The Wrong Man in North by Northwest

The Hitchcockian device of the “wrong man” appears in his 1959 spy thriller North by Northwest. This plot device can be seen in several other movies he directed, such as The Wrong Man, Saboteur, and The 39 Steps. Due to its prevalence throughout Hitchcock’s works, some scholars, such as Stanley Cavell in his essay appearing in Critical Inquiry, have come to recognize it as the “typical-Hitchcockian narrative” that first appeared in The 39 Steps and gradually evolved through the years. The goal of my paper is to examine how the plot of North by Northwest is driven by this device and its role in character development. I will also discuss how the case of the wrong man serves as a basis for other Hitchcockian themes to appear, such as incompetent authority figures and police, the ordinary person in strange situations, and the MacGuffin of the microfilm and government secrets. Finally, I will discuss how North by Northwest uses this Hitchcockian device to parody previous films of the spy thriller genre while still being an exciting thriller that is still enjoyed today.

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