North by Northwest is probably one of Alfred Hitchcock's most accessible films. It is full of color. It has Cary Grant. It covers a lot of open and closed spaces. There is more adventure and action than in Hitchcock's other movies. There is mystery and romance. It's hard to enumerate all of the twists that happen throughout the film. There is a legendary scene with a crop duster and decent action around Mount Rushmore. There are a lot of funny moments too. What more a casual moviegoer could want from a movie?
In North by Northwest Cary Grant is in the role of Roger O. Thornhill, a New York advertising expert, who is unluckily mistaken for a government agent by foreign spy Phillip Vandamm (James Mason). Thornhill's life is in serious danger and he has to find a way to survive as he is kidnapped, forced to drink a full bottle of liquor, accused of murder and this is just the beginning of his troubles. He meets a beautiful woman, Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint), who seems to be trying to help him but soon it appears she is not so innocent as she looks. As a result, Thornhill is once again pursued, shot at and dusted with poisonous pesticide in a cornfield. And he still doesn't have a clue what is really going on...
Unlike many other Hitchcock's films (Rope, Rear Window, etc.) in which the entire action takes place in closed spaces or even in just one room, North by Northwest covers a variety of interesting locations. Mt. Rushmore is a good example to mention. The famous crop duster scene is another highlight. Hitchcock manages to use a wide-open space during broad daylight to create an unexpected but real threat for the protagonist. The scene is masterfully shot and it has become one of Hitchcock's classic moments since the film's release in 1959. Some people still wonder why the antagonist would choose such a complicated plan to eliminate somebody. I do not have problems with such a choice and I can consider it an artistic device. But if you think about the scene deeper there is not a single good reason why Roger Thornhill is sent to that cornfield in the first place. Anyway, this is one of the things that could be reasonably excused with "it's just a movie".
The film is full of adventurous situations and Cary Grant is a very good choice for the role of the light-hearted Thornhill. There are also plenty of jokes like when Thornhill rushes into a lady's bedroom and her initial fright and indignation are turned into a sudden hope to hold Cary Grant in her room longer.
The twists in North by Northwest starts from the very beginning and it's hard to complain there are not enough of them. Almost constantly the situation changes, independently of whether you expect it or not.
The movie is closer to the mainstream (in terms of romantic relationship, color, etc.) compared to other Alfred Hitchcock's films but this does not make it weaker by any means. What it helps for though is that the movie is appreciable by a broader audience and more people can enjoy Hitchcock's craftsmanship.