Film Review: Alfred Hitchcock's "North by Northwest" (1959)

Figure 1. 'North by Northwest Movie Poster' (1959)

The more comedic side of the infamous director has finally come through in Alfred Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest” (1959). With charming characters and the classic camera angles, this film is sure to please it’s audience with an atmosphere as that of a James Bond spoof.

As Hitchcock has become well known for his thrilling suspense filled features, some would consider this film to be a new perspective on the director’s style, pointing out the comedic aspects of the film. As stated in one review by A. H. Weiler, “With a tongue-in-cheek attitude and a breezy sense of humour, they [Hitchcock and Ernest Lehman] are off in high gear right at the beginning as they spin the somewhat improbable yarn of a successful, handsome Madison Avenue executive, who is mistaken for a Federal intelligence man by foreign agents and forcibly pushed into a succession of macabre situations that shock, amaze, perplex, and anger our once-debonair hero.” (Weiler, A. 1959) The film is therefore comedic in the sense of all of the unfortunate mishaps that happens to the main protagonist of this story. Despite the protagonist being lured into these dangerous situations, such as the crop duster trying to take him out, the atmosphere remains light-hearted and adventurous, capturing the audience and peaking their excitement.

Figure 2. 'Mr. Thornhill pinned by his captors' (1959)

Although it is supposedly deriving away from the usual ‘Hitchcock style’, we are still able to identify the infamous techniques that are implied within his work. Bill Weber acknowledges such theories in his review, “…many themes and motifs of Serious Hitch can be found: the fluidity of identity (Thornhill's embrace of play-acting the role of phantom agent "George Kaplan"), the burden of mother love (in the hilarious poise of Jessie Royce Landis as Grant's mocking mom), and even coded-as-queer sadism (Martin Landau as Mason's enforcer, equipped with "woman's intuition”).” (Weber, B. 2008) Essentially, without these characteristics, it just wouldn’t be a Hitchcock styled film. Certain components of these characteristics are what gives the film charm, allowing it to develop as it does.

Figure 3. 'Thornhill confronting the criminal' (1959)

And what would a Hitchcock film be without taking note of the infamous camera work. Tola Onanuga notes, “A slow establishing shot of the area emphasises Thornhill's vulnerability in such unfamiliar surroundings. This is crucial because, up until this moment, Thornhill has managed to charm, bribe or bluster his way out of whatever danger is about to befall him. In this scene, Hitchcock, the masochist, is at pains to make his character appear as helpless and exposed as possible.” Onanuga, T. 2013) Character development is certainly something that Hitchcock knows to portray in an exciting and understandable manner, the sudden realisation from the audience and how Hitchcock’s plan just suddenly clicks in their minds is astonishing to witness and be apart of. This then emphasises the point that Hitchcock wants his viewers to think of him as a genius.

Hitchcock’s work is fascinating to witness. There’s something artificial about the way he writes his characters and scenarios, but there’s also the way he conveys his expertise into his films that allows us to empathise with the people and the situations in his stories. It is an interesting experience to be allowed the chance to delve into the world of Alfred Hitchcock.


Onanuga, T. (2013) 'Why I love ... North By Northwest's crop-duster scene' (30.09.13) In: (2013) [Online] At: (Accessed on 01.03.15)

Weiler, A. (1959) 'North By Northwest (1959)
Hitchcock Takes Suspenseful Cook's Tour; ' North by Northwest' Opens at Music Hall' (07.08.59) In: (1959) [Online] At: (Accessed on 01.03.15)

Weber, B. (2008) 'Film Review: North by Northwest' (09.11.08) In: (2008) [Online] At: (Accessed on 01.03.15)


Figure 1. 'North by Northwest Movie Poster' (1959) [Poster] At:
(Accessed on 01.03.15)

Figure 2. 'Mr. Thornhill pinned by his captors' (1959) [Movie Still] At: (Accessed on 01.03.15)

Figure 3. 'Thornhill confronting the criminal' (1959) [Movie Still] At: (Accessed on 01.03.15)


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