North by Northwest


North by Northwest

Critics Consensus

Gripping, suspenseful, and visually iconic, this late-period Hitchcock classic laid the groundwork for countless action thrillers to follow.



Total Count: 75


Audience Score

User Ratings: 79,541
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Movie Info

While having lunch at the Plaza Hotel in New York, advertising executive Roger O. Thornhill (Cary Grant) has the bad luck to call for a messenger just as a page goes out for a "George Kaplan." From that moment, Thornhill finds that he has stepped into a nightmare -- he is quietly abducted by a pair of armed men out of the hotel's famous Oak Room and transported to a Long Island estate; there, he is interrogated by a mysterious man (James Mason) who, believing that Roger is George Kaplan, demands to know what he knows about his business and how he has come to acquire this knowledge. Roger, who knows nothing about who any of these people are, can do nothing but deny that he is Kaplan or that he knows what they're talking about. Finally, his captors force a bottle of bourbon into Roger and put him behind the wheel of a car on a dangerous downhill stretch. Through sheer luck and the intervention of a police patrol car and its driver (John Beradino), Roger survives the ride and evades his captors, and is booked for drunk driving. He's unable to persuade the court, the county detectives, or even his own mother (Jesse Royce Landis) of the truth of his story, however -- Thornhill returns with them to the mansion where he was held, only to find any incriminating evidence cleaned up and to learn that the owner of the house is a diplomat, Lester Townsend (Philip Ober), assigned to the United Nations. He backtracks to the hotel to find the room of the real George Kaplan, only to discover that no one at the hotel has ever actually seen the man. With his kidnappers once again pursuing him, Thornhill decides to confront Townsend at the United Nations, only to discover that he knows nothing of the events on Long Island, or his house being occupied -- but before he can learn more, Townsend gets a knife in his back in full view of 50 witnesses who believe that Roger did it. Now on the run from a murder charge, complete with a photograph of him holding the weapon plastered on the front page of every newspaper in the country, Thornhill tries to escape via train -- there he meets the cooly beautiful Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint), who twice hides him from the police, once spontaneously and a second time in a more calculated rendezvous in her compartment that gets the two of them together romantically, at least for the night. By the next day, he's off following a clue to a remote rural highway, where he is attacked by an armed crop-dusting plane, one of the most famous scenes in Hitchcock's entire film output. Thornhill barely survives, but he does manage to learn that his mysterious tormentor/interrogator is named Phillip Vandamm, and that he goes under the cover of being an art dealer and importer/exporter, and that Eve is in bed with him in every sense of the phrase -- or is she? ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi


Cary Grant
as Roger O. Thornhill
Eva Marie Saint
as Eve Kendall
James Mason
as James Vandamm
Leo G Carroll
as The Professor
Jessie Royce Landis
as Clara Thornhill
Philip Ober
as Lester Townsend
Josephine Hutchinson
as Handsome Woman
Adam Williams
as Valerian
Edward Platt
as Victor Larrabee
Les Tremayne
as Auctioneer
Philip Coolidge
as Dr. Cross
Pat McVey
as Chicago Policeman
Patrick McVey
as Chicago Policeman
Ken Lynch
as Chicago Policeman
Edward Binns
as Capt. Junket
John Beradino
as Sgt. Emile Klinger
Nora Marlowe
as Anna the Housekeeper
Alexander Lockwood
as Judge Anson B. Flynn
Stanley Adams
as Lt. Harding
Lawrence Dobkin
as Cartoonist
Harvey Stephens
as Stock Broker
Walter Coy
as Reporter
Madge Kennedy
as Housewife
Tommy Farrell
as Elevator Starter
Jimmy Cross
as Taxi Driver
Baynes Barron
as Taxi Driver
Harry Seymour
as Captain of Waiters
Frank Wilcox
as Weltner
Robert Shayne
as Larry Wade
Carleton Young
as Fanning Nelson
Ralph Reed
as Bellboy
Paul Genge
as Lt. Hagerman
Robert B. Williams
as Patrolman Waggonner at Glen Cove
Maudie Prickett
as Elsie the Maid
Sally Fraser
as Girl Attendant
Maura McGiveney
as Girl Attendant
Susan Whitney
as Girl Attendant
Doris Singh
as Indian Girl
Ned Glass
as Ticket Agent
Howard Negley
as Conductor
Jack Daly
as Steward
Tol Avery
as Detective
Tom Greenway
as Detective
Malcolm Atterbury
as Man on Road
Andy Albin
as Farmer
John Damler
as Police Lieutenant
Len Hendry
as Police Lieutenant
Sara Berner
as Telephone Operator
Taggart Casey
as Man With Razor
Bill Catching
as Attendant
Frank Marlowe
as Dakota Cab Driver
Harry Strang
as Assistant Conductor
Alfred Hitchcock
as Man Who Misses Bus
Olan Soule
as Assistant Auctioneer
Patricia Cutts
as Hospital Patient
Sid Kane
as (uncredited)
Hugh Pryor
as (uncredited)
Charles Postal
as (uncredited)
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News & Interviews for North by Northwest

Critic Reviews for North by Northwest

All Critics (75) | Top Critics (15) | Fresh (74) | Rotten (1)

  • Nearly getting killed never looked like so much fun.

    Oct 5, 2018 | Full Review…
  • A hopelessly attenuated round of mistaken identity, cloak-and-dagger doings, sympathetic but helpless friendly agents, a double-dealing woman, and so forth.

    Sep 6, 2018 | Full Review…
  • Hitchcock is such a master of suspense that not many frames have passed before the audience has achieved complete identification with the characters and is knowing the thrill of vicarious fear and the shared pleasures of love and passion.

    Jul 17, 2017 | Full Review…
  • Hitchcock breezes through a tongue-in-cheek, nightmarish plot with a lightness of touch that's equalled by a charming performance from Grant.

    Jun 19, 2009 | Rating: 4/5 | Full Review…

    Dave Calhoun

    Time Out
    Top Critic
  • North by Northwest, Alfred Hitchcock's very own adrenalin-fuelled action blockbuster.

    Jun 19, 2009 | Rating: 5/5 | Full Review…

    Kevin Maher

    Times (UK)
    Top Critic
  • The romcom suspense caper is a cinematic recipe that Alfred Hitchcock took with him to his grave; certainly I can't imagine anyone now succeeding in blending thrills, spills, caresses and laughs the way he did in this sublime classic from 1959.

    Jun 19, 2009 | Rating: 5/5 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for North by Northwest

  • Apr 15, 2016
    Classic Hitchcock tale of the 'wrong man'; a mild-mannered businessman (ultra-suave Cary Grant) is mistaken for a spy and kidnapped at the very beginning, and it's away we go from there. There are so many great and iconic scenes in this film - the crop duster chase of course, and also those at the United Nations and Mount Rushmore. Hitchcock is brilliant and puts tension in scenes at each and every opportunity, as opposed to devolving a great script into silly chase scenes which lesser directors may have done. It feels like a more masterful 007 movie, and James Mason and Martin Landau are both outstanding as villains. I'm not wild about Eva Marie Saint and only feel real chemistry between her and Grant in the line "Shall I climb up and tell you why?" in response to his wondering why she's so good to him, but the final shot of the train speeding into a tunnel was a nice bit of tongue in cheek symbolism from Hitchcock. Despite a long career he was still at the height of his powers, and in the following year would make another masterpiece, Psycho.
    Antonius B Super Reviewer
  • Sep 17, 2015
    Tons of fun, with an unintentionally hilarious ending to boot. It doesn't get much better than this! Another great film by a true master.
    Paris S Super Reviewer
  • Mar 23, 2014
    Man, this film is too long, which would mean that the leads shouldn't really notice this film's title while they're on their adventure, because the dirty secret, men, is that asking for directions often really does get you where you need to go a little quicker. Seriously though, you can try and escape, but I hate to tell you, Cary Grant, that Alfred Hitchcock will eventually find you. Well, at least James Stewart was able to get away, but the fact of the matter is that no matter how many blondes come and go, Hitch always had Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart. Yeah, good ol' fat boy did seem to alternate between the two of them, just as he alternated between muder-mysteries and spy thriller, because in case you haven't noticed, Hitch was really into espionage. You probably didn't notice, because no one really kept up with Americanized spy films orchestrated by Brits before James Bond came along, and it probably didn't help that, whether he was doing murder-mysteries or spy thrillers, Hitchcock always had to use some kind of a story involving a case of mistaken identity. You would figure that before too long, if authorities in Hitchcock films suspected that a crime was committed by someone who looked either like Cary Grant or James Stewart, they would start double-checking, although if they did that, then they would likely find the guy they're really looking for right away. At that point, there wouldn't be much of a film, and we can't have that, because this is a pretty good flick as it stands, in spite of some problems. Something of an ambitious pseudo-fluff thriller, the film juggles plenty of tone, generally pretty well, but not consistently, for there are times in which tension is broken a touch too harshly by more lighthearted aspects that are themselves effective, yet would be more so if the didn't jeopardize the effectiveness of this drama's other tonal extremes. That being said, it's not like there isn't something a little too light, or rather, Hollywood about plenty of points in this melodramatic affair, which tests its probability with questionable character actions and conflict set-ups, many of which are major. As well-done as the film is in enough places for you to run with whatever it makes an effort to throw at you, there are plenty of places in which you need to suspend your disbelief, and it's occasionally a little too difficult to meet such a demand, partly because a lot of those Hollywood bloatings seem as though they're compensating for something. Natural shortcomings are limited in this adventurous thriller of grand scope and intriguing mystery, yet there is still something rather dramatically lacking in this spy thriller, and when meat does kick into the concept, it ironically gets to be overblown to the point of convolution, although that might simply be the doing of Ernest Lehman's script. I opened this article joking about the film's being overlong at almost 140 minutes, but in all seriousness, the film, as one of Alfred Hitchcock's longest, is too long, getting so caught up in inconsequential filler and confusingly excessive material that, before too long, it doesn't simply start to lose momentum, it loses focus. The film is plenty entertaining through and through, but there's only so much fun to have in an adventure opus so aimless, as you have plenty of time to pick up on the natural shortcomings to this under-dramatic, histrionic and tonally uneven Hollywood fluff piece. The film could easily be secured as underwhelming by its natural shortcomings, alone, and yet, the strengths carry the final product quite the distance, enough so for entertainment value to reward, but not alone. Aesthetically, the film really stands out, at least in terms of musical style, as Bernard Herrmann delivers on an almost superheroic style to his score that offers sweeping dynamicity which ranges from smoothly light to grandly thrilling, just as Robert Burks delivers on yet another cinematographic performance that is rich with handsomely gritty coloration and lighting, as well as tight framing and other nifty filming styles, courtesy of Alfred Hitchcock. Hitchcock delivers on plenty of memorable visuals to help hold your attention time and again, and while he does more than just that, the fact of the matter is that even his style breathes plenty of life to this affair's substance. Again, dramatically, the substance is thin, as surely as it is narratively overblown in plenty of other ways, but the story concept's sheer intricacy is just so intriguing, initially being an interesting minimal story on mistaken identity that gradually expands into a grand adventure which goes backed by themes dealing with conspiracy and other worthy matters. Even as an idea, the film's story is grand and dynamic enough to make up for a lack of dramatic depth, and the interpretation of such an idea really does help, with Ernest Lehman turning in a script that, while too overblown to keep consistent in tone, believability and pacing, never abates with clever dialogue, - whose many humorous bits range from witty to just about hilarious - and delivers on plenty of thoughtful characters which establishes a colorful character roster, sold by a cast which Cary Grant heads remarkably. You really do have to witness Grant's performance to believe just how thoroughly charismatic as a lead who does so much justice to colorful characterization that the Roger Thornhill stands as iconic in his memorability as a lead so worthy that Grant plays about as instrumental of a part as Lehman's writing in carrying this affair. Of course, what really secures engagement value is Hitchcock's efforts, because as much as I rave about Hitchcock's style being in top-form here, Hitchcock's keeps pacing just as realized, maybe not to where he can overshadow the pacing problems found within Lehman's script, but decidedly to where momentum is kept steady enough for you to get a firm feel for the setting, as well as brisk enough to keep entertainment value consistent and thorough. I don't know if the film is busy enough to be a real wild ride, but for its time, and even now, it really is really fun, and while you shouldn't really expect the dramatic weight found in many of Hitchcock's other thrillers, style, intrigue and entertainment value converge tightly enough to make this one of, if not the legendary filmmaker's crowning achievement. When the run is done, the final product goes worn down by dramatic limitations, as well as tonal unevenness, believability lapses and, of course, an overblown structure, but through excellent score work by Bernard Herrmann, sharp cinematography by Robert Burks, thoroughly clever writing by Ernest Lehman, an electrically charismatic lead performance by Cary Grant, and a lively directorial performance by Alfred Hitchcock, all behind a grandly adventurous and intriguing story concept, "North by Northwest" stands strong as a thoroughly entertaining affair that may be Hitchcock's most realized classic. 3/5 - Good
    Cameron J Super Reviewer
  • May 18, 2013
    Awesome spy adventure flick.
    Christian C Super Reviewer

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