North by Northwest

North by Northwest Summary and Analysis of Part 5: Thornhill to the Rescue


Overwhelmed and weeping, Eve runs to her car. When Thornhill tries to stop her, he is tapped on the shoulder by the Professor’s driver, who punches him in the face. As he falls to the ground, Eve drives away. The scene shifts to Thornhill in a hospital room, pacing in nothing but a towel and listening to the radio announcer tell the story of his afternoon. Thornhill attempts to open the door of his room, but finds it locked, as the radio announcer identifies him as “George Kaplan…tentatively identified as an employee of the federal government.” After opening the window, Thornhill goes over to the radio and turns it off, before quickly getting on the bed as he hears someone outside unlocking the door.

The Professor enters, delivering clothing, and tells him it will do the trick for the next few days. As Thornhill raises his arms to brush his hair, the Professor notices a mark on his side from when he fell after being "shot" in the cafeteria. As Thornhill puts on his clothes, the men discuss what transpired, with the Professor apologizing for having his driver punch him in the face. Thornhill assures the Professor that he has started to forget about Eve, and he puts on a shirt. The Professor tells Thornhill that Eve is leaving the country within the next hour, which gives Thornhill pause, before he begins to continue to make smalltalk. Insisting that he is a “cooperator”—to the Professor’s thanks—Thornhill asks if he will go get him some bourbon. When the Professor leaves, Thornhill quickly puts on shoes, checks that the coast is clear, attempts to open the door, before finally escaping the room through the window. Climbing along a dark ledge, Thornhill eventually manages to climb through a nearby window and into the hospital room of a startled woman, who is instantly and comically attracted to him.

Thornhill rides a taxi up to where Vandamm lives. On foot, he climbs the hill to Vandamm’s house, peeking in through the window, but someone is closing the curtain just as he looks. Further up near the house, Thornhill spies a blinking landing strip that he presumes is signaling an incoming airplane. He climbs closer to the house, and sees a car pull up to the house; Valerian gets out and is let in by the housekeeper. He then spies Vandamm, Leonard, and Eve through a nearby window, which lures him closer towards the house. Inching up a scaffolding, he is able to hear Vandamm comforting a distressed Eve, who performs remorse about shooting Kaplan. Vandamm comforts her, assuring her that he is committed to her happiness, before asking Leonard about the plane. Leonard tells him the plane will be there in 10 minutes. Leonard then requests a private word with Vandamm, and Eve goes upstairs to collect her things.

After waiting until Eve is safely out of earshot, Leonard details his suspicions of Eve, stating that “she is not to be trusted.” While Leonard explains further, Thornhill throws a few small rocks at Eve’s window, but fails to get her attention, instead causing her to check the other room rather than look outside and see him. He has also lured the attention of Leonard, who walks over to the window suspiciously, but soon decides that it was nothing of concern. When he returns, he asks if Vandamm himself is not suspicious of Eve, as he failed to tell her that the figure he purchased at the auction was filled with microfilm, but Vandamm continues to resist Leonard’s accusations. When Vandamm insists that Leonard saw Eve shoot “Kaplan,” Thornhill, from his spying post at the window, watches Leonard touch a gun in his back pocket. As Vandamm accuses Leonard of jealousy, Leonard pulls the gun on him, and fires it at Vandamm, but it contains only blanks. Having displayed the illusion of the gun himself, Leonard reveals that it is the gun that Eve fired at Thornhill (aka “Kaplan”).

As Leonard reveals Eve’s alliance with the other side, Vandamm grows so upset that he punches Leonard in the face. Clutching his fist in pain, Vandamm realizes that he has no choice but to dispose of the woman he loves. Eve comes to the upstairs landing to inquire about the gunshot she heard, but Vandamm feigns ignorance and tells her to get ready to leave. Eve goes back to her room as the three men watch: Leonard and Vandamm from downstairs, Thornhill from the window. When Leonard asks if Vandamm is taking Eve on the plane, Vandamm assures him that he is, ominously implying that he will kill her once they are in the airplane, so that he can dispose of her body in the ocean.

Now with greater urgency, having seen this interaction, Thornhill scurries away to collect Eve and rescue her. Climbing the wall of the house, he approaches the window next to which she puts on a jacket for traveling and just misses her as she turns out the light and goes through the door. Thornhill manages to get into the room through a balcony and open the door to the hall just as Eve is talking to Vandamm, who asks if he can make her a drink. Thornhill pulls a handkerchief out of his pocket and, noticing his monogram, which he and Eve had talked about on the train upon meeting, is inspired to write her a note on his initialed matchbook. Pulling out a pen, he writes, “They’re onto you—I’m in your room” on the back of the matchbook, and sneaks out into the hallway. Looking down from the landing, he sees Vandamm handing Eve a drink, and raising a toast to their relationship.

Leonard announces that the plane has arrived, and Vandamm follows him to the window to see. Thornhill throws the matchbook onto the ground near Eve, but she doesn’t see, and Leonard walks towards her. Leonard picks up the matchbook, but then dismisses it as meaningless and puts it in a tray on the table. Eve notices it with a start, recognizing the initials, and opes it to read the note, which makes her jolt. When Vandamm invites her to come along and get on the plane, she pretends to have left her earrings upstairs so she has an excuse to go back to her room. In the room, Eve finds Thornhill, who tells her everything, and urges her to escape through the window with him and get in a nearby car. Leonard calls Eve from the hall, and as she goes back out, Thornhill whispers to her that she must not get on the plane with Vandamm.

Eve goes downstairs with Leonard as Vandamm makes final arrangements with the housekeeper, Anna. Carrying the figure that he purchased at the auction, Vandamm takes Eve’s hand and escorts her out, while Thornhill watches from above. After listening to them leave, Thornhill walks along the upper landing, but the housekeeper, Anna, sees his reflection in the television and goes to grab a gun. When he comes down the stairs, she walks towards him with the gun and instructs him to sit on the stairs, telling him, “As soon as the plane leaves, my husband [who we learn is Valerian] and Mr. Leonard will be back.” Eve, Leonard, Valerian, and Vandamm walk towards the plane, with Eve looking back at the house anxiously, unsure of what to do. As she looks back, more and more anxiously, Vandamm asks what’s wrong and she tells him that she is worried about her earrings. He dismisses her worries and they continue walking towards the plane.

At the plane, Vandamm asks Leonard to thank his sister for her performance as “Mrs. Townsend” once he gets back to New York, and tells Valerian that he’s “reassured his wife.” Just as they are about to get on the plane, two gunshots go off, and Eve looks back at the house to see Thornhill running outside. Eve grabs the figure from the auction out of Vandamm’s hands and runs towards Thornhill, who is driving a car down the driveway. Vandamm orders Leonard and Valerian to retrieve the figure, but Eve manages to get in the car and she and Thornhill drive away safely. Thornhill tells her about his interaction with the housekeeper and that it didn’t take him long to realize that she was using the gun with blanks in it. When they arrive at the gate entrance of the house, Thornhill hops out to open it, as Eve looks back to see their pursuers running down the hill. She gets out of the car and points them out to Thornhill, and the couple run into the woods.

The couple comes to the edge of a cliff, and realize that they are at the top of Mount Rushmore. They see flashlights in the distance, so quickly run to the edge of the monument, and climb down it, sliding down between the faces of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Valerian and Leonard are close behind, also sliding down the monument. Hanging off the side of the monument, Thornhill suggests that if they get out alive, they ought to take the train back to New York together. Eve asks if he’s making a proposition, and he assures her that it’s a proposal. As they continue to hang precariously off the side of the cliff, Eve asks him what went wrong in his first two marriages, to which he responds, “My wives divorced me…I think they said I led too dull a life.”

As they try to keep moving, Eve falls from her place on the monument and hurts her arm, falling to a small level area not far below. Roger comes down to her aid and examines her arm and embraces her. He holds her as they life further down the monument. Valerian is shown making his way down the other side, and Leonard hangs from a height nearby, eventually falling to a lower level. Eve and Thornhill see one of the men on another lower level and run in the opposite direction. As they inch around a corner of the monument, Leonard pursues them with a pained expression. Once around the corner, Valerian is waiting for them, crouched on a ledge above and holding a knife.

Seeing him, Eve screams as Valerian jumps on top of Roger. The two men struggle, and begin to roll down to another level. As Valerian nearly presses his knife into Roger’s throat, Roger manages to push Valerian firmly and send him falling down the side of the cliff to his death. Above, Eve and Leonard fight with one another, Leonard pushing Eve over the side of a cliff and grabbing the auction figure from her. Roger runs to the edge of the cliff and sees Eve hanging off the side, clutching for dear life. He begins to climb down and reaches his hand out to her, grabbing ahold. They both look up at Leonard, and Roger asks for help, but Leonard comes over and begins to step on Roger’s knuckles. But the police, led by the Professor, have arrived, and they shoot Leonard, who falls to his death. Eve struggles to climb back up.

Just as Eve struggles more and more, Roger calls her “Mrs. Thornhill” and pulls her up to his level. As he pulls her up the cliff, the scene shifts suddenly to show him pulling her up into the bed compartment of a train, laughing as they return to New York.


The final segment of the movie shows Thornhill trying to save the woman he loves from the clutches of an evil spy and his jealous, presumably homosexual right-hand man. Once again outside the guidance and support of the law or the intelligence agency with which he recently came into contact, Thornhill is completely on his own, using only his wits and his resourcefulness to rescue the vulnerable Eve. Now skilled at evading and deceiving, Thornhill is able to escape from his locked hospital room, as well as spy on the villainous Leonard and Vandamm from a window outside Vandamm’s house. Thornhill’s resolve is a testament to his love for Eve; while he could easily walk away from the situation and back into the normalcy of his life, he is too in love with Eve to dispose of her as easily as the Professor seems to. In the final section of the film, Thornhill transitions from survivor and sleuth to romantic hero.

The intricacies and backstage dramas of Vandamm’s organization are revealed in this final section, as Thornhill spies on the interior of his house from the outside. While Leonard is not mistaken about Eve’s untrustworthiness, it is his passion—and as Vandamm insists, jealousy—that motivates him to reveal her deceit. Leonard’s admiration for Vandamm and his desire to be his favorite are what fuel his revelation of Eve’s status as a double agent. Indeed, Leonard is implied to be homosexual, a choice that the actor, Martin Landau, stated he added to the character to give him deeper motivation. Leonard refers to his “woman’s intuition,” suggesting an avowed effeminacy, and does not deny Vandamm’s accusations of jealousy. Indeed Hitchcock lends his villains an even more deviant edge by including Leonard’s homosexual affection, an undoubtedly perverse detail for the 1950s audience that would have watched the film upon its release. Leonard’s romantic stake in assisting Vandamm works in parallel to Thornhill’s romantic stake in saving Eve, but while Eve and Thornhill’s romance is pure and heroic, Leonard’s desires only fuel his untrustworthy character in the employment of a heartless villain.

Indeed, the slipperiness and evils of the traitorous Vandamm organization contrast markedly with Thornhill and Eve as a relatable and wholesome couple, representing a kind of American ideal. In a movie about the evil lengths to which not only enemy spies, but even American intelligence agents had to go during the Cold War, the sight of the couple sliding down the cheek of George Washington in order to escape the traitorous Russian spies is an evocative and comic image. Earlier in the film, in response to Thornhill’s protestations about putting Eve’s life at risk, the Professor assures Roger that “All war is hell, even the cold ones.” The Professor is committed to doing whatever it takes to protect American interests, but he is doing so by risking the life of a vulnerable American, Eve. When Thornhill goes behind the Professor’s back to save Eve, he embarks on an adventure to protect an American hero from the ruthless, evil ways of a traitorous ring of criminals. Therefore, when the two heroes of the film climb down the visages of famous American presidents, the viewer is meant to see them not just individually, but symbolically, as ingenious mavericks and prototypes of a certain kind of 1950s American dream: heroic, romantic, and witty as hell.

Indeed, after many dramatic and suspenseful scenes, it is in perhaps the most suspenseful scene of all that Hitchcock once again injects levity and witty comic relief. Presented with no other options, Roger and Eve slide down the monument of Mount Rushmore, climbing down the iconic faces of American presidents, a joke in and of itself. Then, hanging off the side of the monument, they engage in charming small-talk, discussing their future plans as a couple, with Roger even proposing to Eve. While the circumstances do not lend themselves to romantic conversation, the well-matched couple find time for witty repartee before continuing to make a run for it.

The ending of the film transitions abruptly from dramatic to light, as a cliff-side struggle for survival suddenly turns into a sleeping car cuddle session for the now-engaged Roger and Eve. Valerian and Leonard, having been killed by Roger and the police respectively, are no longer a threat, and the couple can return to their lives, now happily engaged and safe from harm. The whole premise of the movie, which was contingent on the ordinary life of a New York professional getting upended by his misidentification as an intelligence agent, represents the ease with which the film can switch back and forth between the ordinary and the extraordinary. In Hitchcock’s equal-parts suspenseful and comedic thriller, hanging off the side of Mount Rushmore does not prohibit the possibility of a proposal, and an advertising executive can do the work of the intelligence agent he is mistaken for, and effectively save the life of a vulnerable double agent. While the film is not particularly plausible, heightened as it is, and with an almost-too-convenient happy ending, it never fails to entertain and charm, and the tenseness of the plot becomes diffused by its romantic ending note.