“Do you believe that a blonde from the past – a dead blond – can enter and take possession of a living being? Or that a man could become obsessed with the past as a result of that blonde!” Or that a director, already obsessed with blondes, would make a movie revealing that obsession to the watchful eye? If so, you just may become obsessed with Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 masterpiece, Vertigo. Hitch was eerily obsessed with beautiful, young blondes as Tippi Hedren, the star of his 1963 thriller The Birds, often discussed. That obsession is also the subject of Sacha Gervasi’s biopic, Hitchcock, which was nominated for the Best Makeup & Hairstyling Oscar this year.
Vertigo stars James Stewart as Scottie Ferguson, a retired detective in the San Francisco Police Department. As the story begins, he’s been retired a few months because of a catastrophic episode of his acrophobia – fear of heights – which resulted in the death of uniformed officer. He loves detective work but, because of his condition, he can no longer work the streets and he doesn’t want a desk job. His ex-fiancé & best friend, Midge (Barbara Bel Geddes), is helping him through his acrophobia when he tells her how an old college buddy of theirs, Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore) wants to see him. Gavin is concerned with his wife Madeleine’s (Kim Novak) recent amnesia. He thinks she’s possessed & hires Scottie to tail her. Madeleine is stunning & Scottie is mesmerized by her. He follows her to: A flower shop where she buys a bouquet; then to the century old grave of Carlotta Valdez in Mission Dolores; and finally to a museum where she sits & stares at A Portrait of Carlotta for hours. She’s the image of Carlotta in the portrait, right down to their matching bouquets & hair style. Only their outfits differ, but Scottie loves Madeleine’s elegant gray suit. Jimmy Stewart was one of the best motion picture actors of his or any generation. Yet it was arguably his second most important career: He was a Major (or Two-Star) General in the Air Force.
Vertigo was a commercial & critical disappointment for a ‘50’s Hitchcock film. Hitch blamed Stewart, saying he was too old at 49 for the lead. This was their final of 4 collaborations. Nonetheless, Vertigo was nominated for 2 Academy Awards in 1959 at the 31st Oscars: Art Direction; and Sound. Both are great like everything else in the piece, including Bernard Herrmann’s haunting Theme & beautiful score. Alfred Hitchcock directed 54 features and was nominated for 5 Oscars, all after he came to the U.S. He was given the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award in ‘68 at the 40th Oscars. His acceptance speech, still the shortest in the history of the Academy Awards, was simply “Thank you.”. Hitchcock made a cameo appearance in most of his movies including Vertigo. Watch the embedded trailer below then stream the movie on Amazon.com or hit your local library & borrow a copy to see if you can find HItch making his cameo in this, his second best movie ever*.
He’s also renowned for perfecting the MacGuffin: A plot ploy used to move the characters along in the story. Although a MacGuffin may seem important, it isn’t really. The best way to know if something is a MacGuffin is to substitute the word & see if anything changes. For instance, in Psycho, Marion (Janet Leigh) steals $40000 & flees Phoenix where she meets Norman Bates & her demise at the Bates Motel. But if she stole a MacGuffin & stayed over at the Bates, wouldn’t her fate have been the same? When you watch the piece (and you damned well better do so, and QUICK!!!), see if you can find a MacGuffin in Vertigo, as well. It was my great privilege to have Blogged it for you. 4 Stars!
* Spellbound, starring the great Gregory Peckery and The Greatest Ingrid Bergman, of course! 🙂