Extract from draft screenplay of North by Northwest (1959), written by Ernest Lehman and directed by Alfred Hitchcock
HITCHCOCK: We haven’t worked out yet what Miss Rainbird’s—whether she’s religious or not. Does she ever go to Grace Cathedral?
LEHMAN: I don’t know. Oh, this could get quite complicated.
HITCHCOCK: Well, not necessarily.
LEHMAN: That’s a good question.
HITCHCOCK: It’s a question and it might be, you throw it out if it’s no good—the hell with it—let’s not bother with it—forget it.
LEHMAN: It’s certainly worth putting in the hopper though.
HITCHCOCK: Well, it’s digging in the—let’s say we’re coal mining, and we’re digging into a certain scene and there’s no coal there. All right, too bad. Well, from what we’ve discovered—what we’ve discussed so far (and the manner I’m not sure, in which we’re doing it); especially if we extract all our comedic things, we sure haven’t gone over any old ground at all.
What a gem I just found, Alfred Hitchcock and Ernest Lehman plan Hitch’s final film:
In this audio clip we hear director Alfred Hitchcock and screenwriter Ernest Lehman developing the storyline for what would be Hitchcock’s last film, Family Plot (1976). The screenplay for what turned out to be Alfred Hitchcock’s last film, Family Plot, was written by Ernest Lehman who had previously worked with the director on North by Northwest (1959). On both films, the writer and director collaborated closely, but on Family Plot Lehman recorded their story conferences, providing unprecedented insight into their working methods. An estimated 80 hours of their conversations are preserved at the Ransom Center.
Now, in the process of writing the film, it seems that you began with a list of disparate ideas that Hitchcock mentioned as possible scenes for the movie. Could you discuss them?
Yes. They were all wonderful, and I took them all down, and I never used most of them. For some reason, Hitch wanted to do the longest dolly shot in cinema history. The idea was that the shot would begin with an assembly line, and then you’d gradually see the parts of the car added and assembled, and, all the while, the camera’s dollying for miles along with the assembly line, and then eventually there’s a completed car, all built, and it’s driven off the assembly line, and there’s a dead body in the backseat.
Did you try to work that one into the script?
Not really. It was intriguing, but it had no place in the picture. Then Hitch told me another one: there’s a speech being made at the General Assembly of the United Nations, and the speaker suddenly stops. He’s irritated, and he says he’s not going to continue until the delegate from Brazil wakes up. So a UN page goes over to the man, taps him on the shoulder, and the delegate falls over dead. But he’d been doodling — and that’s the only clue to the murder — and his doodling is a sketch of the antlers of moose. So I said, “Well, that’s intriguing — now we’ve got the United Nations, and Detroit, and what might seem like a reference to northern Canada.” And Hitch said that he’d always wanted to do a scene at Lake Louise where a family is having a reunion — a get-together — and a twelve-year-old girl takes a gun out of a baby carriage and shoots someone. I realize that all these ideas sound very peculiar and unrelated, but I took them all down and thought about them. —Creative Screenwriting (2000), “North by Northwest”: An Interview with Ernest Lehman
In this 1965 interview, Hitchcock discusses — partly in French — “La Mort aux Trousses” (French title for “North by Northwest”), and in particular the famous “that’s funny — he’s dusting crops where there ain’t no crops” scene.
- North By Northwest screenplay 1958 shooting draft for your reading pleasure (NOTE: For educational purposes only)
- Ernest Lehman’s notes
- “North by Northwest,” the Hitchcock classic, as you’ve never seen it before