Wednesday, December 9, 2009

North By Northwest 50th Anniversary

One of the Black Hills' most famous films is legendary director Alfred Hitchcock's "North By Northwest," which features Mount Rushmore National Memorial as the setting for a deadly chase.

A 50th anniversary edition of "North By Northwest" is available now on DVD and Blu-Ray. Many included special features are highlighted by a "making of" documentary hosted by star Eva Marie Saint. Screenwriter Ernest Lehman reveals that the Rushmore chase scene was where Hitchcock started the project. The script was written with that ending in mind.

Unfortunately for the filmmakers, the National Park Service would not allow filming on the actual faces because the plan was to show people being killed there. Several scenes were filmed at Rushmore, but after arguing with officials over the use of the carvings Hitchcock packed up his crew and headed for Hollywood. The chase was filmed on a sound stage in front of a 30x150 foot painting of Mount Rushmore.

Another interesting bit of trickery in the Rushmore scenes is the "Vandamm house" seen here.

This futuristic looking home appeared to be perched just below Mount Rushmore in the film and also included an airplane landing strip next to it. None of the set pieces were ever actually at Rushmore. Complex matte painting and film compositing put the structures into the Black Hills scenery. So convincing was the work that park rangers are still answering questions about where the house is located at the memorial.

Here is Hitchcock's "travel advertisement" for "North By Northwest."

For another look at "North By Northwest" and the DVD release, check out Dan Daly's comments at the Black Hills Blog.

There's also a great account of Hitchock's dealings with the National Park Service in filming at Rushmore at the American Experience website written by Todd Epp.

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