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Trains figure prominently into North by Northwest, so it is no coincidence that Saul Bass would design a title sequence that opens with lines crisscrossing the screen like railroad tracks. After a few seconds, however, it becomes apparent that the lines have come to form a different shape - that of a skyscraper. In large block letters, the film’s title and the names of the featured actors swiftly move up and down the screen like elevator cars. Soon after, the lines seamlessly merge into an actual shot of a building, with a sea of yellow taxis reflected in its mirrored façade. Bernard Herrmann’s score swells in the background, and Bass’ titles continue to run as the action shifts to crowded Manhattan street scenes. The final credit (for the director) appears as a portly man (Hitch in his trademark cameo) races in attempt to catch a bus, only to see the doors shut in his face.
The nameless city skyscraper and masses of people rushing run in strict contrast to the film’s most striking images: a crop-dusting plane hovering above a desolate stretch of land and a woman dangling off the top of Mount Rushmore. However, the anonymity suggested by the opening scenes foreshadows the shifting identities of the film’s main characters, played by Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint. In an urban jungle like the one pictured, a case of mistaken identity hardly seems improbable. North by Northwest is a fast-paced thriller that keeps audiences on their toes; Bass’ opening segment gives audience a taste of the ride they’re in for.