Making the Grades
In North by Northwest, the hectic schedule of Roger O. Thornhill (Cary Grant) is about to move in an entirely new and more frantic direction when he is accidentally mistaken for a Mr. George Kaplin. The mix-up occurs at a hotel bar when the self-important advertising executive has the misfortune of trying to order a telegram from the same bellboy who has been sent to deliver a message to Kaplin. The unheard conversation between the two is all the evidence a couple of carefully watching thugs need to identify the mysterious stranger their boss is seeking.
Abducting Roger at gunpoint, the hit men bring the confused prisoner to the Townsend Estate where he is to be interrogated by their employer. Unfortunately, it is Roger who has the most questions: Why have they kidnapped him? Who is the real George Kaplin? When will they let him go?
Interpreting his identity denial as unwillingness to cooperate, the villains plot to end Roger's life in a drunken driving accident. While he manages to foil their attempt, the now intoxicated gentleman is unable to convince the police his disorderly state is the result of murderous intentions. Coming to the sobering conclusion that no one will help him salvage his reputation, the humiliated man decides to track down the only clues he has.
But trying to find Kaplin and Townsend simply puts the businessman back in the middle of a messy affair, of which he understands very little. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time eventually leads to accusations of murder, fleeing the law, and hiding in the shadow of a sultry blonde.
Heralded as one of director Alfred Hitchcock's greatest films, the story builds momentum from its myriad of characters that aren't the people they claim to be. However their unmasking reveals some nagging plot holes that are never fully filled. Incredulity aside, parents' biggest concerns will be the constant peril leading to death by stabbing, shooting, and falling (although the violence is very sanitized), and the casual sexual conversation and relationship Roger has with the seducing Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint).
North By Northwest is best remembered for its dramatic crop dusting sequence (where Cary Grant's character takes shelter in a corn field to avoid being polished off by a bi-plane) and a daring scene where the main characters dangle from Mount Rushmore's stone faces (hence the movie's working title: The Man in Lincoln's Nose). The "master of suspense" uses these elements to persuade the audience of lurking danger in every direction.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about North By Northwest.
Did you know Alfred Hitchcock makes a cameo appearance in every one of his films? (You’ll have to be quick off the mark to spy him in this one.)
The script in the movie works very much though the eyes of Roger O. Thornhill, until a pivotal scene that occurs in an FBI office. How does making the audience privy to information the main character doesn’t have change the flow of the film? Do you think this perspective shift enhances or detracts from the story? Are movies usually told in the first person?