• North by Northwest and Grand Central

  • Discussion relating to the NYC and subsidiaries, up to 1968. Visit the NYCS Historical Society for more information.
Discussion relating to the NYC and subsidiaries, up to 1968. Visit the NYCS Historical Society for more information.

Moderator: Otto Vondrak

  by UpperHarlemLine4ever
Does anyone know if the Grand Central Terminal scenes in the movie North by Northwest were actually filmed in Grand Central Terminal or in some mock up? I maintain that it was but my son, who is a keen observer of details says that he believes that it was filmed using a mockup. He tells me that there were scenes in other movies of Penn Station, New York that were so real looking but that they were in fact made in a mock up of Penn Station. If anyone knows the answer, in advance thank you.
  by Tom Curtin
You know, not very long ago I read a book on Hitchcock's films that may have answered that question but I honestly do not recall!!! All I can say is, if it is a "set" it's incredibly authentic. As an unconfirmed opinion I'm inclined to believe it is the real place.

(Another comment on the same movie: The Mount Rushmore scenes were very definitely a set because the National Park Service has a strict policy of not allowing any scenes containing violence to be filmed on their premises)
  by eddiebear
The scene along the platform at GCT was filmed at a studio. Check the Geoff Doughty book on NYC streamlined cars and you'll get the story.
  by Tom Curtin
Set or not, the sequence on the Century is a true classic. Long before the film "Titanic" (well, the first half of that film . . .) showed how romantic shipboard life is, "North by Northwest" showed us that a night in a train bedroom is one of the most romantic experiences there is:

Cary Grant: "How can you be sure I'm not going to kill you?"

Eva Marie Saint: "Please do . . . . "

(fade out. . . . . Next scene is on the platform at La Salle St. the folloiwng morning)
  by latonyco
Actually after that scene we see the porter delivering a message to Martin Landau and James Mason in their drawing room. Then the scene shifts to an exterior view of the train approaching Breakneck tunnel. Fade from that scene to 4044 at LaSalle Street Station the next morning.
  by latonyco
I am sure that the Grand Central Terminal main concourse scenes were filmed on location. I do not remember ever hearing a departure announcement made at train time for the Twentieth Century Limited or any other long distance NYC train at that time. The phone booths where Roger Thornhill calls his mother, however, were placed in the location, by the New Haven train gates, for that production. The scenes at window 15, where Roger and Ned Glass' ticket seller character exchange their dialogue, are quite authentic as are the one where Roger Thornhill is dashing through the train gate at track 34.
Early in the movie we see Alfred Hitchcock in his cameo appearance as he tries to board a bus in front of GCT, on 42nd Street, only to have the door shut in his face as the bus leaves.

The GCT platform scenes were supposedly filmed in the studio. That same platform set was used by MGM in filming other motion pictures with GCT scenes. Among them was "The Bandwagon" released in 1953 starring Fred Astaire. Having just arrived in NY he exits the train and walks toward the terminal as he sings "By Myself." The main concourse scene in that movie, where he is met by Nanette Fabray and Oscar Levant, is definitely a studio mock up. That same platform set was shown retrospectively in MGM's 1975 movie "That's Entertainment." By then it was in pretty tattered condition.
  by Charles Lancelot
Here again, my advanced age (64) is an advantage. I attended Notre Dame University from 1958-1962, the beginning of the end for passenger service on NYC. My roomie and I travelled virtually always between GCT and South Bend either on No. 6 and Nos. 25/26. He and I also were both Hitchcock fans from pre-"Psycho" days, and he additionally was a camera nut from day one.

Well, guys, he just happened to be entering GCT in the summer of 1959 from a NYNH&H run from CosCob, CT, and what did he find in the main grand concourse? Why, Hitchcock, Cary Grant and crew on location filming the famous ticket window and other scenes. He stood rooted to the spot, and actually watched and heard Hitchcock giving direction. I heard about it blow-by-blow in our dorm the following Fall. It was real!

I can't vouch for the in-Pullman and in-diner scenes, because authentic as they appear, even to the interior colors, in fact Hecht/MacArtrhur's original "20th Century" played on Broadway in a mockup of the heavyweight obs Elkhart Valley whose identical likeness to the real car is scary. Just look it up in Beebe's original "20th Century Limited" (1962). However, the passing Hudson River outside the dining car window is real, the unmistakably NYC DC substation transmission cables and all, though it might have been previously filmed and was used in "NbyNW" as a rear-projection, which Hitch was well known for using.

And finally, for you Hitchcock fans, remember "Vertigo", which just preceded "NbyNW"? Of course, the two famous climactic scenes take place atop the church steeple in the California mission, from which Kim Novak actually does fall backwards to her "death" at the end. My camera nut roomie, after graduation, actually made a Hitchcock "pilgrimage" including a special trip to the mission where the footage was, in this case as well, actually shot on location. And there was the famus church, right on the property. But guess what? NO TOWER!! The tower scenes were shot with mockups and multiple cameras!

The end of "North by Northwest", with the famous phallic closing tunnel scene immediately faded into when Cary Grant pulls Eva Marie Saint into his berth is clearly fake: those are SP Black Widows plowing into the bore. For a good read on Hitch's kinkier bents, read "Hitchcock; the Dark Side of Genius".

Those were fun days!
  by latonyco
Charles, it was interesting to read your friend's account of the filming of North by Northwest at CGT. I'm sure that it must have been a fun and interesting experience to witness such an event. As many times as I visited the terminal in the middle to late fifties, I'm sorry to say that I missed what must have been an historic occurrence, to say the least.
I feel duty bound, however, to point out that NBNW was filmed during 1958. That would include the GCT scenes. It was released in the fall of '59 with its world premier at Radio City Music Hall.
As further proof of this one only has to look at the automobiles in various scenes of the movie. The newest were of 1958 vintage Including the Cadillac limo in which Cary Grant's character was abducted from the Plaza Hotel.
  by TCurtin
That golden oldie showed up on TCM again last week so i want to resurrect the old debate about whether the platform scene was filmed at GCT or not.
I replayed th scene on my DVD . . . and again . . . and again and I am certain that's track 34 at GCT. Since we live on the MN Hudson Line (in diesel territory) we have ample opportunity to walk down that platform and I can tell you I made many a walk down it to board an MN train on track 34 (including very recently, like a week and a half ago). They couldn't, or wouldn't fabricate a set that was such a perfect reproduction of track 34.

Now, that said, the consist on the platform may not be the 20th Century, and I suspect it isn't ----- most likely some cars the NYC put there for the filming, and even the famous red carpet. In the move scene you do not ever see the Century's distinctive obs. As Grant boards the train you briefly see the interior of a tavern lounge car that could be any NYC tavern lounge. The dining car scene is absolutely not the Century's twin unit diner, it seems to be one of the NYC "Grill Diners". The drawing room interior is almost certainly a created set.

Since I so often ride the Hudson Line i will attest to the authencity of the Hudson River views out the windows (such as passing under the Tappan Zee Bridge), except for one of two clips where the train passes the same location twice