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Between Takes on the Mount Rushmore Set of ‘North By Northwest’

Can’t film a movie at the real Mount Rushmore? Make your own.

North by Northwest Mount Rushmore Set
Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint on North by Northwest's Mount Rushmore set.

When discussing legendary director Alfred Hitchcock, most people default to talking about his most notable horror films: “Psycho” and “The Birds” most of all. However, some of Hitchcock’s best films weren’t horror at all, but rather spy films, just like “North by Northwest.

Hitchcock made “North by Northwest” during arguably the best time in his career: right after 1958’s “Vertigo,” and he followed it up with “Psycho” in 1960. The film follows Cary Grant as Roger Thornhill, an American man, as he unravels a complex plot he finds himself thrown in the middle of. The movie jumps from place to place across America, with the film’s climax taking place at Mount Rushmore in South Dakota.

While some exterior films were shot in South Dakota, the crew obviously couldn’t film up on the mountain itself. There was no way to safely shoot the movie’s action scenes on what amounts to a cliff face, regardless of the legality of making a movie running around on one of America’s iconic monuments. Since green screen was a long way off, there was only one real solution: make a replica set of the Mount Rushmore carvings.

Though undoubtedly plenty of work, it certainly paid off. The final scene looks tremendous, and one of “North by Northwest’s” three Academy Award nominations was for art direction. Solid art direction and set design has always been tremendously important to movies, and is arguably even more so for large-scale action movies like “North by Northwest.”

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