a lecture by



This session is dedicated to understanding the way that films tell stories but you may also like to turn to illustrative images that show some influence of the visual conventions of cinematography.

North by Northwest

Sequence Analysis of the Chase in the Cornfield

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, 1959
Photographed by Robert Burks,
Written by Ernest Lehmann
Music by Bernard Herrmann
Cary Grant is Roger Thornhill, Eve Marie Saint is Eve Kendall.


Roger Thornhill is an advertising man in New York. He doesn't know it but the CIA are using him to flush out some spies (evidently Communist). Eve Kendall has been hired by the spies to lure him to a deserted spot where he can be murdered.

Our analysis of the film encourages debate on;
establishing a credible space for the unfolding of narrative
orientation of action in a landscape
use of gesture and expression as indications of intent/anticipation
Now get your copy of the film and find the sequence where Thornhill and Kendall meet before Thornhill takes the bus to meet Kaplan.

The SEQUENCE; timing listed first, in rolling minutes and seconds

1.1 Eve has just received instructions from a fellow spy ( a few phone booths away). She tells Roger where he can meet the mysterious Mr. Kaplan. They have shared the train journey out of New York and Roger wants to see her again. She begins to feel guilty for using their relationship to ensnare him
3.08 Roger gets off the bus and waits for his contact. No music or dialogue.
6.22 Roger talks to man standing opposite who, it turns out, is waiting for a bus. The man draws Roger's attention to a cropspraying aircraft who it appears is spraying where there are no crops.
6.52 The bus leaves and Roger is alone.
7.40 The aircraft flies towards, then at Roger. On the second attack he is shot at. At a third he runs through the bullets and hides in a cornfield. The plane dusts that patch of corn and drives him out.He sees a fuel lorry coming down the road and is nearly run over in an attempt to stop it to get away. The pilot of the plane loses control and crashes into the lorry. The drivers and Roger escape the blaze and Roger makes his getaway in a van parked by one of the spectators.




Of North by Northwest, from Hitchcock by Truffaut ,Paladin London 1986.

Truffaut, "....all of the shots are of equal duration."

Hitchcock," Here you're not dealing with time but with space. The length of the shots was to indicate the various distances that a man had to run for cover, and more than that, that there was no cover to run to. This kind of scene can't be wholly subjective because it would go by in a flash. It's necessary to show the approaching plane, even before Cary Grant spots it, because if the shot is too fast, the plane is in and out of the frame too quickly for the viewer to realise what is happening.... I tell you how the idea came about. I found I was faced with the old cliche situation : the man who is put on the spot, probably to be shot. Now, how is this usually done ? A victim standing in a pool of light under the street lamp. The cobbles are 'washed with the recent rain'. A closeup of a black cat slinking along against the wall of a house. A shot of a window with a furtive face pulling back the curtain to look out. The slow approach of a black automobile, etc. etc. Now, what was the antithesis of a scene like this ? No darkness, no pool of light, no mysterious figures in windows. Just nothing. Just bright sunshine and a blank, open countryside with barely a house or tree in which any lurking menaces could hide."

compare the scene with its possible source,

John Buchan's novel The Thirty Nine Steps ,

"Just then I heard a noise in the sky, and lo and behold there was that infernal aeroplane, flying low, about a dozen miles to the south and rapidly coming towards me. I had the sense to remember that on a bare moor I was at the aeroplane's mercy, and that my only chance was to get to the leafy cover of the valley.. Down I went like blue lightning, screwing my head round whenever I dared, to watch that damned flying machine.... It was flying high, but as I looked it dropped several hundred feet and began to circle around.... just as a hawk wheels before it pounces. Now it was flying very low.... Suddenly it began to rise in swift whorls and the next I knew it was speeding eastwards again.... My enemies had located me..... There was not cover in the whole place to hide a rat..... It seemed to suffocate me. The free moorlands were prison walls and the keen hill air was the breath of a dungeon."


EXERCISE; Now prepare a map of the narrative in the landscape
1. in map form
2. in your own diagrammatic way
to include as much information as you can in a clear way.