Inside the Script by Jeremy Ross Editor. Explore the twists and turns of director Alfred Hitchcock's most spectacular suspense thriller in an engaging new way with North by Northwest: This highly illustrated, meticulously designed eBook features the complete shooting script along with a 14 chapter, in-depth look at the film's development and its backlot secrets. Digital Publishing p Explore the twists and turns of director Alfred Hitchcock's most spectacular suspense thriller in an engaging new way with North by Northwest: Digital Publishing proudly presents North by Northwest: Inside the Script, a monumental digital exploration of the sophisticated screen classic starring Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint.
Follow the film's adventurous tale with insights that Inside the Script delivers at the touch of a finger. Go behind the screenplay to learn about Hitchcock's methods and memes, from MacGuffins to deceptive appearances. Step inside the production process and witness the talent and technique it takes to develop a single idea into a cinematic classic.
Every volume in the Inside the Script series offers elegant design and formatting not usually seen in eBooks. Zoom in on high-resolution images and examine every detail. Customize your reading experience using internal links that instantly take you from scene to stills, from act to analysis, from dialogue to production memos. Use the Image Catalog to quickly locate any picture in the book. Learn why North by Northwest is the ultimate thriller from the Master of Suspense. Inside the Script includes: See how little or how much changed from page to screen.
Published May by Warner Bros. To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up. To ask other readers questions about North by Northwest , please sign up. Lists with This Book. This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Oct 10, Ruth rated it liked it. I'm a huge fan of Alfred Hitchcock's films, and while many rank as beloved favorites North by Northwest consistently rises to the top of the list as my all-time favorite by the Master of Suspense.
As such, this behind-the-scenes book on the making of the film was an irresistible purchase. I read this book on a standard Kindle, so a large part of this rating reflects how the material works on a regular, "no-frills" e-reader versus more interactive tablets such as the Kindle Fire or iPad as in my I'm a huge fan of Alfred Hitchcock's films, and while many rank as beloved favorites North by Northwest consistently rises to the top of the list as my all-time favorite by the Master of Suspense.
I read this book on a standard Kindle, so a large part of this rating reflects how the material works on a regular, "no-frills" e-reader versus more interactive tablets such as the Kindle Fire or iPad as in my opinion the film itself is stellar. The first twenty-percent of this book contains a variety of chapters on the history and conception of the film, which are for my money the book's strongest assets.
I particularly enjoyed the chapters on Hitchcock's directorial process, the conception of the script and his collaboration with screenwriter Ernest Lehman. And I think that, despite the unpleasantness of having to work under those conditions, I wound up at the top of my form as a writer, and, later, Hitch was at the top of his form when he directed the picture.
North by Northwest () Movie Script | SS
In a sense, it's unlike any picture he ever made. And it seems to have legs. They've just rereleased the film in Australia as a feature — all over again. And one of its great pleasures is the ingeniousness of the plot. You can't watch the film without being amazed at how it keeps working itself out, how it keeps progressing. Given all its complications, it's amazing that you were actually writing the script without an overall plan without knowing where you were going, except to Mount Rushmore.
And I think that difficulty turned out to be very positive and beneficial. Since I never knew where I was going next, I was constantly painting myself into corners, and then trying to figure a way out of them. As a result, the picture has about ten acts instead of three, and if I'd tried to sit down at the beginning and conceive the whole plot, I could have never done it. Everything was written in increments: Saying to myself, "Okay, you've got him out of Grand Central Station.
Now he's on the train, now what? Well, there's no female character in it yet, I better put Eve on the train. But what should I do with her? And where should they meet? Well, let's see, I've ridden on the 20th Century, how about the dining car? Always asking, "What do I do next? And it's not just suspense. It's not like Shadow of a Doubt or Vertigo. It's not really a "dark" picture at all. But it does have definite affinities with other Hitchcock films, and I wonder if you thought about any of them while your were writing North by Northwest?
Like The 39 Steps or Saboteur or Notorious? As a matter of fact, I'd forgotten all about The 39 Steps, and I was a little chagrined when somebody reminded me about it. I was a kid when that picture came out, and I'd mostly forgotten it. Then somebody reminded me that there was a helicopter chase in the film. Well, it's not really a chase. Robert Donat is being pursued over the Scottish moors by the police, and there's a single, cut away shot of a surveillance hover craft.
On the other hand, there is an extended train scene in the film as well as the other similarities I mentioned earlier. Well, I guess if you write long enough, all kinds of parallelisms will pop up. And if you've gone to the movies all your life, you're bound to absorb certain things, and then reuse them without realizing that you're doing it.
I'm sure that it happens, but when I was writing North by Northwest, I had no other films in my mind. I was struggling too much with the one I was working on. Is it true that the idea of the nonexistent spy, Kaplan, was suggested to Hitchcock by a New York newspaperman? This may be a bit of a stretch, but I wonder if you were influenced by the British film The Man Who Never Was, which told the true story of the extraordinary World War II deception in which the British Secret Service took a corpse, dressed it up, gave it phony papers, and dropped it in the ocean off the coast of Spain?
The deception was so effective that Hitler significantly altered his defenses for the Allied invasion of Italy. I'm sure I didn't have it in mind, but, now that you mention it, I do remember that film. I guess you can never be sure where the hell your ideas come from.
It's very hard to describe how one "writes," the actual process — unless you're writing an essay or an article, then you've got something specific to focus on. But when you're writing an original screenplay, you can't help but wonder where some of your ideas come from. Often, they just pop into your head in response to the questions you ask yourself.
I felt that would be more amusing, and that it sounded like something Cary Grant could do very well. That's one thing about that script that I'm very proud of — the dialogue, the repartee. Nobody ever says anything straight. Yet even though it's rather oblique, it's still perfectly understandable.
It's one of the cleverest scripts ever written, both for its plot and its dialogue. Now, I also wanted to ask you about your on site research trip for the film. I was looking for a place where a murder could take place, and when they found out what I was up to, they banned Hitchcock from shooting there. So, he had to build his own sets in Culver City. I think Hitch managed to steal one shot at the UN — Cary walking up the steps and into the building — but that was it. Then, I went to a judge in Glen Cove, Long Island, and had him put me through the business of being arrested for drunk driving.
I had no idea how to write that scene, and going through the process was a lot of fun. Didn't you also check out the home of the Soviet ambassador while you were out on Long Island? Yes, in Glen Cove. That's where the Russian delegation lived during the Cold War. They rented a mansion out there for the United Nations sessions.
Well, even though I'd traveled on the 20th Century when I was a New Yorker — and I certainly knew Grand Central Station and all that — I decided to take a trip on the 20th Century Limited just in case something useful stuck in my mind. I wanted to climb to the top and see what was up there.
But it was an absolutely idiotic thing to do. Halfway up, I looked down and thought, "God, I'm just a screenwriter. What the hell am I doing up here? One slip and I'm dead! I came back down by myself. It might be more accurate to say that I crawled back down. It was an absolutely idiotic idea.
Yes, but I was surprised that there's nothing much up there. Then the Department of Parks found out that we were planning to have people fall off the face of their famous monument, and they banned Hitchcock from shooting up there. So the whole thing had to be constructed in Culver City. It was a marvelous job of set design. There was only one long shot that Hitch got at Rushmore. It was taken from the cafeteria, and they couldn't stop him from doing that.
Looking back on it all, it was a very memorable project. But there was a lot of drama behind the drama — especially trying to get the script finished. There were constant, endless, seemingly insurmountable crises of script, but, somehow, I finished the first sixty-five pages, and I sent them off to Hitch.
He was on vacation in the Bahamas at the time, and he sent me back a very enthusiastic, four page, handwritten letter. He loved the first sixty-five pages — which was high praise from Hitch — and it was very encouraging.
So I kept pressing forward, and Hitch, confident that I now knew what the hell I was doing, moved over to MGM from his home base at Universal, and started storyboarding the script with his art director, and casting the roles. And all the time, I'm sitting there in my office sweating the fact that I have no idea whatsoever why the hell they're all going to Mount Rushmore! Why were these people heading to South Dakota? I had no idea! So, the last act of the script was blank.
Then Cary Grant came on the picture with some astronomical salary, and I was still sitting there in my office with nothing but a partially-completed script. So I called up Hitch, and I told him we were in big trouble. He came rushing over to my office, sat across from me, and the two of us stared at each other. Finally, he suggested that we call in some mystery novelist to help us kick around ideas, but I didn't like the idea. After all, I was getting paid by MGM to write the thing, and I felt that it would make me look pretty foolish.
I kept saying, "God, what'll they say about me upstairs? I'll tell them I should've been able to help you, but I couldn't — or something like that. Then we went to his office — it was about six o'clock in the evening — and we kept talking about his idea, even discussing which mystery writer we should get, and, all the time, the right side of my brain was working, and suddenly, as I was listening to him — not really ignoring him — I said, "She takes a gun out of her purse and shoots him. It just popped into my head. That's the way it works sometimes: And Hitch took it right in stride. Even though I'd completely changed the subject and suddenly blurted out, "She takes a gun out of her purse and shoots him," he didn't miss a beat and responded, "Yes, the Polish Underground sometimes killed their own members, just to prove they weren't in the Underground.
That'll convince Van Damm that he has to take her away with him.
Now that she's a fugitive, he'll decide to take her on the plane. And it's still a very effective scene when she pulls out that gun in the Rush more cafeteria. You've already mentioned Cary Grant a couple of times, but I read some where that Jimmy Stewart also wanted the lead, but you were convinced that Grant was right for the role. Both of them kept calling up Hitch and saying, "When's my picture going to be ready?
Nowadays, they'd be paying Cary Grant twenty million dollars a picture! Besides, if it was Jimmy Stewart , the picture would've been five hours long. It's currently listed on the back of the video box under "Facts From the Vault. From the "vault" whatever that means. How about the female lead? Was Cyd Charisse ever considered for the role? Not that I ever knew of. There might have been some talk about Princess Grace, but we were both delighted with Eva Marie Saint.
She was excellent just a few years after her extraordinary, Oscar winning performance in On the Waterfront. There are very few performers in cinema history who've starred in two classic films in their whole careers and she did it in less than five years. And in such different roles, too. Okay, now that the script's finally done, you have this long history of warring with directors and actors who try to alter your dialogue. So it must have been quite a relief to work with Hitchcock, who didn't allow that kind of thing. He never allowed a word to be changed.
Just like Billy Wilder. I could be pretty awful about people messing with my lines; I guess I'm a very passive-aggressive person. I remember one time on From The Terrace, when they were rehearsing downstairs in New York, and I was up in my apartment at the Plaza Hotel, and the director called me and said, "Paul Newman's struggling.
He says he can't read one of his speeches. He doesn't know how to do it. Now, you do it. But I was always very protective of my scripts, and Hitch respected that. But Cary Grant would get annoyed with me sometimes. Once on location in Bakersfield, when we were doing the crop duster sequence, we were sitting in the backseat of an air-conditioned limousine while they were setting things up, and Cary started complaining to me that he had to carry the whole story on his back.
And I said, "Well, that's the way it's written. This is a David Niven picture! As I mentioned earlier, all of Hitch's original ideas — even the ones I didn't use — seemed to be unconsciously moving in a northwesterly direction. So, that's what I called the project for quite a few months, In a Northwesterly Direction. Finally, after Hitchcock told them that I was writing an original screenplay instead of The Wreck of the Mary Deare, the head of the story department, Kenneth McKenna, heard the title, and he said, "Why don't you use North By Northwest as a working title? And Hitchcock and I were always certain that it was only a working title and that we'd change it later when we came up with something better, but we never did.
That's right, for about a week or so, we used that title. And, one day, Sammy Cahn, the great songwriter, came into my office and said, "I've got the title song. It was a love song, but it sounded like something from a Kaufman and Hart farce. Some critics have incorrectly claimed that the title is a reference to Hamlet's remark, "I am but mad north northwest," and other critics have made much of the supposed "existential" significance of the fact that there's no such actual direction as "north by northwest.
It's those damned French critics, the auteurs. They're always coming up with all kinds of pretentious crap that has no basis in reality. They were always trying to attach deep, serious interpretations to everything that Hitchcock did, and he definitely liked all the attention. But the truth is, it wasn't until after the picture was done, that somebody wrote in and pointed out the quotation from Shakespeare where Hamlet says, "I am but mad north-northwest. When we were making the picture, we had no idea that "north by northwest" wasn't an actual direction.
For some reason, it sounded right to us. One of the most famous and most discussed sequences in American film is the crop duster attack on Thornhill. How did it transform from a cyclone to a crop duster? One day, Hitch said to me, "I've always wanted to do a scene in the middle of nowhere — where there's absolutely nothing. You're out in the open, and there's nothing all around you.
The camera can turn around degrees, and there's nothing there but this one man standing all alone — because the villains, who are out to kill him, have lured him out to this lonely spot. So I wondered, "What if a plane comes out of the sky? We can plant some crops nearby. And, like you said, it became a very famous sequence.
As a matter of fact, that's how I knew that Cary Grant had died. Every channel on TV was showing that shot of Cary running away from the plane. It's strange, isn't it, that such a distinguished career should be remembered mostly for that one shot? I wonder if you were surprised at all by the way Hitchcock did the crop duster sequence. I know that you and Hitchcock discussed every shot in the film, but still, not many directors would've had the nerve or the confidence to shoot a seven minute sequence with only a few lines of dialogue. Well, that's the way I wrote it, almost shot by shot.
I pictured it that way, and I even acted it out for Hitch. But you're right, only Hitchcock would've had the guts to let all those cars go by with nothing else happening. But taking risks was one of Hitch's trademarks, and, since the audience knew it was a Hitchcock picture, they were willing to be patient. Yes, like when the truck is approaching, and you start to wonder if it'll run him down, but, instead, there's just lots of dust.
It's very surprising, and very effective. Hitch felt that the longer you can keep the audience waiting, the better. Over the course of your career, you had a habit of suggesting camera shots to the directors you worked with. How did Hitchcock react to that? The only time he ever really got angry at me — though I'm sure he got mad at me at other times — was about that very thing. Fed up, he suddenly burst out, "Why do you insist on telling me how to direct this picture? I'd get a picture in my head, and if I had a good idea about how it should be shot, I'd put it on paper.
Some directors, like Robert Wise, who did four of my pictures, appreciated my suggestions. I remember that sometimes I'd go down to the set, and I'd be astounded. I'd see Bob building this huge set, and I think to myself, "God, just because I put those words on the paper, look at what's happening here! Be sure it's a good idea! So on North by Northwest, I tried to develop a Hitchcock frame of mind.
I became like Hitchcock, and I tried to think like him. And whenever Hitch didn't like something I suggested, he'd simply say, "Oh, Ernie, that's the way they do it in the movies. When the picture was finished, it was Hitchcock's longest film at minutes, and an anxious MGM wanted to cut out the forest scene at Mount Rushmore when Thornhill and Eve are finally able to talk to each other without the previous lies and deceptions.
It's clearly one of the best and most important scenes in the movie. Did you get involved in the arguments over this? Actually, they just wanted to cut the scene down, not to cut it out entirely. Because you have to have that scene in the film — which, by the way, was very difficult to write. All the deception is gone, and they're very serious, but they're still being clever — because that's the way they are. Anyway, we kept the whole scene.
Sol Siegel asked us down to the screening room, and we watched the scene, and he pleaded with Hitch to cut it down. But Hitch said no. He said that "it would spoil the picture," and he was adamant. He knew that he had the final word — given his contract. Besides, the studio people were pretty much in awe of Hitchcock, and they were very afraid of offending him. The scene actually is a bit long, but I didn't know how to write it any shorter. And the transition is absolutely necessary.
Another scene that was extremely difficult to write was the one in Eve's hotel room after she's just tried to have him killed by the plane. How do you play it? You can't have him get too angry, because then you won't have a relationship. So, I tried having him be angry with her in a slightly affectionate way: What also helps is his deception in the bathroom. When we realize what Thornhill is up to, we can accept what came before, thinking, "So that's why he contained his anger" because he's planning to follow her. North by Northwest is a classic in the thriller genre, but it also has serious underlying themes, and I'd like to ask you about two.
The first is Thornhill's "remaking" himself from a smug, slick, self absorbed Madison Avenue liar into a man who becomes extremely heroic and compassionate at the end. First, his identity is stripped away, and then all the comforts and protections of his easy, shallow life are similarly removed before he can remake himself. Well, this may sound strange, but I wasn't consciously trying to remake him or redeem him. I know, but it wasn't conscious. I think I have little computers in my head that work unconsciously. And I'm glad they do.
‘North by Northwest’: Quite Possibly the Most Entertaining Hitchcock Ever
Who knows where this stuff comes from? Well, maybe you'll say the same thing about the next question which relates to the "marriage" theme in the movie. British critic Robin Wood and others have written quite perceptively about this aspect of the film which portrays two shallow people, afraid of commitment, who eventually find love and, at the very end of the picture, marriage. Well, you know, we were forced to put in that very last line on the train, "Come along, Mrs. If you watch it carefully, you won't see Cary's lips moving.
That was the old production code. What a difference from today! Yes, but it's still a logical progression from the previous scene when Thornhill proposes to Eve on Mount Rushmore. And that scene follows naturally from their discussion in the woods when Eve explains how sad and pathetic her life has been, and Thornhill asks, "How come? And that scene in the forest definitely makes it better — it leads naturally to the ending. But I still can't honestly say that I would've put that final line in the picture. That was forty years ago. All I can say is that the marriage theme rose naturally out of my struggles with the plot, and I didn't dwell on it very much when I was writing the script.
When North by Northwest was released, it was a tremendous success, both with the critics and at the box office. Then, sometime later, you and Hitchcock began planning another film one set at Disneyland which had a very intriguing premise. Yes, and Hitch liked the idea very much. It was going to be called Malice in Wonderland, and it was going to be shot — most of it — at Disneyland. Then Walt Disney saw Psycho, and that was the end of that. Well, the project's still alive. Miramax has been considering it lately.
My good friend Mel Shavelson and I tortured out a screenplay called Dancing in the Dark, based on the same basic idea, but having nothing to do with Disneyland. We set it on a cruise ship. It's about a very popular jazz pianist who's been sightless from birth, and he has this double-eye transplant and begins to get hallucinations in which he sees someone holding a gun that's just been fired. In his subsequent attempts to find out whose eyes he's been given, he ends up on the Queen Elizabeth just as it's sailing on a cruise.
It's a very good premise, and you can pitch it quite easily even though it's got a very intricate plot. Back when Hitch and I first started working on it, I felt that I didn't know how to write it properly, and since there were no offices at Paramount at the time, I stopped going to the studio, and I managed to get off the picture. Hitch was very upset that I quit. But I'd quit many other projects over the years — or said "no" to them from the beginning — and, in my opinion, I made very few mistakes.
Eventually, you and Hitchcock collaborated on his last film, Family Plot , and then, as his health declined, you worked together on another film called The Short Night. I've never heard you discuss that film.
30 Days of Screenplays, Day 18: “North by Northwest”
There's not much I care to remember about it. It was based on a novel called The Short Night, which was set in England, although we changed it, and it never got made. We were kidding ourselves that Hitch could make it. He was in no condition to go on location and shoot a film in the middle of a lake in Denmark. And maybe it was a lousy script, too. Yes, but it has bad memories for me. It's something I prefer to forget. We had a number of arguments about it. He wanted the hero to rape a woman at the beginning of the picture.
The novel started with an escape from prison. Anyway, as you can see, I have no affectionate memories about that project. Years ago, before you came to Hollywood, you were a very successful fiction writer in New York, appearing in Esquire, Collier's, and other prestigious magazines. Eventually, you returned to fiction, publishing your best selling novel, The French Atlantic Affair in Apparently, you greatly enjoyed the freedom of fiction.