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Saturday Afternoon Movie: North by Northwest


January 25, 2014

Program Locations:

136 min
Release Year
Alfred Hitchcock
While having lunch at the Plaza Hotel, advertising executive Roger O. Thornhill (Cary Grant) has the bad luck to stand up just as a "George Kaplan" is being paged. From this point on, Thornhill's life is turned upside down. He is abducted by three mysterious men and whisked away to the palatial home of enemy spy Phillip Vandamm (James Mason). Denying that his name is Kaplan, Thornhill is at a complete loss when Vandamm begins grilling him for information. Finally, Thornhill is forcibly intoxicated, tossed into a car, and sent careening down a treacherous mountain road. He escapes this death trap only by attracting the attention of a couple of cops in a squad car, but must bring the car to a sudden halt, and is promptly rear-ended by the car and arrested for drunk driving. Unable to persuade the law that his stories of kidnappings and enemy agents is true -- he can't even convince his own mother (Jesse Royce Landis) -- Thornhill takes the cops back to the mansion where he was held prisoner, only to find that Vandamm and company have cleared out, and that the house is really owned by United Nations ambassador Lester Townsend (Philip Ober). Tracking down Townsend at the UN building, Thornhill tries to get the man's attention -- whereupon Townsend is knifed to death, and the nonplussed Thornhill left holding the weapon. Now a fugitive from justice, Thornhill tries to escape via train. En route, he meets the cooly beautiful Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint), who graciously hides him from the police. The apotheosis of Alfred Hitchcock's Hollywood career, North by Northwest is fast, funny, and exciting. The film contains far too many highlights to detail in this limited space; standout bits include the crop-duster dusting where there aren't any crops, the riotous auction scene, and, of course, that nail-biting Mount Rushmore finale. Author: Hal Erickson


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