This was the only Hitchcock film released by MGM. It is currently owned by Turner Entertainment—since 1996 a division of Warner Bros.—which owns the pre-1986 MGM library.
Production costs on North by Northwest were seriously escalated when a delay in filming put Cary Grant into the penalty phase of his contract, resulting in an additional $5,000 per day in fees for the actor, before shooting even began.
At Hitchcock's insistence, the film was made in Paramount's VistaVision widescreen process, making it one of only two VistaVision films made at MGM; the other was High Society.
The car chase scene in which Thornhill is drunkenly careening along the edge of cliffs of Long Island, high above the ocean, was actually shot on the California coast, and in Griffith Park in Los Angeles, according to DVD audio commentary.
The cropduster sequence, meant to take place in northern Indiana, was shot on location on Garces Highway (155) near the towns of Wasco and Delano, north of Bakersfield in Kern County, California (35°45′39″N 119°33′41″W / 35.76083°N 119.56139°W / 35.76083; -119.56139). Years later, in a show at the Pompidou Center called "Hitchcock and Art: Fatal Coincidences", an aerial shot of Grant in the cornfield, with a "road cutting straight through the cornrows to the edge of the screen", was said to draw on Léon Spilliaert's "Le Paquebot ou L'Estran", which features "alternating strips of sand and ocean blue bands stretch[ed] to the edge of the canvas."
The aircraft seen flying in the scene is a Naval Aircraft Factory N3N Canary, a World War II Navy pilot trainer sometimes converted for cropdusting. The aircraft that hits the truck and explodes is a wartime Stearman (Boeing Model 75) trainer. Like its N3N lookalike, many were used for agricultural purposes through the 1970s. The plane was piloted by Bob Coe, a local cropduster from Wasco. Hitchcock placed replicas of square Indiana highway signs in the scene. In an extensive list of "1001 Greatest Movie Moments" of all time, the British film magazine Empire in its August 2009 issue ranked the cropduster scene as the best.
The house near the end of the film was not real. Hitchcock asked the set designers to make the set resemble a house by Frank Lloyd Wright, the most popular architect in America at the time, using the materials, form and interiors associated with him. The set was built in Culver City, where MGM's studios were located. House exteriors were matte paintings.
A panel of fashion experts convened by GQ in 2006 said the gray suit worn by Cary Grant throughout almost the entire film was the best suit in film history, and the most influential on men's style, stating that it has since been copied for Tom Cruise's character in Collateral and Ben Affleck's character in Paycheck. This sentiment has been echoed by writer Todd McEwen, who called it "gorgeous," and wrote a short story "Cary Grant's Suit" which recounts the film's plot from the viewpoint of the suit. There is some disagreement as to who tailored the suit; according to Vanity Fair magazine, it was Norton & Sons of London, although according to The Independent it was Quintino of Beverly Hills.
Eva Marie Saint's wardrobe for the film was originally entirely chosen by MGM. Hitchcock disliked MGM's selections and the actress and director went to Bergdorf Goodman in New York to select what she would wear.
Editing and post-production
In François Truffaut's book-length interview, Hitchcock/Truffaut (1967), Hitchcock said that MGM wanted North by Northwest cut by 15 minutes so the film's length would run under two hours. Hitchcock had his agent check his contract, learned that he had absolute control over the final cut, and refused.
One of Eva Marie Saint's lines in the dining-car seduction scene was redubbed. She originally said "I never make love on an empty stomach", but it was changed in post-production to "I never discuss love on an empty stomach", as the censors considered the original version too risqué.