Alfred Hitchcock is one of the great filmmakers of all time. Two of his masterpieces are Rear Window and North by Northwest. Throughout these films, the two protagonists go through drastic changes. Some of these changes are about how they react in certain situations, while others have to do with how they are perceived by the viewers. By the end of the film, these two characters are totally different, in some respects, from how they were in the beginning. Throughout Rear Window and North by Northwest, L.
B. Jefferies and Roger Thornhill change into people that the viewers never thought they would.
In the beginnings of Rear Window and North by Northwest, the protagonists, L.B. Jefferies (James Stewart) and Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) show many characteristics that end up evolving throughout the movies. For example, in Rear Window, Jefferies tends to be very abrupt with people. This is played out in one of the film’s early scenes when he is on the phone with his boss.
Jefferies, a photographer for a popular magazine, hears from his manager that the company has a new project. After being told that because of his broken leg, he is not going to be working on it, the photographer buts in, exclaiming, “Stop sounding stuffy! I’ll take pictures from a Jeep. From a water buffalo, if necessary” (Hitchcock, Rear Window). This quote also depicts Jefferies liking for his job, as well as his urge to get back to work. Not much longer into the film, he is with Lisa Fremont, a popular socialite for whom he has romantic feelings for.
They are arguing over Fremont’s confusion about why his globe-trotting job is so important to him. This causes Jefferies to become annoyed, and say, “I made a simple statement. A true statement — and I can back it up if you shut up for a minute” (Hitchcock, Rear Window). Another characteristic that Jefferies exhibits towards the start of the film is his inability to commit to a relationship.
In the scene mentioned earlier, when Jefferies was on the phone with his boss, he uses marriage as a threat to convince his boss that he can work on the company’s newest project. He said, “Listen. If you don’t pull me out of this swamp of boredom, I’ll do something drastic. I’ll – I’ll get married. Then I’ll never be able to go anywhere” (Hitchcock, Rear Window). He goes on to complain about what it must be like to have a wife: “Can you see me – rushing home to a… nagging wife” (Hitchcock, Rear Window). Subsequently, he even tells his nurse that he doesn’t want to marry Fremont because he’s not ready for marriage, and because, “She’s too perfect. She’s too talented, she’s too beautiful. She’s too sophisticated. She’s too everything but what I want” (Hitchcock, Rear Window).
Likewise, in the opening scenes of North by Northwest, Roger Thornhill also has noticeable flaws. However, one would not guess it at a first glance of the opening scene, where he leaves his office building and swiftly strides down New York’s busy Madison Avenue. As he continues to walk, the audience gets a glimpse into his love life when he asks his assistant to send a box of chocolates to another woman with the womanizer-esque note: “Something for the sweet tooth baby and all your other sweet parts” (Hitchcock, North by Northwest). Hitchcock author, Donald Spoto, perfectly sums up this scene when he says, “The self-assured man in a grey flannel suit is first seen giving orders to his secretary, arranging his business and love life with airy insouciance, sure of his direction and of his ability to displace others (the man he beat out in hailing the taxi, for example)” (348).
Later in the film, while Thornhill is on the run, he meets Eve Kendall. As they start conversing, our thoughts on his womanizer tendencies are confirmed when we hear that he has been married twice before. This leads us to believe that Thornhill also has a hard time committing to a relationship. In Rear Window and North by Northwest, L.B. Jefferies and Roger Thornhill both evince flaws that change throughout the films.
By the end of these Hitchcock masterpieces, the protagonists have changed drastically. Although it might seem like nothing changed because, “Jefferies [continually] looks out the window to distract him from his boredom” (Spoto 238), there was one noticeable change when observing the way he communicates; he no longer speaks to anyone in an abrupt manner. Even when he is faced with difficult situations, such as Thorwald entering his apartment, Jefferies never raises his voice or makes any brusque comments (like he was making in the beginning).
Another notable quality that changed is Jeffery’s ability to commit to a relationship. This is a total contrast from the start of Rear Window, where he went so far as to use marriage as a way to threaten his boss into getting more work. In the closing scene, the camera starts with a shot of Jefferies happily sleeping in his wheelchair, then the camera tracks to Lisa Fremont, who is wearing a pair of jeans, and reading a book on the Adirondacks, before putting it down and picking up a fashion magazine. This scene shows that the two have happily committed to each other. Professor Sander Lee’s interpretation of this closing is that: “This conflict is not resolved, but, through Lisa’s brave contribution toward solving the case, we now see these conflicts as resolvable and perhaps even humorous” (231).
This is good insight, as it acknowledges that there wasn’t really a compromise made on Jeffery’s part, however, Fremont loved him enough to adapt her life around his traveling job. One could also assume that because Jefferies was willing to commit to a relationship, he is interested in becoming a better compromise. After all, in marriage, compromise is a trait needed for the relationship to be successful. Upon watching the end of North by Northwest, one will see lots of change in Cary Grant’s character, Roger Thornhill. First, his view and treatment of women drastically changed. Due to his budding relationship with Eve Kendall, he sees her as someone he can trust. This caused Thornhill to stop thinking of women as replaceable objects, as he expressed in the opening scene.
Although not as direct, it is also worth noting that the involvement of women who were in the early stages of the movie were faded out by the end. His mother, who was an integral part of the beginning, as well as the secretary, the two ex-wives, and the several bartenders were never again mentioned. Secondly, as I alluded to a couple of sentences ago, Thornhill also has gained the ability to commit to a relationship. He stops playing around with multiple women, and decides to settle down with Kendall. We know he made this decision because in the closing scene, we see Kendall struggling to hold onto a mountainside. As Thornhill is helping her up, he encourages her that she can make it by saying, “Come along, Mrs. Thornhill” (Hitchcock, North by Northwest). The camera then cuts to Thornhill helping Kendall up to the sleeping loft of their train car, where they begin to give each other hugs and kisses. Overall, Thornhill has evolved into a more serious character who is more appreciative of the women in his life. It’s fascinating to look at the protagonists L.B. Jefferies, and Roger Thornhill, and compare their development from the beginning of the movie to the end.
I would like to further my analysis of these two characters by discussing what caused the changes I mentioned earlier. At the beginning of Rear Window, “Jefferies is presented as a man who has never come to terms with himself; his lack of self-knowledge and consequent tendency to lapse into compulsive behavior make him an archetypal Hitchcock protagonist” (Wood 101). An example of these compulsive tendencies plays out in the beginning when he makes comments about how it must be miserable to come home to a nagging wife. He is so used to using his job to mask the other problems in his life, such as marriage. I believe that throughout the movie, he comes to terms with these compulsive tendencies, and realizes he wants Lisa Fremont in his life. Because of their love for each other, his overall happiness improved, therefore, causing him to stop being abrupt with people. A drastic change can also be seen in the North by Northwest character, Roger Thornhill. Throughout the movie, he endures near-death encounters and people who want to kill him, and these change him into a better person. By the end of the movie, Thornhill is much more appreciative of his life, and other people, after experiencing the help he had from Kendall and the professor. It also made him more determined to try harder and be the best version of himself.
Hitchcock author, Donald Spoto, sums up Thornhill’s personal progression when he says: “Thornhill’s long and arduous journey becomes a possible voyage toward self-discovery and toward love for another. Throughout his journey, the man is trapped inside places—cars, elevators, train berths, hospital rooms—just as he is trapped inside himself” (351). I thought this was an important quote, as it provides an unorthodox perspective by using scenes from the film, and connects their similarity to the character’s personality. In both movies, there were many events and experiences that were at the root of Jefferies and Thornhill’s change.
Throughout the movies Rear Window and North by Northwest, L.B. Jefferies and Roger Thornhill are almost totally different people when comparing the beginnings and ends of the two movies. In the beginning, Jefferies is very curt with people, not willing to compromise, and fears committing himself to a woman. By that same token, Thornhill is also unable to commit to one woman, while also coming across as a conceited and ruthless man. By the end of the movie, not only did the two develop into more courteous people, but improved their willingness to be in a relationship, as well as changed their outlook about women. This happened in part because of the distressing events these characters went through in the films. Next time you watch a Hitchcock film, keep in mind that the protagonists experience a lot of change throughout the movie, and what you see in the beginning isn’t what you see at the end.