North by Northwest

North by Northwest Literary Elements


Alfred Hitchcock

Leading Actors/Actresses

Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason

Supporting Actors/Actresses

Martin Landau, Jessie Royce Landis


Suspense, Psychological Thriller, Adventure




Nominated for 3 Academy Awards (Editing, Art Direction, and Original Screenplay)

Date of Release



Alfred Hitchcock

Setting and Context

Various U.S. cities: New York, Long Island, Chicago, and Keystone, SD

Narrator and Point of View

There is no narrator in this film, and the story plays out almost entirely from Roger Thornhill's point of view. There are several departures from this point of view however (for example, the board meeting), in which the audience is clued into details that Thornhill is unaware of.

Tone and Mood

Suspenseful, tense, humorous, witty, surprising

Protagonist and Antagonist

Roger Thornhill is the protagonist, Vandamm is the antagonist

Major Conflict

The major conflict of this story is Roger Thornhill's struggle to regain his true identity after being mistaken for a government agent.


The climax of this film is the chase across Mount Rushmore.


Roger shows Eve his matchbook with his trademark "ROT" on the front. This foreshadows Rogers ability to make Eve aware of his presence in Vandamm's house. Another example of foreshadowing in this film is when Roger is studying the monument and the Professor suggests Teddy Roosevelt is giving him a final warning. In the climax of the movie, Roger will find himself fighting for his life on the monument itself.


The train on which Eve and Roger are traveling comes to an unexpected stop and Eve spots two police officers board, undoubtedly to search for Roger. Eve describes them as "not smiling." This is an understatement in that it is obvious the men have nothing to smile about (they are searching for a killer), but it also emphasizes the seriousness of the danger Roger is in.

Innovations in Filming or Lighting or Camera Techniques

Hitchcock takes several different shots from very high vantage points to establish magnitude. When Roger flees from the United Nations, he is seen merely as a dot moving slowly in a northern direction. The indication is that he is one man fleeing alone in the vastness of the world. The other high-altitude shot is taken of Roger, alone again, in the middle of a deserted agricultural district. The indication is the same: he is a man essentially alone in the world, struggling against the unknown.


Several allusions are made to the political tensions that existed at the time "North by Northwest" was made. The most notable of these is the Professor's statement that "war is Hell, even when it's a cold war." Roger warns him that he better consider the possibility of losing some "cold wars," to which the Professor replies, "we already are."


Vandamm contains several paradoxes in his character. One of these is his affection for Eve. When Leonard reveals Eve's true identity, Vandamm strikes him in a fit of passion. However, within minutes he is already plotting Eve's murder.


Some of the most memorable quotes of this movie are clear examples of parallelism. One of the more notable comes from Roger at the auction, expressing mock surprise that Vandamm collects art, stating "I thought you only collected bodies." Vandamm, who repeatedly expresses his certainty that Thornhill is merely "playacting," Roger responds that Vandamm would surely like to see him "play dead." Vandamm replies with a memorable bit of parallelism: "Your very next role. You'll be quite convincing I assure you."