Hitchcock was a sick, sick man. This is what I came away from my first full viewing of his “masterpiece” Vertigo feeling. Sick, perverted old man. With a deadly slow idea of how to set up a suspenseful mystery.
Okay, granted, I dislike mysteries as a rule. Despite having cut my teeth as a voracious reader on the likes of the Hardy Boys, Encyclopedia Brown and Hitchcock’s own Three Investigators before graduating to Ellery Queen and Agatha Christie, I just don’t have the patience anymore. I know what is going to happen before it does. Even Rob was impressed by my ability to predict the plot turns. I am rarely surprised. I knew the guy was really dead in The Sixth Sense the whole time which was a real buzzkill. But, Vertigo is more than a dull mystery. The main character is one sick little puppy, and it seemed that the movie was an exercise in making people squirm with discomfort more than anything else.
Basically main character, Scottie, was duped into shadowing a woman who was supposedly possessed by her dead great-grandmother by the woman’s husband – an old college chum – in order for him to use Scottie’s fear of heights to cover the murder of said granny inhabited wife. The dastardly husband hired a look-alike to impersonate his wife for Scottie’s benefit and play “crazy” . Then at the appointed time she runs up into a bell tower, where Scottie can’t follow her due to that inconvenient fear of heights thing and the resulting vertigo, and the husband is waiting for her with his already dead wife whom he throws off the balcony. The death is ruled a suicide with the help of Scottie’s testimony about the instability he witnessed. Husband jets off to Europe with inheritance (and probably a Playboy Bunny) and love-sick Scottie does a little time in the psych ward for “acute melancholy”. Seriously, that’s what they called it back then and, apparently, you look wan, can’t follow conversations and need to listen to Mozart when it strikes you.
Poor Scottie though had fallen in love with the wife, Madeleine. When he ran across her impersonator (now a red-head instead of a platinum blonde), he recognized the face but thought she was merely a woman who looked like his dead love, and was not the woman herself.
Now here is where it gets creepy. Instead of running off when she is found again, the woman plays along with Scottie as he “remakes” her into the image of Madeleine. She knows she is the woman he fell for but he thinks she is someone else and wants to recreate his lost love. He can’t love her until she is a replica of someone he believes is dead.
I couldn’t believe this was a classic. I had to look it up on Wikipedia and follow a few links to discover that I was right. It was until the 1970’s when it was pulled from distribution and someone included it in a book on great films (in his opinion) that the movie began to be regarded as one of Hitchcock’s great works. And then it was only considered great because it is so rough and choppy and because he was meticulous about his movies, it was supposed he did this deliberately for artistic effect.
The only thing edgy about this film – because the VistaVision effects are cheesy beyond even the least sophisticated audience 1958 could have offered – was Jimmy Stewart seeking to cure his grief through screwing the doppelganger of his dead lover.
Of course, there is a twist. It is Hitchcock. At the end, Scottie figures out what has happened and takes the woman, Judy, back to the bell tower to force the truth from her. As she is confessing and then professing her love for him, someone is seen in the shadows startling Judy into accidentally jumping from the same spot the real Madeleine was thrown from. Instant Karma.
I squirmed through the whole transformation of Judy. I can’t imagine needing love so desperately I would settle for being a stand-in for someone else. Literally.
And yeah, Scottie does bang her once the transformation is complete though due to the era there is the chaste cut away to his satiated post coital self waiting for Judy to finish dressing for dinner. Should be grateful for 1950’s morality in this instance because at this point in the story, he thinks she is his Madeleine look-a-like rather than the actual woman he fell in love with. Maybe not on par with the X-Files episode where the man ices his lady friends down so they more corpse-like, but approaching that on some level where normal people don’t go.
Hitchcock loved the sick sad psyche, but usually the plot didn’t sputter or meander as much.