As screenwriter Ernest Lehman recalls on the "North by Northwest" DVD, Hitchcock said to him, "We're not making a movie, we're constructing an organ". By that, Hitch was recognising the incredible audience-pleasing machine that they were assembling, although it has only over time grown into the classic it's now considered to be.
The movie was born from two key scenes that Hitchcock was desperate to realise. One was to be set at the United Nations, and the other was to be a chase across the presidential faces carved into the Mount Rushmore National Monument. It was Lehman's job to construct a film around these two visions, and out of them emerges a thriller so improbable that it becomes quite brilliant in evading even the most fantastic of audience guesses.
Cary Grant plays a Manhattan advertising executive who's mistaken for a government agent. His attempts to clear up the misunderstanding only implicate him in a murder that makes him the target in a nationwide hunt. Forced on the run, he's faced at every turn by assassins out to kill him, and the mysterious Eva Marie Saint who's only too keen to help.
Running at over two hours, Hitch is able to pack in many memorable sequences including the famous crop-dusting scene. While each of them excels in intrigue and suspense, he cleverly links them with black humour. Hitch delivers these emotional highs and lows with perfect timing, allowing moments of relief to break out before mounting another crescendo of excitement. The effect is like a grand musical work, conducted with bravura audience manipulation.