Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Stars: Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason
Plot: A hapless New York advertising executive is mistaken for a government agent by a group of foreign spies, and is pursued across the country while he looks for a way to survive.
While on location at Mt. Rushmore, Eva Marie Saint discovered that Cary Grant would charge fans 15 cents for an autograph.
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.
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".
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.
Cary Grant was initially reluctant to accept the role of Roger Thornhill since at 55 he was much older than the character.
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.
When the film was released there were complaints that Roger Thornhill looked the same age as his mother. They were actually 7 years apart in real life.
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.
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".
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).
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.
Alfred Hitchcock reportedly wanted to film Cary Grant having a sneezing fit inside Lincoln's nostril.
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).
Alfred Hitchcock came up with the ending innuendo of the train entering the tunnel. He considered it one of his finest, naughtiest achievements.
Hitchcock has a cameo in the film. He arrives at a bus stop (during the opening credits) but gets there a second too late and the door is closed in his face. He misses the bus.
The crop dusting biplane which crashes and burns while attempting to kill Roger as he's waiting to meet the mythical 'Mr. Kaplan' at the desolate Prairie Stop is supposedly flown by Vandamm's henchman, Licht. Alfred Hitchcock knew that it would be much more menacing if the pilot were never actually seen, and if Roger was threatened by a faceless, impersonal machine. The plane gets destroyed, and Licht is killed, while his character simply disappears from the rest of film without any further mention ever being made of him, or an explanation of his absence being given.
The final chase scene was not shot on Mt. Rushmore; Alfred Hitchcock couldn't gain permission to shoot an attempted murder on a national monument. The scene was shot in the studio on a replica of Mt. Rushmore. Everything is shot carefully, so as to avoid associating the faces of the monument with the violence.
MGM put a great deal of pressure on Alfred Hitchcock to eliminate the scene in the woods, after Eve shoots Roger. MGM felt that it was an unnecessary scene that incurred the needless expense of building the set on a soundstage using 100 ponderosa pines. Hitchcock, however, felt that it was an indispensable scene because it's the first meeting between Roger and Eva since he learned she was a double agent. Hitchcock won out in the end, thanks to his contract that gave him complete artistic control of the picture, regardless of production time or cost.
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, he was more rotund than this woman, who seems to have merely been endowed with his face.