businessmen. He says he has to send a telegram to his mother and leaves the table. Two men abduct him and take him to their car, sitting in the back seat with him. He asks where they are going and asks if he can tell his friends where he went. He tries the door, but it’s locked. They enter a gated residence, and he asks who is Townsend.

            A woman opens the door, and they enter a mansion. He goes into a library and is told to wait there. Phillip Vandamm (James Mason) comes in and says Roger is taller than the others. Roger asks what this is about and says he has tickets for the theater. Leonard (Martin Landau) comes in, and Vandamm says he is his secretary. They call Roger by the name Kaplan. Vandamm asks him for information so that he can survive. Leonard says they know where he is headed. Roger opens a door, and one of the abductors stops him. Leonard says Jason committed suicide in Pittsburgh. Vandamm says Roger is George Kaplan who has visited various cities. Roger tries to show them identification and says he will not cooperate because he does not know what they are talking about. Vandamm goes out, and the two kidnappers come in. Leonard offers liquor and says they will insist if he refuses. The two men force him into a chair while Leonard fills a large glass and says, “Cheers.”

            At night the two men put intoxicated Roger in a convertible car behind the wheel. One man starts the car on a dangerous mountain road above the shore. Roger pushes him out and tries to drive, almost going over the edge, barely missing an oncoming car, passing a car, going around a slow car, and speeding past a police car which turns on a siren and follows him. Roger narrowly misses a bicycle and then stops.

            Two policemen take him to the station for drunk driving, and Roger says they tried to kill him. They make him sit in a courtroom. The car was reported stolen. Roger asks to make a call, and he is told he gets one call. Roger gives the number, and the policeman dials for him. Roger talks to his mother. He asks where he is and is told he is at the Glencove Police Station. He says two men poured a bottle of bourbon into him. He asks her to bail him out, and the policeman says, “In the morning.” A doctor questions him and does a blood test.

            Roger stands next to his lawyer who pleads his case while his mother laughs derisively. The judge says they will attempt to verify his story.

            Roger, his lawyer, mother, the judge, and two men go to Townsend’s house. In the library he tries to show them the liquor cabinet, but it contains only books. Mrs. Townsend comes in and acts as if she knows Roger. He says he never saw her before last night. Roger comments on her acting performance. They ask about her husband, and she says he is addressing the United Nations General Assembly. His mother advises him to pay the $2. They leave and get back in the car.

            Roger and his mother get out of a taxi, and they go to a hotel. Roger asks if George Kaplan is staying there and is told he is in 796. He finds out he has not answered his phone for days. He bribes his mother with $50 to get the key to that room. A maid asks him if he wants his bed changed and says it has not been slept in. Roger says no, and he wonders if he looks like Kaplan. He and his mother look around the room. The maid Elsie answers his call, and he asks when she first saw him. She says just now, but she knows he is Kaplan because it is his room. A valet brings his suit and hangs it in the closet. He says he ordered it last night by telephone as he always does. He tries on the coat, but the pants are too short. The phone rings, and he picks it up. It is someone from last night who says he must be Kaplan because he is in his room. He finds out the call came from the lobby, and he leaves quickly with his mother. They wait for an elevator. The two men get out of one and go in another with them. His mother asks if they are trying to kill her son, and they start laughing that others join. Roger runs out of the elevator and gets in a cab alone. The two men follow him. He asks to be taken to the United Nations and to lose those who are following him.

            Roger goes into the UN building and asks for Lester Townsend. The woman asks if he has an appointment, and he says his name is Kaplan. One of the men arrives outside. Roger has a woman page Mr. Townsend in the public lounge. Lester Townsend (Philip Ober) appears and shakes his hand. Roger asks about the people living in his house. Townsend says the house is closed except for the gardener and that his wife is dead. While Roger is asking if he knows a man, Townsend falls over with a knife in his back. Roger says he had nothing to do with it and leaves.

            Roger’s picture holding the knife is on the front page of a newspaper which reports that he was charged with drunk driving a stolen car. People around a table talk about Vandamm and how there is no Kaplan. A woman asks what they should do, and the Professor (Leo G. Carroll) says they should do nothing. He explains they created the agent Kaplan for definite reasons involving Vandamm.

            In the train station Roger is on a pay phone with his mother. He says he can’t go to the police now. He wants to find George Kaplan. He sees a headline about a manhunt for the UN killer and puts on dark glasses. He books a bed on the 20th-century train. He asks for the next train. The clerk steps away and calls that he is there.

            Roger left and walks past the ticket-taker saying he came to meet a friend. He and gets on  the train. In the hall he has trouble getting past Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint). She tells pursuers that he went that way. They leave, and he thanks her, saying he has seven parking tickets. Roger has been hiding in the toilet and comes out, hiding a newspaper headline. He enters the dining car and sits at the table with Eve. He orders trout she recommended. He says he looks vaguely familiar as if she had seen him. He says she is honest, and honest women frighten him. He says when he meets an attractive woman he has to pretend he does not want to make love to her. She says she tipped the steward to seat him there. She tells him her name and says she is 26 and unmarried. She is an industrial designer. She knows he is Roger Thornhill and that he is wanted for murder. She will not say a word because he is a nice face. He lights her cigarette and says he has no ticket and no place to sleep. She has drawing room 3901 to herself. He asks if she has extra pajamas. She says she saw policemen after the train stopped. He gets up and goes the other way.

            In her room Roger is in the upper compartment. Detectives come in and ask about the man in the dining car with her. He asks her what they talked about. She acts surprised he is wanted for murder. She says she will lock her door and not be seeing anyone. They will be in the observation car and leave. She opens the compartment and asks if he wants her to come up there too. Later they are standing, and he kisses her as she has her hands on his back. They talk intimately, and he gives her a long kiss. She says they must stop. She knows he is an advertising man. He keeps kissing her and says he likes her. They hear a buzzer, and he goes in the bathroom. She opens the door and tells the porter not to bother about the washroom. She says she will wait outside. The porter leaves, and she comes back in and tells Roger to come out. She goes back to the kissing as they sit on the bed. He says there is only one bed. She says he will sleep on the floor.

            The porter delivers a message from 3901 to Leonard who gives it to Vandamm. She asks what she is to do with him in the morning.

            Eve gets off the train in the morning, and the two detectives ask if she saw Thornhill again. She says no, and she walks with Roger who is dressed in a uniform of a baggage handler and is carrying her luggage. They discus how she is going to tell Kaplan that he wants to see him. A man gets off the train in his underwear and tells the detective he took his clothes. He counts his money. In a men’s room Roger’s face is covered with shaving cream as the detectives come in to search and leave.

            Eve and Leonard are talking in phone booths and hang up at the same time. He walks to Vandamm while she waits and sees Roger. She goes to him, and he asks if she got Kaplan. She says he will see her but not at the hotel. She tells him to go to Prairie stop outside of Chicago, and they will meet at 3:30. He hopes to see her again, and she tells him to go. She says they are coming, and he leaves.

            A bus stops in the middle of fields and drives on. Roger got off and looks around. A small plane is dusting fields. A car speeds by. A Cadillac goes by. A big truck causes dust around him. He sees an old car coming out of a field on a dirt road. A man gets out, and the car turns around and goes away. The man is also in a suit and stands on the other side of the road. Roger approaches him and says, “Hi.” The man says he is waiting for the bus. He says the plane is dusting crops over empty fields. The bus stops, and the man gets on and leaves. Roger sees the plane coming right at him low and lies on the ground as it passes over him. The next time he gets in a ditch, and the plane shoots at him. He gets up and tries to stop a car which drives by. He runs away from the plane and hits the ground again. He gets up and runs into a parched corn field to hide. The plane passes over. The next time the plane releases crop dust. Roger starts coughing and sees a vehicle coming. He stands in front of the truck and falls down as it stops over him. The plane crashes into the truck and catches fire. He leaves. Other people have stopped to watch, and he takes a pickup truck.

            In Chicago at night police are examining the pickup truck. Roger goes into a hotel and asks for George Kaplan’s room number, but the clerk says he checked out at 7:10 this morning going to South Dakota. Roger wonders why he got a message from him at 9. He sees Eve reading a newspaper and getting into an elevator. He sees it goes up to 4 and asks for Eve Kendall’s room number on the fourth floor. The clerk tells him and he goes into her room. She embraces him, and he says he could use a drink. He sees the newspaper reported the crop-dusting deaths. She asks how it went, and he says Kaplan did not show up. He says she sent him to the right place. He says he went to Rapid City. She asks what he is going to do. He says it depends on her, and he is not going to let her out of his sight. He hopes her plans and his problems will be connected. She answers the phone and says she is not ready and asks for the address, putting it in her purse. He asks her to have dinner with him in her room. She says she can’t. He insists. She asks him a big favor – to leave right now and stay far from him. She says they are not going to get involved and says goodbye. He says he can’t do it but says he will after dinner. She agrees and asks him to get his suit cleaned up. He calls for a valet. He asks what a man could do with his clothes off for twenty minutes. She suggests a cold shower. He asks how she got to be like her. He asks if she ever killed anyone. He says she could tease a man to death. He goes in the bathroom and hands her his trousers. She gives his suit to the valet at the door. He says he will take that shower. She gets her coat, looks at the photo, and goes out. He is spying on her and traces a pencil on the pad to get the address.

            Roger follows her to an auction where a man has his hand on her shoulder. She is sitting in front. He walks over to her and sees the man touching her is Vandamm. Leonard is there too. She says he followed her, and Leonard asks if he was in her room. Roger says, “Isn’t everybody?” Vandamm has Leonard bid $500 and then $700. Vandamm says Roger overplays his roles. Roger says he will only be satisfied if he plays dead, and Vandamm agrees. Roger implies she could poison him to death, and she reacts. Roger says she has no feelings to hurt. Roger says he will more likely survive if he goes to the police. He walks out and sees a kidnapper. Leonard blocks another escape route. Roger sits down and sees Eve leave with Vandamm. Roger makes a low bid and is ignored. He makes a lower bid and tries to attract attention with odd remarks. He says the next thing is a fake. The auctioneer asks him to cooperate, and Roger bids $13 instead of $1300. He sees a man tell a woman to make a call. Roger bids $2,000 and higher. They ignore his bids. A man comes to Roger, and he hits him. The Professor sees what happened. Two policemen take Roger away, and he consoles the abductor and tells him to keep trying.

            Roger is put in the car with the two policemen who plan to book him for being drunk and disorderly. He says they have captured the United Nations killer. The driver calls in who they have. The policeman says they are going to the airport because of orders. Roger says he wants to go to police headquarters. They arrive at the airport.

            The policemen go with Roger. The Professor comes running in and thanks the police. He guides Roger who asks if he is FBI. The Professor says FBI or CIA. Roger asks where they are going, and the Professor says they are going to Rapid City as is Vandamm. Roger asks what he is up to. The Professor says Vandamm imports and exports government secrets. They are trying to learn about his organization. He explains there is no Kaplan, but he asks Roger to go on being him for 24 more hours. They walk to the plane, and Roger says he wants to get out of this. Roger says he is an advertising man and does not want to get killed. He says the answer is no. The Professor brings up Miss Kendall and says she is protecting herself from exposure and assassination. He says she is one of their agents, and now her life is at risk.

            Roger is looking at Mount Rushmore while the Professor reads a newspaper. The Professor says she fell for him, and she thinks Roger is a government agent. Roger is persuaded and sees them coming. The Professor goes in the building and Roger goes into a cafeteria for coffee. Vandamm comes to him with Eve, and Roger says he will not sit with her. Vandamm asks what drama they are there for. Roger says he knows that Vandamm is leaving the country tonight. He asks for money to do nothing to stop him. He says he wants the girl, to make sure she is punished. Vandamm asks why he thinks he will trade her for his safety. Roger says he observes. She comes back, and Roger pulls her away from Vandamm and Leonard. She pulls out a pistol and shoots Roger who falls. She runs. Leonard tells Vandamm they cannot get involved in that. The Professor leans over Roger’s body. He leaves in a park ranger car  that parks in a pine forest. The Professor helps Roger out of the car. Eve is there too standing by a white car. She tells Roger that she apologizes. He says he understands her line of duty. He says he is sorry for his harsh words. She says she could not tell him. She is glad he did not get hurt when she shot him with the blank. She says she was charmed by Vandamm one weekend. The Professor approached her and asked her to work with him against the scoundrel Vandamm. She says it was the first time she did something worthwhile. She says men like Roger do not believe in marriage. He says he has been married twice. They kiss, but she says she has to leave. They hear a car horn. He has to go to a hospital. He says they are going to get together and apologize together in private. Eve is going with Vandamm on the plane. Roger complains that the Professor lied to him. He does not want her to go through with this. Roger criticizes his cold war. Eve gets into her car, and Roger tries to stop her. A park ranger slugs Roger knocking him out, and she drives off.

            In the hospital Roger hears the news of the shooting of Kaplan on the radio. The Professor brings in clothes for Roger who is wearing a towel. Roger says he is already forgetting Eve. Roger says he is cooperating and asks for some bourbon. The Professor goes out to get it. Roger dresses quickly but finds his door is locked. He opens the window and goes out on the ledge in the dark. He climbs in another window, and a blonde woman tells him to stop twice.

            Roger gets out of a cab in the pine forest. He looks at a modern house and walks up the dirt road. He walks under the house on the rocks and sees an airstrip with flashing lights. A car pulls up, and the abductor gets out and goes in the house. Roger sees Leonard and Eve inside with him. Roger climbs up to a deck and can hear Eve talking with Vandamm. He is consoling her and says he will dedicate himself to her happiness. Leonard tells him the plane is leaving in ten minutes. She goes to get ready, and Leonard tells Vandamm that he suspects Eve. Roger throws a rock upstairs, and Eve looks around. Leonard looks out and says it was nothing. Roger listens to him talking with Vandamm. Leonard says he does not trust neatness. He has a small pistol hid behind his back. He tries to convince Vandamm about Eve and points the gun at him and then shoots a blank. Leonard explains it was the gun she used on Kaplan. Vandamm hits Leonard, and he falls in a chair. Eve asks what was the noise. Vandamm gives her an explanation. Leonard asks if he is taking her on a plane. Vandamm implies she can be disposed of from a great height over water. Roger climbs up the rocky wall as Eve leaves the upstairs bedroom. Roger enters the room and hears them talking below. Roger has blood on his hand and uses a handkerchief. He writes a note on a matchbook with his monogram that they are on to her. He watches them from above. Vandamm and Eve drink a toast. Leonard says the plane has arrived. While Leonard is talking with Vandamm, Roger tosses the matchbook on the floor, but Leonard picks it up and puts it on the table. Eve sees ROT and picks it up. She says she left her earrings upstairs and goes up. Roger tells her a car is waiting. He says they are on to her and are going to kill her. He tells her not to get on the plane. They call her, and she goes with them. After they go out, the woman sees Roger’s reflection in the television. She gets a gun and tells him to sit down. She says that after the plane leaves, her husband and Leonard will be back.

            As they walk to the plane, Eve looks back. Vandamm is about to put her on the plane when they hear a shot. She runs off and gets in the car with Roger, who says it was her silly gun. They stop to open a gate and run into the forest. Vandamm and Leonard follow them with flashlights. Roger says they are on top of the monument, and they try to climb down the Mt. Rushmore sculptures. They are holding on, and Leonard is looking for them. Roger proposes to Eve that they get on a train. She asks what happened to his two wives. He says they divorced him because he led a dull life. She falls and holds on to him. They find a resting place, and he helps her move down. They see Leonard on the other side of Lincoln and go back the other way. She screams as the abductor jumps Roger. He has a knife, and they struggle. Roger pushes him, and he falls to his death. Roger tries to reach Eve’s hand to pull her up. Leonard sees them, and Roger asks  him to help him. Leonard steps on Roger’s hand. A shot is heard, and Leonard is killed and falls. Roger says she can make it.

            Roger pulls Mrs. Eve Thornhill to his upper bunk, and they kiss. The train goes into a tunnel.

            This cold war mystery thrills the audience with dangerous situations and narrow escapes while a love affair is complicated by misunderstanding and innuendo. The attempted crimes of the spies add violence and deception to a fast-moving story.
Copyright © 2012 by Sanderson Beck

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