Vertigo (1958)

The problem with giving kids information and letting them come to their own conclusions, of course, is that they often come to the wrong damn conclusions! I mean, if the British Film Institute’s Sight and Sound Magazine says Vertigo is the greatest film of all time, who are you to say otherwise?

My kids have no respect for authority.

Carlotta followed me on Twitter!
The Ghost of Carlotta Valdez disapproves.

I’m kidding, of course. Not about the “no respect for authority”; that’s dead on. But that I cared whether or not they agreed with the BFI or not. Actually, I warned them going in that, while the movie was very good indeed, it probably wouldn’t be their favorite of all time. And, in fact, they actually liked Frenzy (1972) a bit better, which is probably a bit unusual way to rank Hitchcock films, at least these days.

It only broke even at the time, and Hitch blamed Jimmy Stewart who, at 50, was too old to play Kim Novak’s love interest. On the other hand, Stewart and Novak were in the “blockbuster” Bell, Book and Candle the same year. Note that BB&C may not have actually been a blockbuster, since tortured and secretive Hollywood accounting doesn’t permit the truth to come out, and Wikipedia lists Vertigo in the top 10 box office for the year (“citation needed”) at around $5.5M but also gives a figure about half that under the entry for Vertigo itself, and doesn’t list BB&C at all in its top 10.

Whatever. The Novak/Stewart chemistry is just fine, in both movies, not so much because Stewart isn’t old but because the 25-year-old Novak has such poise and grace (as needed) she seems much older. She actually seems older than Stewart in BB&C, where she plays a 200-year-old witch.

My, my, my.
Amazing. 20-somethings who are also grownups.

However, The Flower pointed out the real problem, and this will be a spoiler if you haven’t seen the film.

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Stewart does not get the girl at the end. Primarily, one presumes, because she falls to hear death from the mission tower when the spooky nun comes up. And I remember that bothering me quite a bit when I first saw it, too.

The second time I saw it, I thought it was overlong (2 hours and 8 minutes) and the animated sequences didn’t work.

Anyway, this time, I realized, well, Judy (Novak) is kind of a monster. She conspires with Gavin Elster to cover up the murder of his wife—which, one must note, has not happened yet, so she’s an accessory to murder—leaves Scottie (Stewart) on the hook for the murder, and lets him twist in the wind in a sanitarium thinking he let her fall to her death because of his acrophobia. (Somehow, when De Palma was ripping this off, repeatedly, he never once called a movie Acrophobia.)

I kid because what're they gonna do? Haunt me?
I AM OZ! THE GREAT AND POWERFUL!

Stewart’s bound to be, well, a little upset over this. And yet, in the Hitchcockian tradition, you kind of expect him to get over it, and for the two to live happily ever after. There’s a lot of betrayal and mistrust in Hitchcock movies between men and women, after all, though in most cases it’s misunderstanding based on exigent circumstances (like pretending to work for the bad guy, a la North by Northwest or Notorious).

In this case, no, Judy has genuinely psychically scarred Scottie, to where he walks around seeing her in every well-coiffed blonde on the street. (A great sequence that anyone who’s ever had a broken heart can relate to.)

Is it great? Undoubtedly. I buy into the supernatural angle every time, just like I always think that Eve is a real go-getter.

Is it the greatest? Mmmm. I dunno. I dunno if it’s the greatest Hitch film, much less the greatest film of all time. It’s awful dark, without Hitch’s usual sense of humor. I don’t want to blame the French, but the novelists were the same frogs who did Diabolique and Demoniac, which are not exactly light romps. You could argue that Psycho and Frenzy are also not light romps, but I think you’d be wrong: In most of Hitch’s films there is a clear good-vs-evil struggle and it is the clarity, not the magnitude of the evil, that makes a film darker or lighter.

In Vertigo, we’re presented a doomed love story where we can’t help but want Judy to succeed, to win, to escape, but the morality of the play insists that the murderer must meet his fate. So, we get darkness. All because Scottie couldn’t get over whatever it was Midge (Barbara Bel Geddes, a decrepit 36-year-old at the time) did to him in college, or whatever.

Great film, but if you’re expecting the greatest, you might be disappointed.

But SHE left HIM!
One can only hope Scottie comes around and goes back to Midge.

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