Lesson 4 Research Activity
The Moving Image

At the Movies: North by Northwest

Probably no other filmmaker balances all the esthetic elements of film as well as Alfred Hitchcock. He’s not especially known for his mise-en-scène or montage, or for his tracking shots. He’s not cited as a master of dialogue or drama, sound or symbolism. Why? Because he excels at all of them. If film has a Shakespeare, it is Alfred Hitchcock.

North by Northwest was made at the zenith of his career. Vertigo or Rear Window may be more celebrated by critics. Psycho or The Birds may have been more influential. But North by Northwest stands as the best summary of Hitchcock’s consummate art.

And, it seems appropriate to watch a film where the train is the central metaphor for this lesson whose focus is the moving image. (Watch out for that tunnel!)

Student Materials

Time Estimate

2 hours


Watch North by Northwest while thinking about the following questions. As always, jot down notes so you don’t forget any of the observations you’d like to share with your classmates.


Please post your responses to the following questions on the class message board.

  1. The double dissolve described on p. 223 of How to Read a Film is justly celebrated. Can you find another example of tour-de-force montage in North by Northwest?
  2. The cornfield sequence has been praised by numerous critics for its complex construction. Is there another sequence in the film that strikes you as a sophisticated construction?