North by Northwest contains one of the most iconic images in the history of American film. Roger Thornhill has found himself thrown into a situation that leaves him completely at a loss, without reference point or help. To convey Roger's solitude, and the loneliness of his journey, Hitchcock and screenwriter Lehman follow him to a desolate prairie landscape, with no landmarks or signposts to explain where he should go or what he should do. Still wearing a well-fitted suit, Roger is a middle-class everyman lost in isolation, surrounded by fields and not much else for miles around.
Suddenly, the small plane in the distance that has been dusting crops where there aren’t any crops to dust turns on him. The desolate landscape, alien and unforgiving, literally turns on Roger. He is alone, with no place to run for shelter from the pilot hellbent on killing him. This scene in the film represents Hitchcock's skillful use of imagery to convey Roger's emotions in the face of the hellish nightmare he is navigating.
Another unforgettable bit of imagery in the film is the climactic chase across the faces carved into Mount Rushmore. The choice of the most monumental representative image of American democracy as the location of the final showdown is evocative. The final struggle between the American allies and the traitorous villains who are sharing secrets abroad takes place on an iconic monument to American freedom.
The opening credits of the film were innovative at the time. Created by graphic designer Saul Bass, they were the first credits to use kinetic typography, setting the text of the credits in motion. Indeed, this innovation created a communicative point of view for the credits themselves. Not only an introduction to the major players involved, the credits' imagery actually works to foreshadow the mechanism of the film's plot. The credits begin with a plain green screen across which a series of blue lines begin to stretch both horizontally and vertically until they intersect with each other to create a pattern of rectangular cells. The lines do not travel on a straight horizontal or vertical plane, but at slight angles. These animated rectangles then slowly dissolve to be revealed as the window-pane architecture on a skyscraper.
Throughout the film, up until the final rescue of Eve, Roger Thornhill wears a perfectly-fitting suit, which represents his high standing in society, and the consistency of his authentic identity, in spite of the many misunderstandings that befall him. When he is first brought into Townsend's mansion, mistaken for the non-existent Kaplan, both Vandamm and Leonard comment on the tailoring of his suit, how it is nicer than they expected. While the audience knows that the tailoring of Roger's suit signifies the fact that he is an ad man rather than a government agent, proving his innocence, the villains are merely surprised by it. Then, when he must make a run from the police, Roger is without belongings, and only has the suit on his back, a suit which remarkably never seems to wrinkle.
When he escapes the police after getting off the train in Chicago, he does so by donning a porter's suit, but slips back into his original suit just as the police catch on to his disguise. Then later, when he arrives at Eve's hotel room after escaping the crop-duster, he is covered in dust and pesticides, and Eve insists that he get the suit washed, presumably to divert him while she slips out to meet Vandamm.
North by Northwest Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for North by Northwest is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.