North By Northwest: Narrative Segmentation

Roger Thornhill is in over his head in North By Northwest, never more apparent than in this iconic sequence.

In North By Northwest, one of Alfred Hitchcock’s most celebrated films, the director revisited one of his favourite motifs — the innocent man on the run. Cary Grant plays Roger Thornhill, an advertising executive, who is mistaken for enigmatic spy George Kaplan. After surviving abduction and an assassination attempt, Thornhill sets out to find the real Kaplan and end his nightmare.

Act 1

James Mason and Martin Landau believe Cary Grant’s Roger Thornhill is a spy. He has no idea what’s going on.

1a. Roger and his secretary (Maggie) leave office discussing his agenda. They walk out onto Madison Avenue and catch a cab.

1b. Cab interior. Roger and Maggie continue to discuss forthcoming arrangements, meetings etc.

1c. Plaza Hotel. Roger meets associates. Needs to make call — catches waiter’s attention just when he is calling for “George Caplan”. The thugs in background think Roger must be Caplan (This occurs at just 5:30 yet is the key inciting incident to the entire story). They seize him and take him away.

1d. Car. Thugs drive Caplan off. He tries to talk, they don’t answer. Tries to escape. Door is locked.

1e. Townsend Estate. Car drives through the gate and arrives at mansion.

1f. Thornhill shown through to study. “Townsend” arrives. He questions Roger who pleads ignorance. Leonard arrives. Roger desperately tries to explain he’s not Caplan, but they’re not buying it. He tries to leave but the door is guarded. Townsend leaves and the thugs fill him with bourbon.

1g. Murder attempt. Thugs dump Roger in car by the cliff at night. Set the car off but he takes control and (just about) manages to escape. Police crash into him.

1h. Police station. Roger tries to explain what’s been going on but he is dismissed as a drunk. Makes call to mother to contact lawyer. Kept in station for the night.

1i. Courtroom the next morning. Roger’s story is laughed off by just about everyone, including his mother.

1j. Roger accompanied by county detectives to the Townsend Estate. Everything is covered up and Roger is made to look like a liar. Roger is frustrated that the police aren’t going to do anymore. One of the thugs shown in the garden as they leave. (This sends Roger on his quest to find the real Caplan to put things right).

Act 2

Roger is framed for the murder of the real Townsend prompting him to go on the run.

Part One

2a. Plaza Hotel. Roger calls operator to find out Caplan’s room. Persuades mother to get key.

2b. Caplan’s room. Roger speaks to maid before entering. Mystery deepens — maid addresses him as Caplan. He looks around the room and finds picture of “Townsend” at the United Nations. Maid and Valet both assume Roger is Caplan. Roger answers the phone — it’s one of the thugs. To him, he’s definetly Caplan. They leave to avoid thugs.

2c. Elevator. The men bump into Roger and mother. Roger runs off once they arrive in the lobby.

2d. Cab. Asks to be taken to the United Nations.

2e. United Nations. Roger asks for Townsend but he is greeted by a different man to who he was expecting. One of the thugs kills Townsend, framing Roger. Roger flees the scene.

2f. United States Intelligence Agency. Agents discuss the advantage of leaving Roger to be mistaken as Caplan so as to protect the identity of their actual who is agent pursuing Van Damme (the man who pretended to be Townsend).

2g. Grand Central Station. Roger speaks to his mother on the phone. Aware that he is wanted and the police are after him. Avoids detection/capture at the ticket office. Pursued by police but boards train.

Part Two

2h. Train. Police are in pursuit. Roger runs into Eve Kendell who helps him to hide.

2i. Train attendants checking tickets. Roger comes out from hiding from toilet and enters restaurant. Taken to Eve’s table. The pair talk. She knows who he is and that he’s a wanted man. She tells him her room number. Train stops and police board.

2j. Roger is hiding in Eve’s room. Cops enter and question her but she feigns ignorance.

2k. Romantic scene (after lovemaking?) between Roger and Eve. Interrupted by attendant. Roger hides in Eve’s bathroom. They resume.

2l. Porter delivers Eve’s note to another cabin — Van Damme and Leonard are in there. We see Eve’s note — “What shall I do with him in the morning?”.

2m. Next morning. Train has arrived. Roger escapes with Eve, dressed as a porter. Cops realize and begin searching for him.

2n. Public bathroom — cops searching. Roger shaving.

2o. Eve is on the phone to Leonard. They’re talking to each other. Eve gives Roger details to reach Caplan. Roger senses she is uneasy. They part company.

Part Three

2p. Crop-duster sequence. Another attempt on Roger’s life. (The opening and backdrop to this is a pure contrast to what’s been happening in the story so far- chaos, confusion etc).

2q. Roger on street, heading to Ambassador Hotel.

2r. Enters hotel. Speaks to reception. Asks for Kaplan’s room. Told he checked out. Roger twigs that Eve set him up. Then, he sees her in the lobby. Asks the receptionist for Eve’s room.

2s. Roger buzzes Eve’s room. He goes in and talks to her, not letting on about what happened. Eve receives a phone-call. Roger continues to play the game. Eve explains that she wants Roger to leave and not see her anymore. However, he wants to find out more so persuades her to have dinner with him first. He has a shower and watches her leave. He follows her.

2t. Auction scene. Roger sees Eve with Van Damme. He confronts them and is deeply hurt by Eve’s betrayl. He disturbs auction so as to be taken away by the police to escape Van Damme’s men. The Professor sees him and realizes what’s going on.

2u. Police car. Roger reveals his identity but the police receive instructions to take him to the airport.

2v. They arrive at the airport, followed by the professor. Roger learns the whole story from him and that he’s put Eve in danger by raising Van Damme’s suspicions about her. (For the rest of the film, Roger actually becomes Kaplan and deliberately embarks on a mission for both the Professor himself. His discovery about Eve is his new motivation / renewed commitment in with the adventure. Otherwise, the story would be over — he even almost walks away at one point!)

Part Four

2w. Mount Rushmore. Roger and the Professor await the arrival of Van Damme, Leonard and Eve. Roger sees them coming. The Professor hides. Roger goes into the café.

2x. Café. The trio enter. Roger now plays along being Kaplan and reveals his knowledge of Van Damme’s plan to escape the country. He agrees not to stop him if Van Damme lets Eve go. Eve shoots Roger and flees. Roger’s body is taken away by the Professsor.

2y. Woods. Roger is fine after all, meets Eve and makes peace with her (The Roger/Eve/Professor shooting is a rare point in the film where the characters know more/are in the front of the audience. In fact, it might be a rarity in Hitchcock’s film). Roger leaves that Eve has to leave with Van Damme, much to his shock and disapproval. He’s quickly back to lacking knowledge. Eve drives away. Roger tries to stop her but gets knocked out by one of the Professor’s men.

2z. Hospital room. Roger plays along with the Professor but he plans to escape and save Eve. He asks the Professor to get him a drink. He uses the opportunity to escape. (The re-establishment of the Roger-Eve relationship has “raised for the stakes” for the climatic act)

Act 3

Roger has to overcome his adversaries and rescue Eve in the story’s thrilling finale.

3a. Night. Roger takes a taxi back to Mount Rushmore. He arrives outside Van Damme’s place.

3b. Roger maneuvers around the outside of the house. Notices the runaway. He watches one of the thugs arrives and sees Van Damme and Eve through a window. He climbs to have a closer look.

3c. Outside the window, Roger listens and watches Van Damme and Kaplan talking. Leonard is also present. Leonard asks to speak to Van Damme privately.

3d. Roger tries to get Eve’s attention by throwing at her window. He has to stop when Leonard becomes suspicious.

3e. Listening/watching the conversation again. Leonard exposes Eve’s true identity to Van Damme by showing that she used a blank gun to shot “Kaplan”. Eve comes out but Van Damme covers-up his knowledge. He reveals to Leonard that he will have revenge by throwing Eve out of the plane once they are away.

3f. Roger climbs up to and enters Eve’s room. He manages to send a signal to Eve warning her of the danger she’s in. Eve goes up to her room.

3g. In Eve’s room, Roger tells her that they will kill her and warns her not to get on the plane.

3h. With Roger watching, Van Damme, Eve and Leonard depart. Roger comes out of hiding but is caught by the housekeeper who holds him at gunpoint.

3i. Van Damme, Eve and Leonard head to plane. Eve constantly looks back at the house for Roger, aware she is in grave danger. A shot is heard from the house. Eve uses the distraction to escape from Van Damme and jumps into a car with Roger.

3j. Chase sequence. Van Damme’s men pursue Roger and Eve through the woods. They have no choice but to climb down Mount Rushmore. Eventually, the authorities come to their rescue by shooting Leonard. Van Damme has been captured. Eve almost falls to death but Roger manages to save her.

3k. Roger and Eve are back on the train. She is now “Mrs Thornhill”.

The Screenwriter




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The Screenwriter

The Screenwriter

Screenwriting and storytelling enthusiast. Here to educate, entertain and enrich those curious about the world of story.

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