Cary Grant, D.B. Cooper, and the 1959 film “North by Northwest”

North by Northwest DB Cooper 3 pack

If you’re a fan of Cary Grant, or the 1959 movie North by Northwest, then this post may be of interest.

North by Northwest is considered one of the greatest movies ever made, as well as one of the greatest train related films of all time.  The name of the film has even been said to be a reference to Northwest Airlines.  The main character even looks like D.B. Cooper with his sunglasses, olive skin, and dark suit & tie.

From Wikipedia

North by Northwest is a 1959 American thriller film directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starring Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, and James Mason.

North by Northwest is a tale of mistaken identity, with an innocent man pursued across the United States by agents of a mysterious organization trying to prevent him from blocking their plan to smuggle out microfilm which contains government secrets.

North by Northwest is listed among the canonical Hitchcock films of the 1950s and is often listed among the greatest films of all time.

There are a number of parts about the D.B. Cooper hijacking that seem out of place, and even almost staged (the sunglasses, the dyed black hair, hiding in the lavatory, the flight attendant lighting his cigarettes).  In the movie North by Northwest there are a series of scenes and quotes that make me think William J. Smith and D.B. Cooper were fans of the film.  North by Northwest begins in New York City, and is even filmed at Grand Central, just a few miles from where William J. Smith worked.  The main character is a dapper middle aged man with olive skin, slicked black hair, a dark suit, black tie, and dark sunglasses.  He is running from the FBI, yet ends up helping the government in the end.

Pictures are more telling here than words, so most of this post will be photos.

Bourbon plays a big role in this movie, just like in the D.B. Cooper hijacking.  Here Roger Thornhill (played by Cary Grant) is forced to drink a bottle of bourbon.  Later in the film he will order bourbon to calm his nerves in the hospital.  Also, he is here with his mother Clara pointing out the perpetrators.  Clara is the same name used in the letter to Max Gunther, and one of the main characters in his book.  Clara is played by Jessie Royce Landis, who coincidentally lived in the same town as author Max Gunther in Ridgefield, CT.

DB Cooper newspaper

Roger Thornhill is falsely accused of murdering a diplomat.  The newspaper headline from November 25, 1958 describes the crime and the manhunt.  Exactly 13 years later, in 1971 on the same day, the headlines will tell of the hijacker D.B. Cooper.  Could D.B. Cooper have chosen the night of November 24th for a reason?  One of the busiest travel days of the year (with an almost half moon) is an odd choice to hijack a plane.

Phone booth.png

Here Roger Thornhill is talking to his mother Clara from Grand Central.  The dialogue goes like this:

“I’ll take the train, it’s safer”…“Because there is no place to hide on a plane if anyone should recognize me”…“You want me to jump off a moving plane?”

Following the murder, Roger Thornhill escapes by train at Grand Central in New York City.  He is now wearing sunglasses as a disguise, tries to buy a ticket in his gray suit & black tie, and boards a New York Central Railroad train.  The New York Central was one of the railroads that were part of the Penn Central Railroad, the same railroad that would put William J. Smith’s railroad the Lehigh Valley into bankruptcy.

On the train Roger Thornhill meets a beautiful blonde woman, they spend the rest of the film together.  Here he is having cigarettes with her, just like D.B. Cooper with the attractive blonde flight attendant Tina Mucklow on Flight 305.  Tina lit D.B. Cooper’s cigarettes, here Roger Thornhill lights Eve Kendall’s.

During the train ride, Roger Thornhill hides in the lavatory while law enforcement and train personnel are looking for him.  D.B. Cooper unusually went into the lavatory while Flight 305 was on the tarmac in Seattle.  This act seemed out of place, and was more than just to use the toilet.

NWO ticket line

Here is another coincidence from the movie and the hijacking.  Roger Thornhill is seen here walking through the ticket area for Northwest Orient Airlines, the same airline that D.B. Cooper would hijack in 1971.  D. B. Cooper had a choice of a number of airlines he could have hijacked, yet he chose Northwest Orient.

Towards the end of the film, Roger Thornhill communicates with Eve Kendall using a note written on a matchbook.  Could this be similar to the note D.B. Cooper used to communicate with the flight attendants on Flight 305?  A D.B. Cooper researcher named FLYJACK discovered documents that showed D.B. Cooper wrote notes on the matchbooks during the hijacking.

Matchbook post full page

At the end of the film Roger Thornhill and Eve Kendall are hanging from Mount Rushmore.  The dialogue goes as follows:

Roger Thornhill: “If we ever get out this alive, let’s go back to New York on a train”
Eve Kendall: “Is that a proposition?”
Roger Thornhill: “It’s a proposal sweetie”

They end up surviving and the movie ends on a Southern Pacific Railroad train heading south.

Did North by Northwest in some way play a role in the D.B. Cooper hijacking? Maybe, maybe not.  It would be an interesting twist if so.  Another coincidence related to Cary Grant is from the 1955 Alfred Hitchcock movie To Catch a Thief starring Cary Grant, Grace Kelly, and Jessie Royce Landis (again).  Bourbon plays a role in this film as well.  Also, Cary Grant’s character uses an alias Mr. Smith, who happens to be from Portland, Oregon. Coincidently, actress Jessie Royce Landis appears in both films, as well as the 1970 film Airport about a man who hijacks an airplane using a briefcase bomb. Jessie Royce Landis lived in Ridgefield, CT, down the street from Max Gunther who wrote “DB Cooper: What Really Happened”. Ridgefield was also the setting for the fictitious town named Bridgefield in Cary Grant’s film “In Name Only”.

One final note: When DB Cooper bought his ticket, when asked his name, he said “Dan, Dan Cooper.” Could this have been a homage to another movie character, James Bond?

All images are for informational purposes only and are not intended for commercial use.