North by Northwest

North by Northwest Summary and Analysis of Part 4: Mysteries Revealed


Thornhill goes to the telephone and calls the valet service, examining the notepaper on Eve’s bedside table. He asks the valet how fast he can get his suit “sponged and pressed,” telling the valet the room number. The valet tells him he can have it done in 20 minutes, and Thornhill hangs up the phone. As he stands, Eve tells him that he’d better take his suit off, to which he Roger responds with a suggestive comment about what he might do with his suit off for twenty minutes. Eve retorts, “You could always take a cold shower,” as she helps him take off his jacket. He then pointedly asks Eve, “How does a girl like you get to be a girl like you?” When she deflects casually, he presses further asking,”You ever kill anyone? Because I’ll bet you could tease a man to death without half-trying. So stop trying, huh?” As he walks into the bathroom, Eve watches him tensely, interrupted by the valet buzzing the door.

Eve collects Roger’s pants from him and hands the suit to the valet. From the bathroom, Roger yells that he is indeed going to take a cold shower, which seems to please Eve, who rushes over to grab her coat, and collect the slip of paper with the address she had written down earlier. As she walks towards the door to leave, she notices the photograph that Roger took from George Kaplan’s hotel at the Plaza and examines it. Meanwhile, the camera shifts to inside the bathroom, where we see that Roger is spying on her through the crack of the door, whistling merrily to make it seem as though he is showering. Eve slips out of the room as Roger watches from the bathroom, and after she has left, he comes out to sit on the bed and examine the note pad on the bedside table. Looking at the page that was under the paper on which Eve wrote the address, Roger colors the indentations of her handwriting over with pencil, to reveal an address: “1212 N. Michigan.”

Roger emerges from a cab at 1212 North Michigan, and goes inside to the lobby where a sign reads, “Auction Tonight.” The camera shifts to show the back of Eve’s head as she sits in the auction, and the unidentifiable hand of a man in a gray suit strokes her neck possessively. As the auction takes place, the camera zooms out to reveal that the hand belongs to Vandamm, and that Leonard sits at his side. The auction continues, with an item being sold to a man for $450, as the camera pans to reveal Roger in the hallway, looking expectantly at the proceedings. He sees Eve across the room, her neck stroked by Vandamm, as the auctioneer begins the bidding on a settee. Roger walks up behind Eve and makes eye contact with Vandamm, stating, “The three of you together. Now, that’s a picture only Charles Addams could draw.” Vandamm greets Roger as “Kaplan,” but Roger fires back, asking for his real name. Vandamm tells Roger that he is “disappointed” in him for coming into the auction unannounced. Eve tells Vandamm that Roger followed her to the auction from the hotel, and it surprises him to hear that Roger was in her hotel room. Cuttingly, Roger asks, “Isn’t everybody?” as Vandamm continues to stroke Eve’s shoulder. The group looks at the bidding, as a small statue is up for auction.

Vandamm directs Leonard to bid on the statue for $500, as Roger, referring to Eve, says “I’ll bet you paid plenty for this little sculpture.” Vandamm tells Leonard to continue bidding, this time for $700. As Roger continues to performatively extol Eve’s worth, implying that they had a romantic connection, Vandamm puts in the highest bid for the item up for auction, and Roger now learns Vandamm’s name. Vandamm, still thinking Roger is Kaplan, marvels at Roger’s transformative skills, from ad executive to fugitive to “peevish lover,” finally saying, “It seems you fellows could stand less training from the FBI and a little more from the Actors Studio.” When Roger retorts, “Apparently, the one performance that’ll satisfy you is when I play dead,” Leonard walks towards him, and Vandamm assures him that he will be killed imminently. When Roger calmly wonders aloud how they might try to kill him, suggesting that perhaps Eve will kiss him again and poison him to death, Eve rises in a rage and almost hits him with her purse, but stops herself, as Roger tells her that she has “no feelings to hurt.”

The camera zooms in on Vandamm’s concerned expression, before showing a nearby auction-goer, a bespectacled older man, who turns out to be the Professor from the intelligence agency, looking over at the group suspiciously. Roger asks Vandamm why he doesn’t just turn him into the police. Vandamm looks to the entrance hall, where Valerian waits, watching their interaction. Thornhill tells Vandamm that he suspects that he has a better chance of survival if he turns Vandamm into the police, and the camera shows Eve in close-up with tears in her eyes, as Roger says his goodbye. On the other side of the room, Roger is surprised to run into Valerian, who looks at him and menacingly puts his hand in his pocket. Roger walks towards the stage where the auction is taking place seeking another way to exit, but Leonard emerges from behind the curtain to block his way. Seeing there is no way out, Roger pushes his way into a row at the auction, annoying some of his fellow auction-goers. From his seat on the aisle, he watches Vandamm and Eve leave the auction.

Sensing a way to survive, Thornhill bids $1500 on an item that is already up to $2250. When the auctioneer ignores him and asks if anyone wants to bid 2500, Roger continues to bid low. Then, when the item is finally sold for 2250, Roger begins to heckle the proceedings, saying that the item is not worth its final bidding price, and a concerned murmur erupts through the auction room. As they move on to the next item, Roger continues to heckle, yelling “It looks like a fake,” about the “lit de repos”—or chaise lounge—that is up for sale. While the crowd groans, and older woman leans back and tells Roger that he is a “genuine idiot,” and the auctioneer asks him to “get into the spirit of the proceedings.” Roger then starts the bidding at 800. As the numbers go up, Roger continues to bid, before humorously bidding $13 for the piece of furniture, causing the auction-goers to laugh. When the auctioneer tries to correct Roger that he must mean 1300, Roger once again heckles by saying that $13 is more than the piece is worth.

As the auctioneer continues in spite of Roger’s antics, Roger watches as the auctioneer’s assistant goes over to a nearby secretary and whisper something in her ear about him. She dials a number, and it becomes clear that they are calling an authority. Roger then bids $2000, then 2100, then 2500, on the item that is only up to $1200, and Leonard watches, exasperated and surprised. A man in attendance mentions that Roger should be asked to leave, as the auctioneer once again asks him to cooperate. Roger refuses to cooperate, however, continuing to bid too high, finally bidding $3000, which causes the room to erupt in dismay. As a man comes to escort him out, Roger punches him in the face, causing a fist fight, and a slew of policemen enter the auction hall and arrest him. The Professor, still in attendance, rushes out, and the camera shows Leonard’s concerned expression. Roger yells his bid back at the auctioneer, before teasingly telling Valerian to “keep trying” as he is dragged out of the room by the police. Meanwhile, in the hall, the Professor makes a call in a phone booth.

Having collected Thornhill from the auction, the cops push him into the cop car, as Thornhill tells them to “handle with care” because he is “valuable property.” In the car, he thanks them for saving his life, and encourages them to smile, telling them they are about to be heroes, and that they ought to know who he is. When they dismiss his rambling, he announces himself as the United Nations killer, Roger Thornhill, and the driver looks back at him and refers to his newspaper to confirm that it is indeed him. The driver calls the station to tell them that they have Thornhill in their custody. The man on the phone eventually tells the driver something that gives him pause and confuses him, and when he hangs up, he turns the cop car around having been ordered to go to the airport. Upset, Roger insists that he wants to be taken to police headquarters, but the driver continues on to the airport.

At the airport, the policemen bring Roger inside, walking past the travelers to the middle of the lobby. The bespectacled man who had looked suspicious at the auction runs in and greets the policemen, having evidently given the orders over the phone to bring Thornhill to the airport. The Professor dismisses the two policemen and escorts Roger to the exterior of the airport. The Professor reveals to Thornhill that he is an intelligence officer, and that he knows that Roger did not commit the murder at the United Nations. Annoyed, Thornhill asks why they let the police chase him around the country if they knew, and the Professor tells him that they do not interfere with the police unless necessary, and now it has become necessary. The Professor informs Roger that they are getting on a plane to Rapid City, South Dakota, the next projected stop for the fictional George Kaplan. When Roger asks him why they’re going to South Dakota, the Professor tells him it’s because Mount Rushmore is there, and that Vandamm is headed there now.

The Professor also reveals to a resentful Roger that Eve Kendall is Mr. Vandamm’s mistress, before revealing that Vandamm is a “sort of importer-exporter…[of] government secrets, perhaps.” When Thornhill asks why they haven’t arrested Vandamm, the Professor informs him that they don’t know enough about his organization, but that they are going to Mount Rushmore, because Vandamm owns a house nearby, and is likely to leave the country from there the following evening. Thornhill assumes that they are going to stop Vandamm from leaving the country, but the Professor assures him that they are actually planning to “put his mind at ease about George Kaplan,” revealing that George Kaplan doesn’t exist, and implying that Thornhill will have to continue pretending to be Kaplan for the next 24 hours, as he ushers Roger onto the plane.

The Professor explains the entire situation to Thornhill, but the hum and rumble of the plane engine drown out their voices for the viewer. Eventually the viewer can hear Thornhill tell the Professor that he does not want to participate in pretending to be the intelligence decoy as they continue to walk to the plane. Thornhill tells the Professor that he wants nothing to do with it, but the Professor assures him that their special agent is in danger of being killed if he does not help them. Thornhill pleads with the Professor: “I’m an advertising man, not a red herring.” Just as Roger goes to leave, refusing the mission, the Professor brings up Eve Kendall, whom Roger bitterly tells him uses “sex like some people use a fly swatter.” The Professor then reveals that Eve is in fact the special agent whom they are trying to protect. Shocked and upset, Roger realizes that he must protect Eve from assassination, having put her at a dangerous risk of being found out.

The scene shifts to a shot of Mount Rushmore from below, and a round aperture close in around it, as we see that Thornhill is looking up at it through a viewfinder. The Professor reads a newspaper, as the two gentlemen wait for the arrival of their enemies. The Professor tells Thornhill that he only made the situation more complicated for himself by having so attracted Eve Kendall that she fell in love with him, as Vandamm has now likely begun to doubt her loyalty. The Professor urges Thornhill that it is his “responsibility to restore Ms. Kendall to Vandamm’s good graces before he leaves the country tonight.”

Roger Thornhill walks around the corner and sees Vandamm, Leonard, and Eve arriving at Mount Rushmore Visitor’s Center. He informs the Professor and heads inside to the cafeteria, where he goes to the counter and gets a cup of coffee. Vandamm, Eve, and Leonard arrive in the cafeteria just as Roger goes to sit down at a table. Roger sends Eve away from the table, and Leonard sits at a table near the wall. As they sit down, Vandamm asks if he misunderstood Thornhill about bringing Eve along, but Thornhill cryptically tells him that they will get to that later. While Thornhill assumes that his call would have surprised Vandamm, Vandamm assures him that he knew that the police would release him, and compliments him on his performance at the auction. When Vandamm asks Thornhill why he has called him to Mount Rushmore, Thornhill tells him that he knows that Vandamm plans to flee the country that night and that he knows his destination. Thornhill asks Vandamm his price for keeping quiet about Vandamm’s departure, and when Vandamm asks him to name what he had in mind, Thornhill requests that Vandamm hand Eve over to him, so that she can “get what’s coming to her…to keep her uncomfortable for the rest of her life.” Vandamm then questions Thornhill as to why he would assume Vandamm to be so willing to trade Eve for peace of mind.

Eve interrupts their conversation to tell Vandamm that she plans to go back to the house, but he follows her and speaks to her privately as they walk out of the lodge, accompanied by Leonard. Thornhill runs after them and grabs Eve, who resists him as he pulls her into the cafeteria. Eventually she pulls a gun on him, shooting him twice before running out of the cafeteria. As she runs, Leonard whispers in Vandamm’s ear that they cannot follow her or get involved. The Professor warns onlookers to step away from Thornhill’s body, as he examines him himself. Meanwhile Eve gets in a car outside and drives away. The Professor looks up at the onlookers and nods his head to suggest that Thornhill has been fatally wounded.

Two men load Thornhill’s body, lying limp on a gurney into the back of a car, as the Professor gets in the front seat and the car drives away. Up in the forest, the Professor opens the back of the car, and Thornhill emerges, alive and completely fine. As he gets out of the car, he sees that Eve is waiting for him in the forest, standing alongside her car. They stare at each other from a distance and Eve reveals that she requested to see him again, as there “isn’t much time.” As Eve apologizes for her deception, Thornhill walks towards her, and she towards him, as they reconcile with one another. She expresses relief that he was not hurt when she shot him with the blanks in the cafeteria, but he humorously misinterprets her to mean emotionally hurt by her deception, which he assures her he was.

As they stroll through the forest, they continue to talk, and Eve reveals that she got involved in the whole affair after falling for Vandamm’s charm at a party one night, and falling in love with him. Eve tells Thornhill that the Professor approached her and told her sordid details about Vandamm and that her relationship with Vandamm made her valuable to the intelligence agency. Flattered to be asked to do something “worthwhile” in her life, as she puts it, Eve took them up on their offer. Thornhill sympathizes with her difficult lot in life, but Eve wittily assures him that her life has been hard because of men like him, who “don’t believe in marriage.” Laughing, he insists that he has been married twice, and the couple embraces and kisses romantically.

Saying goodbye, Eve tells him she has to go back to Vandamm’s house and convince them that she took the long way home to avoid the authorities. They continue to embrace, finding it difficult to part, but the Professor honks the horn to encourage Eve to leave. Thornhill walks her to her car and assures her that they will see each other that night after Vandamm flees the country, but Eve and the Professor reveal to him that she will be traveling with Vandamm that evening. It is revealed that the Professor lied to Thornhill about his being able to reunite with Eve, when in fact Eve will be a valuable agent overseas, and that Vandamm will see it fit that she flee the country with him after having shot “George Kaplan.” Growing upset with the Professor, Thornhill protests that Eve does not have to travel with Vandamm, but the Professor responds, “War is hell, Mr. Thornhill, even when it’s a cold one.” This makes Thornhill even angrier, as he scolds the Professor for selling girls like Eve down the river to get answers.


In this section of the film, the viewer sees Roger—as Vandamm points out—in his latest role as “peevish lover” as he learns the extent to which Eve is in business with Vandamm. While they only shared a brief night together on the train from New York, Roger’s affection for Eve leaves him feeling completely betrayed when he finds her under the possessive hand of Vandamm. It is clear that she feels ambivalent about her own betrayal, her eyes darting away from his gaze as she attempts to tell him to make a run for it while he can. Both of their aims are complicated by their mutual affection for one another. While Roger must figure out why he is being targeted by Vandamm, he is disturbed to realize that the woman with whom he is in love is on the enemy’s side. Likewise, Eve did not anticipate falling in love with Roger when she was commissioned to meet him on the train, which complicates her own motives. An already twisted and complicated mystery is all the more tangled by the feelings of romance that bubble up along the way.

In this section of the film, Roger Thornhill gains the upper hand. Up until this point, he has often been somehow in the dark, barely getting by. While he managed to elude the police in his escape from New York, Roger remained one step behind Vandamm and his associates. After successfully avoiding the crop-duster, and managing to lure the plane to its fiery end, however, Thornhill begins to piece together the ways that he has been deceived. While the revelation that Eve had been deceiving him all along is disturbing, it is also what allows him to gain the upper hand, as he surprises her in her hotel room, which allows him to follow her to the auction to surprise Vandamm. Having suffered so many indignities, Roger becomes savvier in this portion of the film, and his ability to transform serves him well now; now he morphs from ordinary advertising executive into an actual detective, a man who can get inside the heads of the criminals who want so desperately to kill him.

Indeed Roger’s ability to perform is his chief asset throughout the film. In the auction room, after seeing he has no way of escaping the room himself, Roger assumes that his only opportunity to get out alive is to affect a belligerent and insane persona at the auction, which he escalates to such an extent that someone calls the police. His shameless histrionics draw attention to him in the auction, and put him safely in the arms of the police, the people he had wanted to go to in the first place after learning Vandamm’s identity. Thornhill puts on a marvelous performance as belligerent auctioneer, heckling and making inappropriate jokes in the staid hall. After successfully affecting his unruly persona, he even manages to slip in a taunting one-liner to Valerian on his way out, urging him to “keep trying.”

When Roger meets the Professor it seems as though he will finally be able to walk away from his situation and return to life as usual, but the revelation of Eve Kendall’s true identity complicates this plan considerably. Having suspected that she was just a lying and deceptive member of enemy forces, Roger is shocked to discover that she is in fact the secret agent sent to infiltrate Vandamm’s ranks. Her position on the side of the good guys compels him to forgive her for her deceptions and motivates him to help the Professor return her to safety. The film takes a sudden shift—while Roger is no longer in such grave danger, the woman he loves is, and he is given the chance to help correct the complication he has wrought by following her to her hotel in Chicago and revealing their affections to Vandamm. Yet again, Roger accidentally finds himself more deeply entrenched in a plot that never involved him in the first place. Now, however, he is motivated not by the drive to survive, but to save the woman he loves.

Again, mistaken identities and the deceptive power of performance add to the suspense of the film, as we watch Eve Kendall pretend to hold alliances with Vandamm and Leonard, who have grown suspicious of her. While the audience knows she is actually allied with the intelligence agency, she must pretend to be allied with the enemy organization, as well as cover up her affection for Thornhill. In turn, Thornhill must continue to pretend to be the fictional Kaplan and even stage his own death in order to divert the suspicions of Vandamm and Leonard. Performance is the main weapon through which both Roger and Eve are able to evade their enemies. Perhaps their smooth chameleonic tendencies are what make them so compatible.