“How can he be mistaken for George Kaplan when George Kaplan doesn’t even exist?”
This line reveals to the audience that George Kaplan, for whom both Roger and Vandamm have been searching, is an entirely fictitious character. This line is unique in that it provides for a revelation (George Kaplan is elusive because he does not exist), as well as an enigma (if George Kaplan does not exist, why does Vandamm want to kill him?). This is the first moment of large-scale revelation in the film, and provides quite a shock.
“Goodbye Mr. Thornhill, wherever you are.”
This ominous line reveals to the audience that although there are people who have the power to help Roger, they plan to do nothing to interfere, for fear of risking their actual agent's life and compromising their access to information about Vandamm. Roger’s isolation is intensified, rather than reduced, by the realization that the very people who seem to know the most about what is going on have already written Roger off as a dead man.
“That’s funny. That plane’s dusting crops where there ain't no crops.”
This fairly innocent sounding line foreshadows Roger’s attempted assassination at the hands of the crop-duster’s pilot. The purpose of the line is to clue the audience in that even in this deserted and banal environment, all is not as it should be. While the audience knows that George Kaplan does not exist, and that Eve must have been lying when she sent Roger out into the country, we do not know the exact nature of her instructions. When the man at the bus stop reveals that the crop duster is doing something out of the ordinary, he hints at the danger and violence that threatens Roger.
“Wouldn’t it be nice if my problems and your plans were somehow connected?”
At this point in the movie, Roger has learned of Eve’s deception and is essentially testing her, having learned that their meeting was not coincidental. While the line sounds like the innocent wish of a man who doesn’t want to lose connection with someone, it is actually a pointed question, meant to clue Eve in to the fact that Roger is suspicious of her. Roger is hinting to Eve that he knows that her "plans," as she calls them, are actually professional plans that link her to his enemies, so that in fact, his problems and her plans are "somehow connected" in significant ways.
Roger: "The only role you want me to play is to play dead."
Vandamm: "Your very next role. You’ll be quite convincing, I assure you."
Throughout the movie, Vandamm repeatedly accuses “Kaplan” of overplaying his role. In this quote, Roger plays along with him while they have a hushed conversation at the auction, and Roger signals that he knows Vandamm wants to kill him. Vandamm responds, extending the acting metaphor, by assuring Roger that his demise is imminent, and that he will be "quite convincing" as a dead man. The line is a quintessentially witty line, but with a dark and morbid subtext.
“My wives divorced me. They said I led too dull a life.”
This well-placed bit of humorous irony occurs as Roger and Eve literally hold on for their lives on the edge of Mount Rushmore. Hitchcock was a great believer in the insertion of humor at tense moments, and this is perhaps one of the more memorable examples. Having been obliquely proposed to by Roger, Eve asks Roger why he got divorces from his previous wives, and he suggests that his ex-wives thought he was dull. The humor of the line comes from the fact that Eve and Roger's current couple's adventure—hanging off the side of Mount Rushmore, pursued by Soviet spies—could hardly be described as "dull."
"No. No, Mother, I have not been drinking. No. No. These two men, they poured a whole bottle of bourbon into me. No, they didn't give me a chaser."
Still drunk and having been arrested by the Long Island police, Roger calls his mother and asks her to retrieve him. From what the viewer already knows about Roger's relationship with his mother—when he warns her, through his secretary, that he will have had two martinis before their theater date—she is anxious about his drinking habits, thinking he drinks too much. Having actually been forced to drink a whole bottle of bourbon by Leonard, Roger is telling the truth in this instance on the phone, insisting that he was framed for drunk driving against his will. However, Roger's interaction with his mother on the phone suggests that she is unconvinced. The humor of the line is that Roger slurs his speech drunkenly as he tries to explain his innocence, and comically assures his presumably skeptical and sarcastic mother that his evil captors did not provide a chaser—a drink one has after an initial drink.
Eve Kendall: "I'm a big girl."
Roger Thornhill: "Yeah, and in all the right places, too."
In this flirtatious exchange at their encounter in the dining car of the train, Eve Kendall assures Roger that she is responsible and capable of helping him locate George Kaplan, calling herself a "big girl." By suggesting that she is capable of helping him, Eve communicates to Roger that she is savvy and competent. Roger subverts this statement by alluding to her physical attributes in a rather explicitly sexual way. Suggesting that she is big "in all the right places," Roger suggestively alludes to the curves of her body, underscoring the sexual tension between the couple and flirtatiously undermining Eve's comment.
"You gentlemen aren't REALLY trying to kill my son, are you?"
Mrs. Thornhill addresses this line directly to Valerian and Licht, after the two thugs have followed her and Roger into the elevator at The Plaza, and after Roger has suggested to her that they are trying to kill him. Her gall at asking them directly belies her insistent skepticism and disbelief in her own son's story. While Roger hopes that she will believe him and help him solve the mystery, she deliberately undermines his suspicions by mockingly asking the men if they intend to kill him, causing the thugs, and eventually the whole elevator full of people, to laugh hysterically at the implausibility of such a situation.
"Call it my woman's intuition, if you will. But I've never trusted neatness. Neatness is always the result of deliberate planning."
At Vandamm's house near Mount Washington, Leonard tells Vandamm that he thinks Eve is working for someone else and is not to be trusted. When Vandamm does not believe him, Leonard suggests that he is using his "woman's intuition" to deduce this—even though it is eventually revealed that he knows she is disloyal because he has discovered her gun filled with blanks. Leonard's allusion to his "woman's intuition" is a coded suggestion that he is a homosexual. He then tells Vandamm that he doesn't trust Eve's "neatness." This accusation causes Vandamm to become upset, suggesting that Leonard is jealous, as he believes Leonard to be homosexual and in love with him.
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.