Directly off the lukewarm response to Vertigo, Hitchcock returned to his tried-and-true formulas with North by Northwest. As unexpected, innovative, and exciting as the film is, it subscribes to a number of conventions that kept it accessible and crowd-pleasing. The twists and turns of the plot are nearly non-stop, keeping the audience on the edges of their seats, and the actors are glamorous and in control, even at their most vulnerable. Hitchcock's touch expertly blends the glamor and elegance of old Hollywood with his characteristically eerie approach to psychological horror. While the audience feels horrified by the trials and the twists that befall Roger Thornhill, we cannot look away, as we are compelled to follow the suave ad man on his journey to find the truth.
Hitchcock and screenwriter Ernest Lehman came up with the idea for the film while working on another, and the plot sprang from an initial inspirational image concocted by Lehman: that of a chase sequence through Mount Rushmore. Together Hitchcock and Lehman fleshed out the thriller that would lead to such a chase, making for one of the most iconic screenplays in Hollywood history. Allegedly, Cary Grant did not understand the script, confused by its twists and turns well into filming, even believing that it would be a flop upon release. To his surprise, it was a smash success.
The film was acclaimed for Hitchcock's sense of pace as a director, the suspenseful script, Bernard Hermmann's outrageous and dramatic score, as well as the performances of its actors. The film's central virtue is perhaps its sense of fun. In spite of its highly suspenseful plot, anxious chase sequences, and tense reveals, the film is a pleasure to watch, as noted by many critics, both at the time and now. In addition to Hitchcock's incredible skills as a director of visual appeal and dramatic storytelling, he managed to make a thriller that is also deeply humorous, an innovation in and of itself.