BP’s Top 100 Movie Challenge #7: Vertigo, by Sarah Brinks
I decided to undertake a movie challenge in 2017. This seemed like a good way to see some classic movies that I have unfortunately never seen. The Battleship Pretension Top 100 list provided such a challenge.
I had only seen Vertigo once before. I’m a fan of Alfred Hitchcock’s movies, so I was eager to revisit it. Additionally, I am a big Jimmy Stewart fan. I will admit I like him a most when he is in his sweet or heroic roles, but he had a lot of range and he is wonderful in Vertigo. Much of the film feels a little out of place in the typical Hitchcock style. His films are mysterious and often creepy but not supernatural. For much of the first half, you wonder if Madeleine really is possessed or just crazy.
The supernatural MacGuffin of the film plays out wonderfully. There is the mysterious way that Madeleine disappears at the hotel, the way she goes to the art gallery to stare at the picture of a dead woman, and the way she has no memory of any of those activities. Then of course it is all validated by her husband who seems of sound mind. One of the most convincing moments is when Madeleine and Scottie go to the Redwood Forest and she points out the year she was born and the year she dies on the cross-cut of the tree. Her performance is very detached and convincing. Once it is revealed that Madeleine was a pawn in Scottie’s friend’s murder of his wife it all clicks beautifully into place.
Kim Novak is excellent in her duel roles as Madeleine and Judy. She is so distinctly different as Madeleine, so distant and fragile. But Judy is so confident and sure of herself. I liked that Judy was willing to push back on Scottie when he started to try to change her, but she loved him too much to completely give up on him. The transformation back to Madeleine is creepy and disconcerting. But Scottie’s response to it is even more disturbing. It’s like he is alive again for the first time when he sees her completely done up.
Jimmy Stewart is an actor who always delivers, especially in the films he did with Hitchcock. Scottie isn’t my favorite character he played but it really is a wonderful performance. He starts the film as a level-headed ex-cop who is trying to figure out what his life looks like after he leaves the force. But then he becomes completely wrapped up in the mystery of Madeleine. I think once he rescues her from the bay there was no way he could just let her go. But then after she dies he completely changes. He becomes a shell of the man he once was and is clearly haunted by the memory of Madeleine. Even if Judy wasn’t actually Madeleine the way he treats her is abominable and she should have never put up with it. By the end of the film he had completely lost it and that sadly results in him loosing Madeleine/Judy forever.
I love being up high, the higher the better. I have no problem on ladders, going rock climbing, or going up in skyscrapers so the fear of heights is not a fear I share with Scottie. However, Hitchcock does a good job of showing how crippling a fear it can be and how it impacted his job and life. Once Madeleine “dies” and he couldn’t save her because of his fear he is completely done in. It is so sad, but worked perfectly for the murder plot.
I loved Scottie’s friend Midge, played by Barbara Bel Geddes. I felt so sorry for her because she was so obviously in love with him and he didn’t feel the same. She was so desperate to have in her life that she was willing to have him in whatever way she could, even though it obviously hurt her. When Scottie has his breakdown, it is Midge who is there for him. But then once he discovers Judy, we never see Midge again. I feel she had enough sense that she would have told him that was being a crazy fool and torturing himself as well as Judy. Her absence is notable as he spirals further and further into madness.
I would say the one scene that didn’t work for me was the psychedelic breakdown after Scottie thinks Madeleine died and he couldn’t stop her. It is the scene that feels the most dated with the weird animation and lighting effects. I understand what Hitchcock was trying to do but it just looks cheesy now.
I’ve decided to rate each film using an arbitrary scale based on the board game Battleship (lowest: Destroyer, Submarine, Cruiser, Battleship, highest: Carrier)
Vertigo ranking: Carrier