Film Review - North By Northwest

figure 1. North by Northwest Movie Poster

Alfred Hitchcock's North by Northwest at just over two hours long makes no attempt to speed itself up, but as you see the sheer amount of extras Roger Thornhill and his (as expected) blonde assistant are surrounded by it's clear Hitchock went all out to portray a real-world feeling to this film; compared to that of The Birds which had a much more supernatural feel described as a "glamorous espionage thriller includes a tongue-in-cheek odyssey away from the city - a perilous adventure for a man who is normally sheltered by his wealth and prestige. " (N.D, Dirks)

Throughout NBNW it remains comical. Mr Thornhill exclaims "I'll catch up on my reading" whilst being shut in a room full of books by his captors. In his confusion he's left worrying about missing a theatre performance he has later in the evening rather than being overcome with worry about the possibility of murder. Even when murder is attempted he is remarkably drunk yet able to save himself. This stays true throughout. - He even survives being closely mowed down by an airplane. Whilst this part of NBNW isn't the most realistic; the less than dramatic pacing of it is.

Arguably, the ending of one of Hitchcock's longest films might seem unsatisfactory, but NBNW is one that requires patience and some slight concentration. By people's ability to concentrate and commit to something in 2015, that may be much lower than that of 1959. So North By North West needs a little extra concentration; which is most definitely not a bad thing. Whilst doing so the script begins to flourish; and careful nuances of ironic humor come out. The whole premise of NBNW is surrounded by the idea that Roger Thornhill can infact pay the $2 dollars (Equatable to $16 now) bail, hell he gives his own mother $50 ($400 now !) to go and ask at the desk, but by matter of moral standing and justice he refuses. Thornhill is painted in light of a "good boy" as his respect for his Mother remains strong throughout regardless of tiny slurrs she may throw, coupled with his inability to at first comprehend that him being kidnapped would even be a possibility!

It might be considered that NBNW is racist; as minorities are played in stereotypical roles thought "suited" for. However the fine line Hitchcock portrays is a very realistic one for the time. If NBNW was made now; then yes, it would be racist but for the time it is set in (present day in the 1959's) it is accurate. It does become painfully obvious how prevalent this is when Thornhill gets on the 20th Century Limited as he walks past the masses of rich white people fine dining.  But again, this was all too accurate for the time where race and class especially were seperated massively.

As Hitchcock has a certain bias towards using blonde women in his films you would expect a certain level of stereotyping to come from that, but instead he does not hold blonde women, or infact women in general up to the many stereotypes surrounding them at that time. He creates a very complicated, and multi-layered woman under the name of Eve Kendall, and whilst at first her main motivation seems that of a inamorata; it becomes entangled with deceit, betrayal and doing. Yes, she is portrayed as being under the guidance of a man and what she does is controlled by one but Eve Kendall is shown to have real emotions, second-thoughts and sympathy. - Sympathy being a very large part of her complexity and in-turn affecting the way NBNW plays out. Without Eve, the entire second part of the film would not take place and this shows perfectly how Hitchcock plays women as a part of a film rather than just an asset.

figure 2. Roger Thornhill & Eve Kendall

North by Northwest in it's entirety is miraculously subtle in it's humor, infact sometimes so subtle it may be missed, say from when Thornhill has to use Eve's tiny razor, or a train going through a tunnel, to the incomprehensible irony of Mr Vandamm stating Thornhill overplays his various roles played in NBNW proclaiming he should look less into training from the FBI and more into the Actors Studio. A nice bit of metaphysics.  An immensely clever film using timing greatly, as per usual Hitchcock, leaving scenes as long as they need to be (for example the scene where Thornhill continuously watches cars go by) coupled with a script that should be re-heard to capture everything in more depth! As for the name of the film? Well, reviewer James Berardinelli states North by Northwest's title is "evocative enough that it doesn't need an explanation, and, once anyone has become wrapped up in the film's blend of suspense, romance, and mild comedy, such questions become irrelevant." (N.D, Berardinelli) but as a train, yet again pulls away into a tunnel as "The End" in stark-white text is shown on screen the title of the film we do indeed have to question, surely that isn't the end for Roger Thornhill & Eve Kendall.


Great film.


Illustration List

Hitchcock, A. (1959). North by Northwest Movie POSTER. [image] Available at: [Accessed 22 Mar. 2015].

Hitchcock, A. (1959). Roger Thornhill & Eve Kendall. [image] Available at: [Accessed 22 Mar. 2015].


Berardinelli, J. (n.d.). Reelviews Movie Reviews. [online] Available at: [Accessed 22 Mar. 2015].

Dirks, T. (n.d.). North by Northwest (1959). [online] Available at: [Accessed 22 Mar. 2015].


  1. "Without Eve, the entire second part of the film would not take place and this shows perfectly how Hitchcock plays women as a part of a film rather than just an asset."

    Lovely, insightful, sensitive review, Ella :) Highly enjoyable!

  2. Very thorough review Ella :)