While filming Vertigo (1958), Alfred Hitchcock described some of the plot of this project to frequent Hitchcock leading man and "Vertigo" star James Stewart, who naturally assumed that Hitchcock meant to cast him in the Roger Thornhill role, and was eager to play it. Actually, Hitchcock wanted Cary Grant to play the role. By the time Hitchcock realized the misunderstanding, Stewart was so anxious to play Thornhill that rejecting him would have caused a great deal of disappointment. So Hitchcock delayed production on this film until Stewart was already safely committed to filming Otto Preminger's Anatomy of a Murder (1959) before "officially" offering him the North by Northwest (1959) role. Stewart had no choice; he had to turn down the offer, allowing Hitchcock to cast Grant, the actor he had wanted all along.
Less than eight feet of film was cut from the final release. Eight feet is about 5 seconds.
While on location at Mt. Rushmore, Eva Marie Saint discovered that Cary Grant would charge fans 15 cents for an autograph.
Alfred Hitchcock couldn't get permission to film inside the UN, so footage was made of the exterior of the building using a hidden camera, and the rooms were later recreated on a soundstage.
Alfred Hitchcock filmed Cary Grant's entrance into the United Nations building from across the street with a hidden camera. When he gets to the top of the stairs a man about to walk down does a double take upon seeing the movie star.
The film has been referred to as "the first James Bond film" due to its similarities with splashily colourful settings, secret agents, and an elegant, daring, wisecracking leading man opposite a sinister yet strangely charming villain. The crop duster scene inspired the helicopter chase in From Russia with Love (1963).
Roger O. Thornhill claims that the "O" stands for "nothing". This is a reference to David O. Selznick, whose "O" also signified nothing.
Eva Marie Saint had to re-dub a particular line during post-production, to satisfy censors. The original line was "I never make love on an empty stomach", but was changed to "I never discuss love on an empty stomach". Yet the final scene, after she and Cary Grant are embracing on the upper berth, shows a train entering a tunnel.
The scenes where the crop duster is chasing and shooting at Thornhill were filmed with a real airplane while the scene where the plane crashes into the fuel truck was done using large models of both truck and plane.
Cary Grant was initially reluctant to accept the role of Roger Thornhill since at 55 he was much older than the character.
In the DVD documentary, Eva Marie Saint recounts how Alfred Hitchcock, dissatisfied with the costumes the studio had designed for her, marched her to Bergdorf Goodman and personally picked out clothes for her to wear.
James Stewart was very interested in starring in this movie, begging Alfred Hitchcock to let him play Thornhill. Hitchcock claimed that Vertigo (1958)'s lack of financial success was because Stewart "looked too old". MGM wanted Gregory Peck, but Hitchcock instead cast Cary Grant, who, ironically, was actually 4 years Stewart's senior.
The day before the scene where Thornhill is hidden in an upper berth was to be filmed, Cary Grant took a look at the set which had been built and told Alfred Hitchcock that it had been constructed sloppily and would not do for the film. Hitchcock trusted Grant's judgment so completely that he ordered the set rebuilt to better standards without ever checking the situation for himself.
Eleven years after being mentioned in Rope (1948) as making an excellent villain, James Mason was finally cast by Alfred Hitchcock as such in North by Northwest (1959).
Rather than go to the expense of shooting in a South Dakota woodland, Alfred Hitchcock planted 100 ponderosa pines on an MGM soundstage.
Famed art director/special effects artist Albert Whitlock who worked on several Hitchcock films (not this one) painted a painting of Mount Rushmore and superimposed the face of Alfred Hitchcock into the rock sculptures on the mountain as a joke. The painting exists in a private collection.
Cary Grant found the screenplay baffling, and midway through filming told Alfred Hitchcock, "It's a terrible script. We've already done a third of the picture and I still can't make head or tail of it!" Hitchcock knew this confusion would only help the film-after all, Grant's character had no idea what was going on, either. Grant thought the film would be a flop right up until its premiere, where it was rapturously received.
Roger Thornhill's mother tells him jokingly, "Pay the two dollars," after he futilely attempts to shed light on his kidnapping and be exonerated from his DWI charge. The line is a reference to a Depression-era Willie Howard vaudeville sketch written by Billy K. Wells. A man is in court to pay a $2 fine for spitting on the subway, but his lawyer insists on fighting the case. As the lawyer incurs greater and greater sentences, his defendant keeps pleading, "Pay the two dollars!" This sketch also appeared in Ziegfeld Follies (1945) with Edward Arnold portraying the attorney.
It was journalist Otis L. Guernsey Jr. who suggested to Alfred Hitchcock the premise of a man mistaken for a nonexistent secret agent. He was inspired, he said, by a real-life case during WW II, known as Operation Mincemeat, in which British intelligence hoped to lure Italian and German forces away from Sicily, a planned invasion site. A cadaver was selected and given an identity and phony papers referring to invasions of Sardinia and Greece. A British film, The Man Who Never Was (1956), recounted the operation.
Cary Grant got $450,000 for this movie - a substantial amount for the time - plus a percentage of the gross profits. He also received $315,000 in penalty fees for having to stay nine weeks past the time his contract called for.
Cinematographer Robert Burks recalled how Alfred Hitchcock, frustrated with the inefficiency and costliness of paying for police protection again and again when shooting on location, referred to New York's finest as "New York's worst" in an interview. When the crew arrived at their next location, The Plaza Hotel, there was no police protection.
Alfred Hitchcock planned to shoot a scene in the Ford automobile plant in Dearborn, MI. As Thornhill and a factory worker discussed a particular foreman at the plant, they would walk along the assembly line as a car was put together from the first bolt to the final panel. Then, as the car rolled off the line ready to drive, Thornhill would open the passenger door and out would roll the body of the foreman he had just been discussing. Hitchcock loved the idea of a body appearing out of nowhere, but he and screenwriter Ernest Lehman couldn't figure out a way to make the scene fit the story, so it never came to fruition.
One day, Martin Landau noticed that Alfred Hitchcock was giving instructions to Cary Grant, James Mason and Eva Marie Saint. When he asked Hitchcock about this, the director basically said if he didn't talk to actors, they were doing fine; when he talked to them, it was because they did something wrong.
When Martin Landau first sees Cary Grant, he says, "He's a well-tailored one." All of Landau's suits for the film were made by Grant's personal tailor.
During their escape, Roger says to Eve, "I see you've got the pumpkin," meaning Vandamm's statue containing microfilm. The line references the 1948 Alger Hiss case, in which Whittaker Chambers led federal agents to government microfilms, allegedly supplied to him by Hiss, that Chambers had hidden in a pumpkin on his farm.
MGM tried to persuade Alfred Hitchcock to use their Ultra-Panavision system which utilized a 65mm negative with a slight anamorphic squeeze. When projected, the image would be free of grain and quite wide. Hitchcock reportedly balked at using this large format, and instead insisted on going with Vistavision which was the format used in several of his Paramount productions. Going with Ultra-Panavision would have meant Bernard Herrmann's score would have been heard in magnetic stereo. The Vistavision prints utilized optical mono sound. Ironic that the version shown now has an entirely new soundtrack mixed in stereo.
In François Truffaut's book-length interview, Hitchcock/Truffaut (1967), Alfred Hitchcock said that MGM wanted North by Northwest cut by 15 minutes so the film's length would run under two hours. Hitchcock had his agent check his contract, learned that he had absolute control over the final cut, and refused.
When the film was released there were complaints that Roger Thornhill looked the same age as his mother.
Among the problems that the Production Code found with this film was the effeminacy of the henchman Leonard (Martin Landau).
In a TCM interview, according to screenwriter Ernest Lehman (who worked in close collaboration with Alfred Hitchcock), the working title was "In A Northwesterly Direction." The head of the Story Department at MGM said, "Why don't you call it 'North by Northwest'?" Lehman says that he and Hitch adopted that as the new working title, always assuming that they'd come up with something better. Hitchcock also jokingly wanted to call it "The Man in Lincoln's Nose", but claimed the idea was vetoed by the Park Commissioner. Other working titles included "Breathless", "In a North West Direction" and "The CIA Story".
Roger Thornhill is saved three times on his journey by Eve. He hides in a toilet on the train while she sends the police in the other direction, she hides him in her bunk bed in her cabin, and she gives him her shaving kit to disguise his face in the station bathroom. In Greek mythology the hero, often on a journey, is always saved three times.
Ernest Lehman became the film's scriptwriter following a lunchtime meeting with Alfred Hitchcock, arranged by their mutual friend, composer Bernard Herrmann. Hitchcock originally wanted him to work on his new project The Wreck of the Mary Deare (1959) (which was eventually made instead by Michael Anderson), but Lehman refused. Hitchcock was so keen to work with him that he suggested they work together on a different film using Mary Deare's budget (without MGM's approval) even though he had only three ideas to set Lehman on his way: mistaken identity, the United Nations building, and a chase scene across the faces of Mt. Rushmore.
In one scene, Vandamm jokingly suggests Thornhill to try out for the Actors' Studio. Both Eva Marie Saint and Martin Landau were from the Actors' Studio.
The house near the end of the film was not real. Alfred Hitchcock asked the set designers to make the set resemble a house by Frank Lloyd Wright, the most popular architect in America at the time, using the materials, form and interiors associated with him. The set was built in Culver City, where MGM's studios were located. House exteriors were matte paintings.
In an interview, Alfred Hitchcock's daughter, Patricia Hitchcock, reveals that her husband worked at the time of the filming for Magnum Oil. "Magnum Oil" is the name on the fuel truck in the famous crop duster/oil truck scene.
The train station scene was shot in New York City's Grand Central Terminal. Among the onlookers watching the scene being filmed were future directors George A. Romero and Larry Cohen.
Alfred Hitchcock needed more room just outside the Oak Room to dramatize Thornhill's kidnapping. The recreation of the Oak Room as a set at MGM in Culver City was so convincing, and even though Eva Marie Saint confirmed this on the DVD commentary, people still swear it is the actual Oak Room.
At the auction, Thornhill remarks that Van Damme, Kendall, and Leonard resemble a scene worthy of Charles Addams. Addams created the macabre yet debonair characters of the various Addams Family TV series and movies.
Ranked #7 on the American Film Institute's list of the 10 greatest films in the genre "Mystery" in June 2008.
In 2007, the American Film Institute ranked this as the #55 Greatest Movie of All Time.
The New York Central 20th Century Limited railcar featured (number 10006) was built by Pullman-Standard in 1939 and was scrapped in 1968. It was named "Imperial State" and featured four double bedrooms, four single compartments and two drawing rooms. The interior of the car seen in the film is actually a set built by MGM studios. When Cary Grant shuts the door, the wall can clearly be seen to move since the whole thing was manufactured out of plywood panels and painted to simulate the look of metal (including small fake rivets).
MGM wanted Gregory Peck to star as Roger O Thornhill, but Alfred Hitchcock refused, claiming that he was too stone-faced.
For the cropdusting scene, Cary Grant was filmed on a studio set diving into a fake ditch while the plane footage unspooled on a screen behind him.
Over dinner one night, Alfred Hitchcock related to Ernest Lehman his giddy enthusiasm for what North By Northwest is really about. He said, "Ernie, do you realize what we're doing in this picture? The audience is like a giant organ that you and I are playing. At one moment we play this note on them and get this reaction, and then we play that chord and they react that way. And someday we won't even have to make a movie---there'll be electrodes implanted in their brains, and we'll just press different buttons and they'll go 'ooooh' and 'aaaah'' and we'll frighten them, and make them laugh. Won't that be wonderful?"
In numerous interviews, Martin Landau said that he made a decision on his own to play the character of Leonard as gay and in love with Phillip Vandamm (James Mason). In an October 2012 interview with Devin Faraci, Landau said that he was cast in North by Northwest when Hitchcock "saw me in a play called 'Middle of the Night,' Paddy Chayefsky's first Broadway play, with Edward G. Robinson, which I toured with after the Broadway run. He was there opening night. I played a very macho guy, 180 degrees from Leonard, who I chose to play as a homosexual--very subtly. Because he wanted to get rid of Eva Marie Saint with such a vengeance. James Mason, to the day he died--he became a friend of mine--the most often asked question of James was whether Vandamm, his character, was bisexual. He said, 'No he wasn't, but Landau made a choice and there's nothing I can do about it.' I actually caused him some grief! Everyone told me not to do that because it was my first big movie and people would think I was gay. I'm an actor! I said it wasn't going to be my last movie, and it certainly wasn't. I've never played a character like that since. I also felt it was something people would know or not know. It was very subtle. I thought in Boise, Idaho they might not notice." Landau also said that after he made the decision to play Leonard as gay, Alfred Hitchcock and screenwriter Ernest Lehman were very supportive of the idea. "Ernie Lehman added a line which was not in the script. 'Call it my woman's intuition' was not in the original script. It was a very daring line for the '50s. Men didn't say things like that. Hitchcock loved what I did and left me alone."
Ernest Lehman took a two-week research trip through New York, the United Nations, Glen Cove, Long Island, the 20th Century Limited, Chicago, the Ambassador East Hotel, and Mount Rushmore in order to convincingly plot his narrative.
Alfred Hitchcock reportedly wanted to film Cary Grant having a sneezing fit inside Lincoln's nostril.
The August 2016 issue of Trains Magazine has a good article that explains the filming of the 20th Century Limited scenes. One tidbit is that the New York Central set out some passenger cars for the LaSalle Street Station scenes, including "Imperial State." The "Imperial State" seen at Grand Central was actually a Southern Pacific car in Los Angeles painted to look like NYC's Imperial State so as to match the LaSalle Street footage.
Features two actors who would go on to head spy agencies in their own 1960s television series. Edward Platt would star as "Chief" in Get Smart (1965), and Leo G. Carroll would star as "Mr. Waverly" in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (1964) and its spin off The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. (1966). Additionally, Martin Landau would work as a spy in Mission: Impossible (1966).
If the fictional Thornhill had plans, as he stated, to attend the Winter Garden Theatre when the movie opened in the U.S. in July of 1959 (when he was kidnapped from the Oak Room), his tickets would have been for "West Side Story." But Thornhill, possibly, implies it was "My Fair Lady" that he had tickets for when he started to sing, while drunk in the Mercedes, "I've grown accustomed to your bourbon..."
The Professor mentions the acronym ONI in his "alphabet soup" line. This refers to the Office of Naval Intelligence, established by the United States Navy in 1882.
Thornhill meets friends at the 21 Club, a well-known American cuisine restaurant and former Prohibition-era speakeasy. It is located at 21 West 52nd Street, New York City.
According to the book "Haunted Idol: The Story of the Real Cary Grant" by Geoffrey Wansell, Cary Grant wanted Sophia Loren to play the part of Eve Kendall but she turned the role down. Seven years later Sophia Loren played a role very similar to Eve Kendall in Stanley Donen's Alfred Hitchcock-inspired thriller Arabesque (1966) opposite Gregory Peck - MGM's original choice for the role of Roger Thornhill.
The song that's playing in the lobby of the hotel before Thornhill enters the Oak Bar is "It's a Most Unusual Day".
MGM wanted Alfred Hitchcock to cast Cyd Charisse for the part of Eve Kendall, but Hitchcock insisted upon Eva Marie Saint.
A panel of fashion experts convened by GQ in 2006 said the gray suit worn by Cary Grant throughout almost the entire film was the best suit in film history, and the most influential on men's style, stating that it has since been copied for Tom Cruise's character in Collateral (2004) and Ben Affleck's character in Paycheck (2003). This sentiment has been echoed by writer Todd McEwen, who called it "gorgeous," and wrote a short story "Cary Grant's Suit" which recounts the film's plot from the viewpoint of the suit.
The date on the newspaper shown being read at the United States Intelligence Agency is shown as Tuesday, November 25, 1958. This would place at least some of the film's action on Thanksgiving Day (which was Thursday, November 27 that year), although no mention of the holiday is ever made.
The famous presidential portraits on Mount Rushmore were originally intended to extend down to waist level. Work was stopped in 1941 when funding ran out.
Vandamm remarks in the Rapid City house scene that the plane taking them out of the country should touch down in "10 minutes." It is exactly 10 minutes in real time when they see the plane landing on the landing strip.
Alfred Hitchcock wanted Grace Kelly for the role of Eve Kendall, even though she was Princess of Monaco.
The movie's title is a reference to a line from Hamlet, Act 2, Scene ii: "I am but mad north-north-west. When the wind is southerly, I know a hawk from a handsaw."
Technically, there is no compass direction named "North by Northwest." In the process of "boxing the compass" - naming the 32 points of the compass by their direction -- the points from West to North run: West, West by North, West-Northwest, Northwest by West, Northwest, Northwest by North, North-Northwest, North by West, North. There is a "North-Northwest," but not a "North by Northwest."
Glen Cove, NY, is on the north shore of Long Island. The body of water visible during the night driving scene is Long Island Sound.
At Alfred Hitchcock's insistence, the film was made in Paramount's VistaVision widescreen process, making it one of only two VistaVision films made at MGM (the other was High Society (1956)).
The aircraft seen flying in the scene is a Naval Aircraft Factory N3N Canary, a World War II Navy pilot trainer sometimes converted for cropdusting. The aircraft that hits the truck and explodes is a wartime Stearman (Boeing Model 75) trainer. Like its N3N lookalike, many were used for agricultural purposes through the 1970s. The plane was piloted by Bob Coe, a local cropduster from Wasco. Alfred Hitchcock placed replicas of square Indiana highway signs in the scene.
In the simple, cut-away shot of Thornhill of the front page of a newspaper, Hitchcock includes two in-jokes. The photo of Roger Thornhill is above - or North - of a news story about a "blaze in the NorthWest". Just for some added smiles, the story to the left - or West - of the photograph talks about the West staying in Berlin. Even the name of the newspaper, The Evening Star, suggests something in the West.
When the Professor is walking on the tarmac to the airplane with Thornhill, there are two airplane stairs behind them. The way they are placed, the one closest to the camera says Northwest. The one behind it, partially blocked, shows the word North, which shows to the left of the word Northwest. Hence, North by Northwest.
Alfred Hitchcock planned the film as a change of pace after his dark romantic thriller Vertigo a year earlier. In his book-length interview Hitchcock/Truffaut (1967) with François Truffaut, Hitchcock said that he wanted to do "something fun, light-hearted, and generally free of the symbolism permeating his other movies."
Thornhill orders a Gibson on the train. This is composed of Gin and Dry Vermouth, as in a traditional Martini, but with cocktail onions instead of olives.
MGM hired Ernest Lehman to write the movie version of a novel called The Wreck of the Mary Deare, with Alfred Hitchcock assigned to direct. But Lehman got stuck on the adaptation and told Hitch he needed to find a new writer. Hitchcock, who liked working with Lehman, said, "I have this other idea ..." He'd been working on a story where a man is mistaken for a spy (who turns out not to exist), and about doing a chase sequence across Mount Rushmore. Hitchcock and Lehman developed the film from there, but neglected to tell MGM that they'd changed courses. When the studio bosses found out, they wisely let Hitch and Lehman do their own thing and reassigned The Wreck of the Mary Deare.
Production costs were seriously escalated when a delay in filming put Cary Grant into the penalty phase of his contract, resulting in an additional $5,000 per day in fees for the actor, before shooting even began.
In 2014, a new fly species belonging to the genus 'Prochyliza' was named 'Prochyliza georgekaplani', which means 'the Prochyliza of George Kaplan'. The type specimens of this species, which had been found in Spain a few years before, had been wrongly identified as belonging to 'Prochyliza nigricornis', a species described in Europe in the 19th century and which was discovered to be a non-valid species name under taxonomical rules. As the Spanish specimens had been misidentified as a 'non-existent species', they were renamed after George Kaplan, the non-existent spy from the Alfred Hitchcock's film. The description of the new species was published in the scientific journal 'Zootaxa' (issue 3893, p. 277-292).
It is possible that Alfred Hitchcock and Ernest Lehman modeled The Professor, the head of the American Intelligence Agency, on John Foster Dulles (Secretary of State from 1953-1959) and his brother, Allen W. Dulles (head of the CIA from 1953-1961).
The two actors who played the Chicago auctioneer and his assistant, Les Tremayne and Olan Soule, succeeded each other as the lead on the popular radio show "Mr. First Nighter," during the 1930s and 1940s.
In the auction scene, Thornhill says that Kendall's performance is worthy of The Actors' Studio. This is a well-known professional organization for actors, theater directors, and playwrights located in New York City. The studio emphasizes the development and practice of method acting.
It tied with Anatomy of a Murder (1959) as the sixth highest grossing film of the year.
Some 44 minutes into the movie, there is a female train passenger who some fans think is Alfred Hitchcock in disguise. It certainly does look like him. But while Hitch wasn't above dressing in drag for the sake of a joke, the person in question is actually Jesslyn Fax, a character actress who appeared in several other Hitchcock projects.
Included among the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die", edited by Steven Schneider.
While waiting for Phillip Vandamm (James Mason) and Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint) at Mount Rushmore, Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) says he doesn't like the way that Teddy Roosevelt is looking at him. In Arsenic and Old Lace (1944), Grant plays Mortimer Brewster, whose brother thinks he's Teddy Roosevelt.
The cropduster sequence, meant to take place in northern Indiana, was shot on location on Garces Highway (155) near the towns of Wasco and Delano, north of Bakersfield in Kern County, California. Years later, in a show at the Pompidou Center called "Hitchcock and Art: Fatal Coincidences", an aerial shot of Cary Grant in the cornfield, with a "road cutting straight through the cornrows to the edge of the screen", was said to draw on Léon Spilliaert's "Le Paquebot ou L'Estran", which features "alternating strips of sand and ocean blue bands stretch[ed] to the edge of the canvas."
Ernest Lehman knew he wanted his hero to be an innocent man, possibly a sports announcer, a newspaperman, an advertising executive, or even a Frank Sinatra-type entertainer, but he couldn't figure out how the hero gets into trouble. Alfred Hitchcock ended his dilemma by recalling a story idea a New York newspaperman had once given him at a cocktail party - an idea about some government agency creating a nonexistent decoy agent to throw the villains off the trail of a real government agent. It did not take Lehman and Hitchcock long to concoct a similar phantom agent for their plot purposes.
The Northwest Airlines logotype is visible in the airport scene with The Professor. The airline operated as an independent corporation from 1926 to 2010, when its merger with Delta airlines was completed.
Alfred Hitchcock and Ernest Lehman considered Yul Brynner for the role of Phillip Vandamm.
In the night driving scene, one of the cars is a Ford Edsel. The Edsel logotype and signature "horsecollar" grille are visible in its front end. The Edsel division was a resounding failure, losing Ford $350 million from 1958 to 1960 (roughly $2.8 billion in adjusted 2013 dollars).
William Holden was suggested to play Roger Thornhill, but was never actually offered the part.
In the Mount Rushmore scenes, Hitchcock had envisaged Thornhill sliding down Lincoln's nose and hiding in Lincoln's nostril where he developed a sneezing fit. However the Department of the Interior would not allow any action to take place *on* the presidents' heads: instead, the chase had to take place *between* the heads.
It is interesting to note that two future heads of TV show spy agencies are included in the cast of North by Northwest, itself a spy thriller. Leo G. Carroll played "Alexander Waverly", the man from whom Napoleon Solo received his orders, in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (1964). 'Edward Platt', was the "Chief" in Get Smart (1965) to whom Maxwell Smart apologized weekly for his ineptness.
The man speaking on the radio in the room where Thornhill is being detained is Norm Heffron, a Rapid City radio-TV reporter on KOTA AM 1380 and KOTA TV channel 3.
The title of The Lost Vikings 2: Norse by Norsewest is a reference to this movie. In it, one of the animal characters is continuously mistaken for another animal by the other characters.
Included among the American Film Institute's 1998 list of the Top 100 Greatest American Movies.
There is some disagreement as to who tailored Cary Grant's suit; according to Vanity Fair magazine, it was Norton & Sons of London, although according to The Independent it was Quintino of Beverly Hills.
Many of the autos used in the early scenes (the NY taxi, the Glen Cove police car and the county detectives car) are 1958 Ford sedans.
According to Lewis Gilbert at a National Theatre Interview, Virginia McKenna was asked to play Eve Kendall.
Edward Platt who plays Victor Larrabee, is best known for his role as the Chief on Get Smart. One of the main characters on Get Smart is named Larrabee after his role in North by Northwest.
Although Sara Berner is credited in studio records as a Telephone Operator, only her voice is heard in the movie.