North by Northwest

North by Northwest Summary and Analysis of Part 3: On the Run


As the train continues its journey to Chicago, we see its curving track along the water at sunset. Abruptly the shot shifts to show Roger and Eve in one another’s arms. Eve tells Roger that she doesn’t think it’s safe for him to be in Chicago and look for George Kaplan. As the couple embrace and Eve touches Roger’s neck gently, she offers that Roger ought to stay in her hotel room in Chicago while she locates George Kaplan and retrieves him for Roger. He tells her that she ought not do the dirty work for him, to which she responds that she is a “big girl.” Kissing her, he cheekily adds, “In all the right places too.” Eve goes on to remark on how ridiculous their relationship is, smiling as she asks Roger, “how do I know you aren’t a murderer?” Their rather serious talk devolves into passionate kissing, as romantic music swells. Eve lists all the things she knows about Roger, that he has taste in food and clothes, that he works in advertising, and that he is “very clever with words,” and that he can “sell people things they don’t need, and make people who don’t know you fall in love with you.” They are interrupted by the buzzing of the door, and Roger hides himself in the washroom as Eve answers the door.

Outside her car is a porter, whom Eve tells not to bother cleaning the washroom where Roger is hidden, handing the porter a berth key that he left in the car. Eve waits outside while the porter makes up the bed. In the washroom, Roger examines Eve’s razor confusedly, before Eve beckons him back out. Roger emerges from the washroom and they continue their romantic embraces. When Roger notes that there is only one bed in the car—a “good omen” in his words—Eve informs him, in between kisses, that he is to sleep on the floor. The couple embrace, and as Eve leans on Roger’s shoulder, she looks anxiously towards the door, as the music becomes more ominous. The porter walks down the hall, buzzes a compartment, and delivers a letter into the hands of an unseen man in the doorway. The porter tells him that the message is from Eve. As the porter leaves, we see the man’s hands pull the note into his compartment, a note which reads, “What do I do with him in the morning? Eve” As the camera pans out, we see that the man holding the letter is Leonard, and he hands it to his boss, Vandamm, the man who claimed to be Townsend upon first meeting Roger. Vandamm reads it, smiling and looking at Leonard, as the camera pans to the sun setting outside the train.

The next morning the train has arrived in Chicago, and Eve emerges carrying bags and followed by Roger, disguised as a porter, complete with suit and hat. As they approach the two policemen who questioned Eve on the train, she tells Roger-the-porter to walk ahead and that she will catch up. When the policemen ask if she has anything to report, she tells them she has not seen Mr. Thornhill, whom she strategically misnames as “Mr. Thornycroft,” before apologizing and wishing them luck. She catches up to Roger, who complains about the weight of her bags as they pass various groups of detectives and policemen. Thornhill asks her which bag his suit is in, and when she tells him the smallest one, he jokes that it won’t do the suit much good. Eve responds by suggesting that George Kaplan won’t mind, and offers to call Mr. Kaplan upon their arrival, but Thornhill insists that he can do it himself. Eve suggests that he will look suspicious as a porter in a phone booth, which makes him agree to let her call Kaplan, but not before quizzing her on what to tell him. She answers that she will tell him that Thornhill wants to see him right away on very urgent business. Eve suggests that he change his clothes in the men’s room, and Eve looks to the side, where the viewer sees Vandamm and Leonard walking along the tracks close behind them.

Meanwhile, the policemen come across the porter from whom Thornhill stole his uniform, who points the policemen in the direction of Thornhill and Eve. The porter counts the money he has been given as bribery, and the scene shifts to a slightly overhead view of the policemen interrogating various porters in search of Thornhill, to no avail. In the men’s room, the police rush in as Thornhill calmly shaves his face in the mirror, now out of his uniform. They do not recognize him and he continues to shave, sharing suspicious eye contact with the man shaving next to him. Meanwhile, in a phone booth at the station, Eve speaks to someone on the phone and takes notes. The camera pans down the line of phone booths, to show Leonard just four booths down, apparently giving Eve instructions. The two emerge from the phone booths at the same time, but do not acknowledge one another, as Leonard walks towards the concessions stand, and Eve gathers her coat and purse. Looking across the lobby of the station, Eve sees Roger emerging from the men’s room, newly shaven and in his suit. She meets him behind a pillar, where he is remaining to stay discreet.

Thornhill asks Eve if she spoke to Kaplan on the phone, and she lies and tells him that she did. Eve tells him that Kaplan is only willing to meet him outside the hotel where he is staying. Eve reads her written instructions for Thornhill, that he is to take a Greyhound bus to Indianapolis and get off at Prairie Stop, Highway 41, which is an hour from Chicago. When Thornhill says he will rent a car, Eve tells him that Kaplan insists he take a bus to ensure that he is traveling alone. Eve then tells Thornhill to wait on the road and that Kaplan will meet him at 3:30, recognizing him from the papers. Roger asks Eve what’s wrong, telling her that she seems tense, and she tells him that he needs to get going to elude the police. When Roger asks if they will see each other again, she anxiously responds, “Sometime, I’m sure,” and as Roger tries to thank her and glean more about when he will meet her again and how he will find her, she insists that she has to go and pick up her bags. Looking over his shoulder, Eve lies and tells Roger that the police are coming, even though they aren’t, and he makes a run for it. She watches him go, with a concerned but ambiguous expression, half longing and half satisfied.

The scene shifts to the desolate prairies of the Midwest, the Greyhound bus traveling down the one lane highway that cuts silently across the brown landscape. From afar, the viewer watches the bus slow to a halt and let out Thornhill on the side of the road. Thornhill waits along the dusty road, in just a suit, no bag, and with nothing around for miles. Growing more dubious of his instructions, he stares out at the abyss of prairie, before putting his hands in his pockets. He then sees a car coming towards him, but it speeds on, evidently not carrying Kaplan. Another car approaches in the opposite direction, but it too passes without stopping. A truck speeds past blowing dust into Roger’s face. On a nearby road, Roger sees a blue car approaching and slowing down. A man in a hat and a suit emerges from the car, and crosses the street towards Thornhill. The men stare at one another across the dusty highway, the man in the hat not budging from his position across the street. Seeing that the man is not planning to cross the highway to introduce himself, Roger crosses slowly and lets out a sheepish “hi” to the silent man, whom he believes to be Kaplan. When Roger asks the man if he is meeting someone there, the man tells him he is waiting for the bus, to Roger’s disappointment.

Looking across the expanse of prairie, the man draws Roger’s attention to the crop-duster planes that fly over the prairie. The man tells Roger that some of the crop-duster pilots get rich, “if they live long enough.” The two men watch the planes from a distance, and Thornhill explicitly asks the man if his name is Kaplan, which the man denies. The man again draws Thornhill’s attention to the crop-dusters, one of which is, rather unusually, “dusting crops where there ain’t no crops.” As the bus arrives, the man gets on, nodding his goodbye to Roger. Roger watches the bus drive away, and notices as a crop-duster makes a wide turn and appears to fly towards him. As the plane gets closer and closer, Roger realizes it is coming directly at him, and he frantically ducks to avoid getting hit by it. Lying on the ground, Roger watches as the crop-duster flies past, before it turns around in order to come directly towards him once again, this time showering machine gun fire on the ground near Thornhill.

Getting up from the ground, Roger attempts to flag down a car, but it speeds past, and he sees the plane once again fly directly towards him. This time, he runs away from it, before falling to the ground, as more gun shots hit the nearby dirt. Noticing a massive cornfield, Thornhill sees his chance for escape. He sprints into the corn, ducking down to obscure himself so as to lose the view of the plane. As the plane swoops overhead, it rustles the corn around him, and Roger looks pleased to have eluded the crop-duster. However, his pleasure does not last long, as the crop-duster returns this time spraying the corn with pesticides. Coughing and covered in pesticide, Roger stands and runs towards an approaching truck, which speeds towards him honking its horn. He falls to the ground under the truck, and the plane crashes into the truck, which is carrying oil and explodes in a fiery blaze. Emerging from the truck, two men yell to Roger to run away, because the “other tank may blow.” Roger runs away from the exploding truck, disoriented, as two cars pull up. The passengers of the cars get out and watch the fiery blaze. As they walk towards the fire, Roger steals one of their cars, a pickup truck with a refrigerator in the bed of it.

Back in the city, a group of policemen examine the stolen truck in the evening, but Roger has escaped before they apprehended him. Elsewhere, in the shadows, Roger brushes his suit and wipes his face with a handkerchief, eventually walking into the nearby Ambassador East Hotel. Roger approaches the front desk, where the concierge seems suspicious of his dusty suit, but Roger confidently asks for George Kaplan’s room number. The concierge informs Roger that Kaplan checked out at 7:10 that morning and is now in South Dakota, much to Roger’s disbelief and confusion. Wondering aloud how he could have gotten a message from him at 9 if Kaplan had already checked out, Roger realizes that he has been duped by Eve Kendall. At that precise moment, he notices Eve across the lobby in a red dress, purchasing a newspaper and then walking to the elevator to go to the 4th floor. Sensing an opportunity, Roger informs the concierge that Eve Kendall is expecting him in her room, and that he knows it’s on the 4th floor, but he forgets which room. The concierge tells Roger Eve’s room number, 463, and he goes to the elevator to find her.

On the 4th floor, Roger approaches room 463 and listens for a minute before buzzing. Eve answers the door, visibly surprised to see Roger, and he barges in with a surly “hello” and a sardonic smile. When he asks if she’s surprised to see him, and sardonically tells her, “There’s no getting rid of me, is there?” she rushes over to him and embraces him. As she nestles her head in his shoulder, he holds his hands in the air, without touching her, and tells her he could use a drink. She pours him a scotch with water, and he looks at the newspaper she bought, the front page headline reading “Two Die As Crop-Duster Plane Crashes And Burns.” Refusing to confess to her suspicious alliances, Eve asks Roger how his meeting with Kaplan went, and he responds that Kaplan never showed up, which seems funny given the explicit directions he gave Eve on the phone. Eve still does not admit her crime, suggesting that perhaps she copied down the instructions wrong. Roger confrontationally maintains that she did not get the instructions wrong, but she suggests that he call Kaplan again to see what may have happened. “I did. He checked out. Went to South Dakota,” Roger tells her. Eve continues to feign ignorance, and Roger knowingly raises a toast to their “long and lasting friendship.”

Thornhill tells Eve he plans not to let her out of his sight, but she responds that he will have to, because she has plans of her own, and he has problems. He accusingly says, “Well, wouldn’t it be nice if my problems and your plans were somehow connected?” implying that he knows that she is somehow connected to his enemies. The phone rings and Thornhill urges her to answer it. When she answers it, she tells the person on the line that she is “not ready” and that she will meet them somewhere, and takes down the address on a piece of paper. As she hangs up, she folds the slip of paper, as Roger inquires whether she was on the phone about business, teasing her that it must be the “industrial designing business” to which she referred when they first met in the dining car. Roger invites her to have dinner with him in the hotel room, but Eve tells him she can’t, and asks him to do a favor for her: facing away from him, she tells him to go far away from her and never to come near her again, insisting that there isn’t going to be anything more between them. He refuses to leave at that moment, and insists that he leave after they have dinner in her room. She agrees, but tells him to get his suit cleaned before, and directs him towards the phone.


The relationship between Thornhill and Eve is an unusual one, at once intimate and mysterious. Eve’s willingness to lie on behalf of Thornhill, in spite of knowing of the alleged murder he has committed, is unexpected, but it understandably endears her to him almost immediately. Then, when she goes out of her way to arrange for Thornhill to sit with her in the dining car, Eve displays an unusual investment and alignment with Roger. Romance and sexual tension are on the table from the moment they meet, and their conversation is filled with innuendo and flirtatious invitations. When she invites him to stay in her room, the romantic element of their connection goes into full speed, as they embrace dramatically and whisper sweet nothings to one another. Given her disarming wit, savvy intellect, and beauty, Roger Thornhill comes to suspect that he has met his match in Eve Kendall. What’s more, she is interested in helping him solve the mystery of George Kaplan.

This section of the film continues to deliver plot twists, as we learn that the air of mystery that surrounds Eve is in fact a symptom of the fact that she is working with Vandamm, the enemy. This revelation is a particularly unexpected one, as Eve had seemed like the first person that Roger might be able to trust in the film. While their connection was almost exclusively based on their mutual attraction and sexual tension, her willingness to keep his secret upon first meeting him seemed promising, and it seemed that perhaps she could be the sidekick to help Roger solve the mystery of his misfortune. Eve and Roger share a genuine romantic and erotic connection, bantering back and forth, and sprinkling their conversation with flirtatious witticisms. The film stays true to its suspenseful ways, and reveals Eve to be aligned with narrative’s villains. Indeed, the viewer once again realizes that in Roger’s particular circumstances, no one can quite be trusted. The slipperiness of alliances adds to the suspense of the film.

Hitchcock uses several different filming methods to convey his suspenseful story, one of which is to film transitional action from above. In the previous section, Roger was shown running out of the U.N. General Assembly building from a bird’s-eye view. The perspective of the camera was from one of the higher stories of the imposing office building, perhaps the 30th floor. Looking down from above, the viewer saw a fountain and a row of taxis, and then the tiny speck that one could only assume was Roger, running down the sidewalk towards a cab. This perspective is used again in this section of the film, when we see the bus arrive in Prairie Stop. From far above, the viewer sees the expanse of the surrounding prairie, desolate and brown. In both instances, the from-above camera angle gives the illusion of Roger being not quite alone, of there being some kind of ominous presence watching him from afar. Given the suspense, and the skill with which his abductors are able to apprehend him, this danger does not seem far-fetched. From above, even the big and brave personality of Roger Thornhill feels small and ill-equipped for the danger awaiting him.

Another filmic technique used in the film to heighten suspense is the camera pan. At various key moments, the camera either zooms out or pans to the side to make important revelations. For instance, when it is first revealed that Eve is sending a note to Leonard, the viewer sees only his disembodied hand, poking out of the door of his train car. After the porter has left, the camera shifts its focus to inside the car, again only framing the hand holding the letter, before slowly zooming out to reveal Leonard, and then Vandamm sitting villainously next to the window. Then later, when Eve sits in the phone booth, allegedly to call George Kaplan, the viewer only sees her taking notes in the phone booth, but cannot hear what she is saying. Then, the camera slowly pans to the right, revealing Leonard in a nearby phone booth, talking to her and giving her directions. The use of the pan gives the illusion of a gradual and suspenseful reveal, as though the audience is pulling over another page of the mystery narrative.

The shots of Cary Grant in a nice suit standing along the Midwestern highway are iconic and serve as evocative thematic storytelling devices. With nothing else to lose, wanted for murder, and trying to piece together a seemingly-unsolvable puzzle, Roger Thornhill is lost and alone. His psychic landscape is perfectly symbolized by the desolate prairie that surrounds him. Yet for all the isolation and alienation he should feel as a result of his circumstances, he remains polished and elegant, unflappable in a well-pressed suit, leisurely putting his hands in his pockets and waiting for the next challenge. In spite of all his trials, Thornhill remains a smooth New York advertising executive. Cary Grant’s unspeakably cool performance is what maintains this sense of Thornhill’s poise and suave demeanor. Even when anxious, Grant seems to have a joke ready on the tip of his tongue, and even in a porter’s costume, he manages to look debonair. As he looks across the highway at the man he believes to be George Kaplan, the audience sees a lost man looking across an abyss at the mystery and illusion of his own situation, confronting the disarming permeability of identity.