The classic sequence is, of course, the attack by crop-duster plane, which ranks second to the shower sequence from PSYCHO (1960), as the most iconic and memorable set-piece in the cinema of Alfred Hitchcock.
Although master film composer Bernard Herrmann wrote a terrific score for the film, here Hitchcock turns the music off for an ingeniously staged sequence full of suspense, action and danger.
The scene starts innocently enough with Grant getting off of a bus at a dusty crossroads in the middle of nowhere. No one shows up to meet him and he begins to wonder just what is going on. When the circling crop-duster plane suddenly begins to descend straight at him, he starts to run for his life.
The genius of the scene is the sudden appearance of deadly danger in broad daylight and in a wide open space. But that's the rub, there's no place to hide. Hitchcock mutes Herrmann's score and gives us only the wicked drone of the plane, Grant's furious footsteps and the tornadic whoosh of overhead doom.
It's a brilliant, thrilling few minutes of pure cinema that shows a master filmmaker at the top of his game. And the rest of the film is no slouch. NORTH BY NORTHWEST is, in my opinion, Hitchcock's most flat out enjoyable film, a nifty man-on-the-run thriller that prefigured the soon to come cycle of '60s spy films.
Hitchcock plays with sound again later in the film when Leo G. Carroll brings Grant up to date on what's really going on. The scene takes place at an airport at night and as the two men walk across the tarmac, Hitchcock brings up the deafening roar of the planes in the background, which effectively drowns out all of the words being said. No matter how hard the audience strives to hear them, the words cannot be made out. Brilliant. Just brilliant.
The answer to the third mystery film will be revealed in the next post. Remember, the title character is a card cheat. Hint: he cheats at gin rummy.