North by Northwest Characters

North by Northwest Character List

Roger O. Thornhill

Roger O. Thornhill, the protagonist of this Hitchcock favorite, is played brilliantly by Cary Grant. Thornhill is a suave but average businessman who becomes swept up in a world of espionage and intrigue when he is mistaken for George Kaplan, a government agent. The viewer finds Thornhill to be intelligent, cool headed, and resourceful. He is brave, dogged, and loyal, often resisting the urge to flee dangerous situations. Because of the bizarre situation, Thornhill displays a variety of subtle emotions, as he is hunted by criminals, the police, and a mysterious government organization. Throughout the film, his main desire is to clear up the mystery surrounding George Kaplan, and ultimately to return to everyday life.

Eve Kendall

Eve Kendall, played by Eva Marie Saint, is a beautiful and mysterious woman who seems to emerge quite by accident in the middle of Thornhill’s frantic struggle for the truth. We soon learn that her presence is more than a coincidence, and for much of the movie her motives are unclear to the viewer. For much of the film it is uncertain whether she genuinely cares for Thornhill, or if she is under the control of Vandamm, the villain of the movie. Eve is subtle, intelligent, and not easily moved to emotion. She is able to respond to sudden changes and dangers without letting go of her “poker face.” Ultimately, she proves to be loyal and sound in character, and her affection for Thornhill is in fact genuine.

Phillip Vandamm

Phillip Vandamm, the villain of this film, does not appear until later in the movie. Vandamm is subtle and somewhat artistic, soft-spoken and relatively even keeled. However, he is a ruthless man, willing to kill if necessary to get what he wants. Vandamm is intelligent and methodical, convinced that Thornhill is in fact George Kaplan. Although generally emotionless, Vandamm is capable of sudden fits of anger, striking one of his henchmen in the face in one scene. Although it appears that Vandamm cares for Eve, it is clear that his selfishness overrides all other emotions; when he learns Eve is a government agent, he quickly plans to dispose of her.

The Professor

The Professor is an unnamed individual who appears periodically throughout the film, featuring more prominently in the second half. Early on, we learn he is the head of some sort of government organization, similar to the modern day CIA. The Professor appears to be of sound character, but is ultimately committed to the success of the mission and the capture of Vandamm. We learn early on that the Professor is in fact the creator of George Kaplan, an invented personage who does not really exist.

Clara Thornhill

Clara Thornhill, Roger’s mother, is Hitchcock’s ever-present “comic relief” character. Featuring most prominently in the first half, Clara is rather superficial and not overly intelligent, seeming more like Roger’s disinterested associate than his mother. Ironically, Clara seems less willing to belief her own son’s story than almost anyone else in his life, heightening the tension that Roger, a man on the run for his life, feels.

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