McGilligan, Patrick. . Alfred Hitchcock : a life in darkness and light / Patrick McGilligan. 1st ed. 006039322X series New York : Regan Books, c2003.
Call#: Van Pelt Library PN1998.3.H58 M38 2003
In Part 5 (Paramount: The Glory Years) chapter 15, the author describes the process by which Hitchcock decided on the actors that he chose to star in the film. Originally, James Stewart had be slated for the role of Thornhill, but due to the poor performance of Vertigo in the box office it was unclear whether Hitchcock and the studio could justifiably use him instead of Cary Grant. Stewart was an immensely popular actor, but not considered sexy enough for the role. By using Grant who appeared younger, the studios were happy because there would be a greater draw for women to see the film and Hitchcock was happy because he signed a lead actor whom the audience would have more emotion invested in. Hitchcock next arrived at the task of picking the female lead. He rejected the studio's suggestions and chose Eva Marie Saint, a well regarded actress but not regarded as exceptionally sexy or mysterious. Hitchcock hoped to mold her and give her a specific role. James Mason comments on this, accusing Hitchcock of using his actors as "animated props".
The choice of actors in a film a critical first step towards creating the desired output. Despite Hitchcock's often firm hand in micromanaging the details of each shot, the actor has a great deal of responsibility and artistic license in the way they portray their character in the film. Hitchcock made his decisions based on the overall effect upon the audience. Thus, careful selection of each actor was an important prerequisite for achieving his desired outcome in each shot. The decisions made however led to great success. The strength of the movie rests on the audience's concern for Thornhill's successful resolution of the dangerous challenge he was forced into, and also of Eve's safety as she plays the role of secret agent to the enemy spy. While casting the correct actor into a role is critically important, it can also be argued that massaging that actor into the desired character during filming is of equal importance. If the character is not playing the part as envisioned, the director essentially loses control over his tool he uses to manipulate the emotions of the audience. Hitchcock not only carefully screened his actors, but was also known for his adept manipulation of their skills into the finished product he himself desired.
Staumann, Barbara. "Rewriting American Foundational Myths in Alfred Hitchcock's North by Northwest." American Foundational Myths. Ed. Martin Heusser and Gudrun Grabher. Narr: Tubingin, 2002. 201-214.
Call#: Van Pelt Library BL304 .A44 2002
In this article Barbara Straumann describes what she considers to be an Oedipal journey: escaping from an overbearing mother and two ex-wives and fleeing into the countryside. For her argument, she considers the crop-dusting scene to be of incredible significance. While waiting for clandestine meeting with Kaplan in Northern Indiana, we see Thornhill as somewhat of a lone soldier thrown into the field of battle. This is certainly observed as a crop-duster with a gun barrels down upon him. She also mentions how he is recognizable as somewhat of a cowboy, trapped alone in a dusty field. Extrapolating the belief that he represents a soldier and a cowboy, two traditionally manly jobs, our hero can be understood as a masculine element, single-handedly fighting against the two groups who are fighting against each other. She sees Thornhill as a character that undergoes great personal growth due to the dangerous situations he is forced into.
Another argument that she alludes to but does not expand upon in depth is the patriotic undertones embodied by the film. Many elements of the film, from the cowboy imagery in a Midwest corn field, the lone journey into the unknown, to the climactic fight literally on the faces of the U.S. founding fathers convey a sense of independence from oppressing forces and the American way. Hitchcock brought in many different pro-American elements in order to emphasize the ‘Rough Rider' nature of the protagonist, from the Frank Lloyd Wright lookalike house to the daring fight scene on Teddy Roosevelt. The imagery Hitchcock employs serves to heighten the audience's concern for Thornhill, a man who is fighting against foreign spies by embodying the American spirit.
Lehman, Ernest. "Screen Writer's Recipe for 'Hitch's' Brew." New York Times 2 Aug. 1959: X5. Proquest Historical Newspapers. University of Pennsylvania. 7 Apr. 2008.
This article appeared shortly after the initial release of the film. It was written by the screenwriter, Ernest Lehman, who would later be nominated for an Oscar for this screenplay. Of particular interest is the way in which he describes his goals before writing the script. Usually, he says, scripts are written without a particular director in mind. With this film however, he knew the finished product would be given life by Hitchcock, who had already reached fame by this point as an unconventional director. Because of this, Lehman said a screenwriter "will try never to be dull; one will try not to shun the bizarre or the macabre or the surprising; one will try to give one's characters a certain amount of sophistication... and one will try never to forget that murder, as well as love-making, is sometimes committed with tongue in cheek".
Knowing what type of film Hitchcock liked to create undoubtedly changed the formulation of the script. In essence, Hitchcock was already exerting control in the film when it was just in the idea stage, before anything had even been written. Hitchcock's critics often deride his work as being too outrageous and relying heavily on chance happenings, and of course the fact that Lehman was writing the script to please Hitchcock no doubt exacerbated these criticisms. Because the script was written specifically for Hitchcock, it offered him an unusual level of control over it. Lehman also notes that Hitchcock and he worked together closely to revise the script, up until 20 minutes before shooting scenes in some instances. This close collaboration offered a sense of continuity and eliminated friction sometimes observed in film due to conflicting ideas of two of the artistic talents, the writer and director. It is clear in this article that Lehman considered himself very fortunate to work with such an esteemed director even though he realizes that Hitchcock sometimes modified his work. He is pleased with the outcome of the project, declaring that "Hitchcock has made a silk purse out of a writer's ear."
Drucker, Jerry. "Hays Code: Out-Psyched by Hitch." Los Angeles Times 28 Oct. 1979: w4. Proquest Historical Newspapers. University of Pennsylvania. 7 Apr. 2008.
When North by Northwest was released, the Hays Production Code still had incredible influence. Any film that did not have the official seal was essentially locked out of the major distribution and exhibition avenues. Only two films had ever bypassed the code and despite their box office successes, few studios were willing to risk losing the seal of approval. The code was incredibly strict involving moral standards, and thus sexual and violent undertones needed to be minimized to ensure the Board's approval. This article was written by an insider who had the opportunity to sit inside the Board's screening room as they watched Psycho. It became immediately clear that strong changes were needed; however Hitchcock was known for being unwilling to compromise his autonomy in filmmaking. Thus a strong negotiation ensued in which certain shots were traded with others until the film eventually passed muster.
This showdown between the censors and Hitchcock was inevitably an escalation from his previous film North by Northwest. Full of sexual innuendo and provocative scenes, the Board had objections to many of the frequent references to intercourse throughout the film. Hitchcock carefully avoided overt discussion, often substituting the word "love" for "sex", and using imagery to imply action (for example, a shot of passionate kisses cuts to a shot of their train entering a tunnel). The final cut of the film was risqué for the time period, but managed to successfully hide the sexual references from younger and uncultured minds, which was no doubt a critical hurdle for Hitchcock to overcome in order to obtain the seal for the film. The symbolism and innuendos created require a much more engaged viewer, which ultimately helps to maximize the effects of suspenseful situations.
Hitchcock, Alfred. Interview with Bryan Forbes. BFI. 1967. 8 Apr. 2008 http://www.bfi.org.uk/features/interviews/hitchcock.html.
This interview begins with thoughtful questions asked by another director who is clearly a fan of Hitchcock's work. Through thoughtful questions, Hitchcock is encouraged to discuss his script-writing process. For example, we learn that Hitchcock planned the Mount Rushmore scene fifteen years prior to North by Northwest, and simply waited for an opportunity to insert the scene. He also speaks of his fan of the montage technique, and how greater emotions are brought forth by the audience's emotional attachment to the actors. Using humor and wordplay, Hitchcock adeptly keeps the interest of the audience as he discusses his thought processes and motivations behind the stylistic elements he is famous for using. Much of the interview is devoted to specific stylistic decisions in his films, but even these can be viewed as representative of Hitchcock's overall strategy as a director.
It is clear from this interview that Hitchcock operates in a very casual manner, and despite the widespread belief that he adamantly enforces his own view of the film it appears he is sometimes willing to make concessions. Also, here Hitchcock gives interesting evidence about why he often picks big celebrities to act in his films. Because his beliefs closely resemble the founder of the montage Eisenstein in that the key goal of a montage is to create emotion, Hitchcock insists on using actors that the audience will have an emotional attachment to. He believes that an actor such as Cary Grant will receive greater sympathy from the audience, and thus the heightened emotion will ultimately lead to greater suspense and enjoyment of the moviegoers. It is through this interview that one is offered a rare glimpse into the thoughts of Hitchcock. As is the case with any director, certain parts of his style can be analyzed simply by viewing the films he has created. It is through this, for example, that we are aware of Hitchcock's use of visual impact rather dialogue to drive the plot forward. However, to truly understand him one must venture beyond the work he has produced and instead take a more direct approach to deciphering his beliefs and motivations.
Flint, Peter B. "Alfred Hitchcock Dies; a Master of Suspense." New York Times 30 Apr. 1980. 7 Apr. 2008 .
This is the actual obituary published by the NY Times following Alfred Hitchcock's death in 1980. Although the article offers no more than a few brief comments about North by Northwest, it talks about many stylistic elements in the film which were hallmarks of Hitchcock's innovative approach. For example, one of the more prominent features of classic Hitchcock style is the emphasis on montage and dramatic imagery over dialogue in developing the story. This article mentions examples of this including North by Northwest's crop-dusting scene in which Cary Grant tries to evade a bullet-firing low-flying aircraft. It was clear that Hitchcock controlled a certain mastery of the camera. The scene, which begins with Grant is waiting for the elusive Kaplan along a long a dusty road in Northern Indiana, effectively demonstrates the suspense that can be achieved using wide shots and apparent isolation. The camera cuts frequently between shots of Grant looking down the expansive road in both directions and extended shots of the never-ending road. Hardly a word needs to be spoken in this scene for the audience to understand the character's frustration and fear.
Speaking of Hitchcock's style as a whole, the article acclaims his "virtuosity in creating a rhythm of anticipation with understated, sinister overtones, innovative pictorial nuance and montage... and revealing cross-cutting of objective shots with subjective views of a scene from an actor's perspective." This style is apparent throughout the film, but its power is best seen before and during the crop-dusting sequence and also in the fight on the faces of Mount Rushmore. Furthermore, Hitchcock oftens breaks from established convention in order to convey his message. For example, on the empty highway Hitchcock repeatedly breaks the 180-degree rule in order to display the surroundings and prove Thornhill's complete isolation from others. The works Hitchcock created are not only a great piece of cinematic history in their own right, but also in the lasting impact they have imparted on other filmmakers and their works. Hitchcock's legacy in film is a natural byproduct of his unique style over many great films during his lengthy career.
Morris, Christopher D. "The Direction of North by Northwest." Cinema Journal 36 (1997): 43-57.
In this article Morris closely scrutinizes the title of the film "North by Northwest". As is noted elsewhere, this is not a true heading and many wonder where Hitchcock and Lehman came about the title. Morris sides with those who believe it is a play off of Shakespeare's line when Hamlet declares to his confidante Guildenstern: "I am but mad North-North-West. When the wind is southerly I know a hawk from a handsaw." From this, we understand that Hamlet has at least some (if not complete) control over his apparent madness. Perhaps he is strategically mad to his own ends, and the same could be said about Thornhill as well. Torn away from his posh lifestyle and Madison Avenue job, he is thrown into a world of foreign spies and front page headlines. For a good part of the film, nobody believes he is telling the truth and is instead attempting to deceive others about his drunken driving in a stolen Mercedes or rather that he has simply gone mad. Even his mother demands he "pay the two dollars", meaning accept the small punishment and end the charade. The audience is never completely convinced of the existence of a separate Kaplan until we find out Kaplan's wardrobe implies a man much shorter than Thornhill. In the end, Thornhill is vindicated and the truth would be revealed to all.
Unlike Hamlet, Thornhill does not require long thought before actions. While Hamlet is often suffering in an existential quandary and must laboriously consider each of his actions, Thornhill acts impulsively. Until he falls for Eve he is in survival mode, looking only to clear his name and resume his comparatively dull life. It is through this apparent impulsivity that it becomes clear the madness is only a ruse. For example, his seemingly erratic actions at the art auction serve his interests of escaping the thugs. This shows Thornhill has great ingenuity and creativity at his disposal, no doubt skills honed from his career spinning slogans on Madison Avenue. The feigned madness that is shared between the Hamlet and Thornhill, coupled with the fact that North by Northwest is not a valid direction leads to the conclusion that the title is in fact a reference to Shakespeare's work. By naming the film after this reference, Hitchcock helps the more insightful audience members better understand and analyze the actions of Thornhill and thus add the depth of the film.
Cavell, Stanley. "North by Northwest." Critical Inquiry 7 (1981): 761-776.
This article carefully examines many plot elements within the story which are thought to be similar in many ways to other Hitchcock thrillers. The first and most obvious is the casting of Cary Grant into the lead role. The two have worked together several times and Grant had gained stardom in part due to these movies. Hitchcock makes light of his stardom in several occasions, first when Grant is leaving a phone booth and gets stares from a young female, and later when he is walking through a woman's hospital room and she tries to persuade him to stay in a seductive tone. Also, the script does not deny that Grant is an actor. Vandamn frequently comments on Thornhill's acting and even the professor asks him to "play the part". Other plot elements mentioned are Hitchcock's insistence on using ordinary situations and ordinary people for the more suspenseful situations. This is no doubt a hallmark of Hitchcock's work and imitated wildly in the following decades.
What is not adequately addressed in this article is that Grant must play the role of the victim. He was thrust into the situation against his will, due to mistaken identity. Unlike his last role with Hitchcock in "To Catch a Thief", Grant's character is that of a law-abiding citizen. A ‘mama's boy', he is thrown into a world totally unfamiliar and being pressured on both sides to perform as any super-agent would. He succeeds in the task, and is ultimately the hero stopping state secrets from reaching the Soviets. Thus, while Grant's character is similar to others he performs for Hitchcock's camera in many respects, ultimately this is a fundamentally different character because he is one everyone in the audience can empathize with. Because of this, Grant is able to command a stronger control over the viewer.
Hollywood : critical concepts in media and cultural studies / edited by Thomas Schatz. 0415281318 (set) series London ; New York : Routledge, 2004.
Call#: Van Pelt Library PN1993.5.U6 H556 2004
In chapter 34 of this book, Andrew Sarris attempts to classify and find themes in the works of Alfred Hitchcock. Using frequent references to specific scenes and elements of the films, Sarris argues that Hitchcock is unusually adept at rousing interest from his audience. Furthermore, Sarris believes that Hitchcock never received the visual analysis he deserved, presumably because of the mass appeal of his films. The style is said to be uniting of the divergent classical traditions of Murnau (notably the camera angles) and of Eisenstein (use of montage). The thrillers Hitchcock has produced all require a situation of normality. Hitchcock would never allow a murder to occur in a dark alley, simply because the audience expects that is where a murder should occur. Rather, a situation of normality would be the best place for a murder. Sarris uses the example a clean hotel bathroom in Psycho, but this argument could be applied to the murder at the United Nations, or the fight scene on the faces at Mount Rushmore.
What Sarris is alluding to, but not declaring outright, is that a thriller must engage its viewer at a visceral level. Any murder that occurs expectedly due to the scenery would not adequately arouse the emotions of the viewer. This is one of the key elements of classic Hitchcock style. Hitchcock refuses to allow plot twists to occur formulaically; he insists on keeping the audience guessing. While this has no doubt added to his popular appeal and the frequency of imitation his works see, it is a concrete example at the ingenuity of the director and why he deserves a prominent place in cinematic history. His refusal to accept the obvious and his thirst for innovative and unexpected events keeps the viewers emotionally engaged in the film, and is thus one of the greatest cognitive tools at his disposal.
Rubin, Martin, 1947- . Thrillers / Martin Rubin. 0521581834 series Cambridge, U.K. ; New York, NY : Cambridge University Press, 1999.
Call#: Van Pelt Library PN1995.9.S87 R83 1999
The first chapter of this book describes ‘thriller' as a genre that is inherently different from other genres. Usually genres have specific themes and iconography (i.e. saloons, cowboy hats etc.) and a level of general relationships, patterns and structural elements. Thrillers however can take widely varying forms and thus conventional iconographic elements are far from universal in the genre. Thus, to define a thriller one must concentrate on conceptual, relational and structural elements. Playing with visceral emotions rather than cognitive ones, the thriller emphasizes suspense, fright, mystery, exhilaration, excitement, speed and movement. Because there is little standardized convention, the filmmaker is given a large degree of freedom.
Hitchcock has gained acclaim due to his skill for creating thrillers. He is known for his ability to create suspense and shock when the viewer least expects it. While it is true that Hitchcock's thrillers do defy expectation by relying on emotion, it is ambiguous whether the thriller completely ignores specific themes and iconography. For example, one could argue that a dark alley represents a shady endeavor, and that something bad is about to transpire. Hitchcock is famous for ignoring these canned situations. While the average thriller relies on the rising suspense as a character walks down a dark alley, Hitchcock creates excitement by masterminding plot twists during the audience's period of emotional security, for example during a conversation in the U.N.'s general assembly. By creating a false sense of security and then destroying the illusion, Hitchcock commands an unusually high level of control over his audience. These techniques employed by Hitchcock are considered to be the standard by which other Thrillers should be made, however only a highly skilled director is able to captivate his audience and avoid cliché scenarios while still utilizing the same repertoire (murders, kidnappings etc.) that are often required in this genre.