Cary Grant on the set of "North by Northwest", directed by Alfred Hitchcock. (Photo by Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)
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North By Northwest’s Famous Plane Chase Could Have Been A Lot More Cartoony
Every once in a while, an actor’s career is defined by a single movie, but for Cary Grant, his prestigious career came to be defined by a single, dramatic movie scene that almost didn’t happen. In a 2000 interview, screenwriter Ernest Lehman revealed how the plane scene from “North by Northwest” came about, and how Hitchcock’s ideas could have drastically changed it.
The scene originated with Hitchcock’s idea to upend clichés by putting his protagonist in peril in “the loneliest, emptiest spot … so that there is no place to run for cover, no place to hide, and no place for the enemy to hide.” Lehman agreed with Hitchcock’s setting, but while brainstorming how the bad guys would attack the good guy, Hitchcock made a creative suggestion.
Hitchcock suggested that a tornado might appear to endanger the good guy. While Lehman pointed out the obvious plot hole — “’How do the villains create a tornado?’”— he salvaged the spirit of Hitchcock’s idea by proposing a plane fly out of the sky. Hitchcock loved the idea and it ended up being such an iconic scene that we’re still talking about it 60 years later.