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North by Northwest is a 1959 glamorous and glossy film directed by Carry Grant and starring Alfred Hitchcock. It is a larger than life fantasy that offers an escape for the rigid and conformist 50s. North by Northwest set the standard for all the suspense thriller movies by creating the most classic moments in movies following the hero’s journey structure of the story.
The screenplay by Ernest Lehman has a classical structure of a hero’s journey. It is the story of a “regular” but successful, handsome man that is in control of his life that gets his call to adventure. This happens when Thornhill is mistaken by some suspicious men for George Kaplan. He meets his mentor which is the Professor, he is tested and goes through near-death experiences as in the crop duster scene. Nevertheless, he succeeds and saves the damsel in distress which is Eve.
Hitchcock maneuvered the screenplay to add to the hero’s journey by creating, even more, suspension and dynamism. The script starts with the narrator saying: “Would it not be strange, in a city of seven million people, if one man were never mistaken by another. “Hitchcock did not include the narrator’s voice at the beginning of the film to have more of the unexpected. Instead, he skips to the part where Thornhill gives his secretary directions to set the main character up as a very controlling man. Thus it’s more striking when Thornhill is suddenly kidnapped and doesn’t know what to do. Another example of Hitchcock building tension is the crop-dusting scene. He again cuts the very detailed description of the scene on the script to the man from the bus saying: “That plane’s dustin’ crops where there ain’t no crops”. Thus again increasing tension.
The characters are also shown as the archetypes of a hero’s journey. Thornhill is the classical “knight in shining armor” played by Carry Grant. He is the cool, lady’s man, the elegant and handsome protagonist of the story. Eve is the damsel in distress played by Eva Marie Saint. She is mysterious and troublesome, ready to be saved by her prince. To her credit, the story does make her seem like a strong woman who had a difficult past and now works for national security. Nevertheless, she is still saved at the end by Thornhill and in the end, she marries him as her biggest achievement in the movie. There’s also the archetype of the mentor which is The Professor played by Leo G. Carrol. He is the one who explains the whole thing to Thornhill and the audience.
Through the hero’s journey, North by Northwest represents the 50s. After the war, men came home to live the American dream. They were as Thornhill in the movie the heroes and protectors of the American way, ready to save the day and then finally marry and settle down. The movie shows the conventional way of thinking of the time where values like money, success and appearances were important and where women are patiently waiting for men to save them.
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