Mount Rushmore, South Dakota
The Mount Rushmore National Memorial is a sculpture carved into the granite face of Mount Rushmore near Keystone, South Dakota, in the United States. Sculpted by Danish-American Gutzon Borglum and his son, Lincoln Borglum, Mount Rushmore features 60-foot sculptures of the heads of four United States presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln.
North by Northwest (1959)
Mount Rushmore appears in the final section of North by Northwest. Apart from the initial establishing shots and footage in the car park, both the cafeteria and the climatic chase across the historic monument were filmed back at the MGM soundstages.
Whilst the film was in pre-production, the National Park Service had granted tentative permission for location filming on the strict proviso that no scenes of violence would be filmed "near the sculpture [or] on the talus slopes below the structure" or on "any simulation or mock-up of the sculpture or talus slope." The permit was subsequently withdrawn by the Department of the Interior after a newspaper published an interview with Hitchcock in which the director described how he planning a violent chase across the granite faces.
Due to the objection of the government, we weren't allowed to have any of the figures on the faces, even in the interior studio shots ... We were told very definitely that we could only have the figures slide down between the heads of the presidents. They said that after all, this is the shrine to democracy.— Alfred Hitchcock
The main problem in the Mount Rushmore sequence was to make it believable that two people could climb down the face of Mount Rushmore — it couldn't be done, but we had to make it look believable. So, we went up to Mount Rushmore, climbed up the back and found that on the top of each one of the heads there was a huge iron ring, with a cable and bosun's chair... We then lowered down each face and photographed in every direction possible every 10 feet and those became the backgrounds.— Robert F. Boyle
The chase sequence was then storyboarded so that the photographs could be used either as mattes or blown up to form large canvas backdrops. The final effect was so convincing that Alice Hughes of Variety mistakenly reported, "This is no studio mock-up; the actual national monument serves as the scene in those last terrifying moments of sliding down the neck and chest of George Washington and the craggy features of Abraham Lincoln".
Notes & References
- PBS.org: Mount Rushmore
- Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light (2003) by Patrick McGilligan, page 569
- The Dark Side of Genius: The Life of Alfred Hitchcock (1983) by Donald Spoto, page 407
- PBS.org: Mount Rushmore
- National Post (25/Jun/1999) - 'I'll only tell you if I don't like what you're doing'