Screenwriter Ernest Lehman set out to write “The Hitchcock picture to end all Hitchcock pictures,” and in many ways he succeeded. From the funky green opening credits, to the closing shot of a train entering a tunnel (phallic symbol anyone?), North By Northwest is the most invigorating and exciting movie by Alfred Hitchcock.
Whereas Rear Window had a slower, more plodding way of building suspense, Hitchcock opted for action and adventure to dominate the screen in North By Northwest, and it paid off with two of film’s most memorable scenes: Roger Thornhill (played by Cary Grant) being chased by a cropdusting airplane, and his character, along with Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint) climbing down the presidential faces of Mount Rushmore.
The endless twists and turns are classic Hitchcock, while the smooth-talking prowess of Cary Grant and non-stop action make for a two-hour-plus thrill ride.
The obvious MacGuffin is the ever-elusive “microfilm” (found in many movies, including Samuel Fuller’s classic 1953 film noir, Pickup on South Street), but in a broader sense, the Roger Thornhill character is the true MacGuffin, with the bad guys (including a very young Martin Landau) trying to hunt down a man that doesn’t exist.
North By Northwest is a great place to start for someone who hasn’t seen any Hitchcock movies. It’s one of his most thrilling, and possibly his best.