Mistaken identify, darkness, light and double cross play significant roles in Alfred Hitchcock’s (1959) movie, “North by Northwest.”
In diabolical plot twists that even Cary Grant found difficult to follow, he is confused by the rapid-fire events that happen to his character.
He plays advertising executive, Roger O. Thornhill. Yet he winds up in a labyrinth of mystery and murder when an enemy espionage group mistakes him for George Kaplan, an undercover agent who really doesn’t exist. Or, does he?
“Cary Grant came up to me and said, ‘It’s a terrible script. We’ve already done a third of the picture, and I still can’t make head or tail of it,’ ” Hitchcock confides in Francois Truffaut’s book, “Hitchcock.”
Without realizing it, Hitchcock said Grant was using a line of his own dialogue from the movie.
It’s not the only deception going on in the film.
The spies believe that Thornhill is Kaplan. They kidnap him and take him to a Long Island country estate owned by Lester Townsend. He meets who he believes is Townsend, Philip Vandamm (James Mason), and his personal secretary, Leonard (Martin Landau).
His captors keep peppering “Kaplan” with questions. When they fail to get any information from him, Vandamm’s goons force whiskey down Thornhill’s throat.
They put an extremely intoxicated Thornhill in a car. Their scheme is to have the ride and Thornhill’s life end after the car goes over a cliff. But, as drunk as Thornhill is, he manages to escape. A police car pulls up, and the bad guys quickly drive off.
No one, not even his mother, believes his story.
Thornhill attempts to unravel the lies. He learns that Townsend is at the United Nations. At the U.N., Thornhill discovers that Townsend is not the man who held him captive. Enemy spies kill Townsend and frame Thornhill for his murder.
On the run again, Thornhill hops aboard the 20th Century Limited bound for Chicago. There, he meets Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint) who helps him hide from the authorities.
When they arrive in Chicago, Eve tells Thornhill she’ll call Kaplan for him. Then, she gives Thornhill instructions to meet Kaplan at Prairie Stop, which turns out to be in the middle of nowhere. He waits in the harsh, hot daylight. Another man waiting for a bus at the same stop notes that a crop-duster plane is dusting where there aren’t any crops.
After the man boards his bus, Thornhill realizes that the crop-duster is flying his way and zeroing in on him. Again, the bad guys fail to eliminate him.
Thornhill returns to the hotel. He finds out that Eve works with the spies and is Vandamm’s mistress. When he discovers later that Eve is an undercover agent, he realizes his actions have put her life in jeopardy.
He warns Eve and helps her escape certain death. The spies are hot on their trail as Thornhill and Eve scale the shadowy heights of the Mount Rushmore monument in an effort to elude them.
As the pair scramble back down the face of the stone carvings, Thornhill tells Eve that if they get out of this alive they should get back on the train together. He’s talking marriage.
As they hang from Mount Rushmore, Eve asks why his two previous wives divorced him. “I think they said I led too dull a life,” (Grant) Thornhill says.
“The genius of Hitchcock lies in how he gets the audience as well as Thornhill (Grant) to believe in the existence of George Kaplan, until by the end of the film, it is Kaplan who survives, while Roger Thornhill simply ceases to exist …,” says Marc Eliot, author of “Cary Grant.”
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Movie (trailer): North by Northwest (1959) with Alfred Hitchcock http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HRfmTpmIUwo
Main Photo: North by Northwest – Cary Grant – plane (1959) http://cdn.hitfix.com/photos/2500715/North-by-Northwest-1959_gallery_primary.jpg
Photo: North by Northwest – Eva Marie Saint shooting Carl Grant – movie trailer screenshot http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/0/07/North_by_Northwest_movie_trailer_screenshot_%2831%29.jpg/640px-North_by_Northwest_movie_trailer_screenshot_%2831%29.jpg
Photo: North by Northwest – movie trailer screenshot – Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint climbing Mount Rushmore http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/b/b0/North_by_Northwest_movie_trailer_screenshot_%2828%29.jpg/640px-North_by_Northwest_movie_trailer_screenshot_%2828%29.jpg