North by Northwest

Movie review by
David Gurney, Common Sense Media
North by Northwest Movie Poster Image
Parents recommendPopular with kids
Witty Hitchcock thriller piles on suspense and innuendo.
  • NR
  • 1959
  • 131 minutes

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 7 reviews

Kids say

age 10+
Based on 18 reviews

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

The transformation of the main character sends the message that people can change for the better and that sometimes there's more to someone's character than first appears. Themes include integrity, perseverance, and courage.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Thornhill is a twice-divorced ad exec who spouts his philosophy at the beginning of the movie as "In the world of advertising there's no such thing as a lie, there's only expedient exaggeration." When he's set up we see a big shift in his character -- he risks his own life for the truth and then for love. The CIA is shown as unscrupulous, willing to let Thornhill die to cover their tracks. Eve is played as mysterious and cunning and joked about as promiscuous -- but she's a damsel in distress ready to be saved by Thornhill in the end.


Roger Thornhill is kidnapped at gunpoint, then force-fed a bottle of bourbon (not shown) and put behind the wheel of the car, which he almost crashes numerous times on a windy road. A character gets knifed in the back. A crop duster fires shots and chases Thornhill, later exploding when it hits a truck. A death is faked by shooting and more shots are fired at the main characters as they dangle from a great height.


Some kissing with clothes on and the implication that Thornhill and Eve slept together in a train bed. Lots of forward sexual banter along the lines of "what can a man do with his clothes off for 20 minutes?" after Thornhill sends his suit to be pressed.


"Treacherous little tramp" is as strong as the language gets.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Plenty of hard liquor drunk and mentioned. Some smoking typical of the era, including a matchbook with Thornhill's initials used to seductively light Eve's cigarette. Thornhill is force-fed bourbon then drives drunk to evade the bad guys, ending in a "funny-drunk" scene at the police station.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that North by Northwest is a Hitchcock classic that includes suspenseful scenes such as a forced drunken car chase on windy roads and a crop duster chase with shooting and an explosion. Typical of the era, there's drinking of hard liquor and smoking, with a seductive lighting-up featured in one scene. More seductive elements include forward sexual banter and some kissing -- the clothes stay on but there's a mention that the main characters slept together in their train car. It's also worth noting that the main character undergoes a big transformation, from fast-talking and unscrupulous ad exec to a man who risks his own life to find out the truth that will exonerate him.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent Written byClassic Movie Family December 7, 2010

A family favorite!!

This is a family favorite for all three of our kids.

We like classic movies because the material is generally suitable for the kids and it’s not dumbed down... Continue reading
Teen, 16 years old Written byJacobAird May 19, 2020

Pretty much perfect.

This is a CLASSIC spy thriller that basically invented a genre. Incredibly written, acted and directed. Great twists and turns throughout. Great movie to watch... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byictchis May 13, 2017

Hitchcock does not disappoint!

North by Northwest is a really good movie like most of Hitchcock movies! Nothing to bad, just a lot of action!! You should just watch this movie. Or better yet... Continue reading

What's the story?

In NORTH BY NORTHWEST, Cary Grant stars as Roger Thornhill, an advertising executive who is mistaken for a spy named George Kaplan. When his life is turned upside down, Thornhill decides the only way to get his life back is to track down the real Kaplan himself.

Is it any good?

Sure to entertain viewers with even the most diverse of tastes, the film is a true cinematic pleasure with an impressive pedigree. North by Northwest is consistently light and comic. Some sort of silly comment or joke relieves even the tensest scene. Cary Grant is superb as Thornhill. The character demands large tonal shifts, from mama's boy to suave sophisticate, from terrified man on the run to indignant pawn of the government, and Grant pulls it all off convincingly. Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint) is a perfect foil for Thornhill's man under pressure. She's cool and mysterious, leaving Thornhill unsure of whether to trust her for much of their time together.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the lasting appeal of Hitchcock movies like North by Northwest. What makes this film a classic? What are some techniques that he uses that you've seen used in other movies?

  • Talk about who Roger Thornhill is at the beginning and the end of this movie. Has the experience made him a better person? What is the underlying message of the movie?

  • How do the characters in North by Northwest demonstrate integrity, perseverance, and courage? Why are these important character strengths?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love thrills

Character Strengths

Find more movies that help kids build character.

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