Alfred Hitchcock’s film North by Northwest (1959) is famed as a classic man-on-the-run thriller, following protagonist Roger Thornhill as he flees across state lines in a mad dash to save his life and unravel the mystery to his extraordinary predicament. However, mid-way through the film Thornhill’s quandary is further complicated by the introduction of Eve Kendall, a beautiful yet mysterious woman he encounters on a train during his escape from the authorities and people trying to kill him. During the dining room scene on the train, Hitchcock expertly uses the camera to convey the characters thoughts and feelings. Interestingly, in a film that has several sequences with complicated cinematography and editing, the dining car scene is rather reserved in comparison. Hitchcock uses nominal mise-en-scène elements and instead elects to focus the camera largely on the subtleties in the performances of the actors.
Hitchcock films the dining car scene in such a way that makes it feel as though the audience is eavesdropping in on the flirtations of a newly acquainted couple, albeit with a twist. The dialogue portion of the scene begins with a medium shot of Thornhill and Eve seated, while still keeping both in frame during the first half of their conversation. This allows the audience to see a measure of the body language in addition to the faces of the characters. Of note is how Hitchcock bookends the dining car conversation with point of view (POV) shots, yet the POV shot is not used during the conversation between Thornhill and Eve (the first is of Eve when Thornhill recognizes her as the woman who helped him earlier, and the second of the two policemen as they board the train). Despite the scene taking place in a well-lit, crowded dining
car, Hitchcock maintains camera’s interest on Thornhill and Eve, predominantly keeping the camera at a slight angle, which again heightens the feeling of eavesdropping for the audience.
Once the flirtations between the two in intensify, Hitchcock transitions into using close shots, beginning when Eve discloses her bribe arranging Thornhill being seated with her, and her subsequent reveal that she knows Thornhill wanted for murder. The use of the close shot provides a better, more intimate view of their expressions as they banter back and forth and the sexual innuendos ramp up. Thornhill’s thoughts are particularly evident across his face as he changes from showing interest in the attractive woman across from him, to tension at being recognized by her, to unabashed glee at the prospect of sleeping with same said beautiful woman, and finally to alarm as he learns police are boarding the train.
In contrast to Thornhill’s expressive looks, Hitchcock shows Eve’s as being more controlled and understated. Throughout her linguistic dance with Thornhill, Eve manages to maintain an air of surety about herself, revealing only those pieces of information that she wants him to know. She manages to exude a sense of cool...