Sunday 1 July 2018 03.41am
‘Crime Turns to Love and Love Turns to Hate’ 2018
An Alfred Hitchcock Film
Second time around, once you’ve been burned, crime turns to love and love turns to hate. It’s a story as old as the hills and as new as the baby born this second. In Vertigo, it’s difficult for me to tell whether it’s Judy or Scottie who is coming for the second time round. It’s also always been difficult for me to watch James Stewart being cruel, manipulative, brutal and completely selfish.
He was my favourite actor from the 1930s and 40s. He was the innocent who fights against the forces that people with money and power can control. To see him transform from Mr Smith (James Stewart) into Mr Clegg (Terence Stamp) has always been hard for me.
[There’s still so much innocence within me that I believe in people like Mr Smith & Mr Deeds and Tony Kirby & John Doe and George Bailey: misunderstood and living on the fringe. It’s not necessarily a fringe of wealth or power or poverty. Just the fringe of being able to make ends meet. The fringe of negotiating today’s mental hazards with tomorrow’s.]
I felt, last night, like I really need to watch Vertigo again, for myself, having spent so much time reading Dan Aulier’s reconstruction of the making of the film over the last three or four months. I’ve had the book on loan from the local library for weeks and weeks, had to return it, then go back the next day to borrow it again, because I’d renewed it as many times as I was allowed.
Since finishing the book on The Making of a Hitchcock Classic about three days ago I’ve felt desperate to watch Vertigo again to look at so many of the shots and plot points that the book talks about. It seemed appropriate to watch films 1 and 2 on that list from the BFI which I’ve been following.
My first response now, having seen the film again within the context of how it was received in 1958, how it was received in 1983 when re-released, and how it was received in 2006, when it was restored, is to notice the handful of fortuitous accidents and the thousand of carefully crafted moments which were part of how Hitchcock envisaged the film the night before he went on location to roll his camera on his actors for the first time. Auelier’s book is so meticulously reserached – so exact – with dates from files in Paramount archives and through his access to diaries and other accounts that important decisions can be seen to have been made on a certain day or before or after a particular date.
The most significant reaction I have on seeing this film for the third time in 365 days and for, probably, the 7th time, possibly as much as 10th time, is it was fortunate that James Stewart got the role, that Vera Miles dropped out and Kim Novak was loaned by Columbia for $250,000 to Hitchcock, that Samuel Taylor came up with the idea of revealing the twist thirty minutes before the climax, and that several people – it’s uncertain who, exactly – demanded that Judy’s confession scene be reinstated, that Hitchcock had the strong foundation of Paramount’s 5-picture deal with him, that Hitchcock and Herrmann have the germ of genius within them to allow it to flow out of their brains, here and then, then and now, now and then. That genius from those two artists flows throughout the length of the film and is supported by particular members of the crew who were asked to bring their particular skill, their particular craft, or strength, when it was their opportunity to produce something amazing.
These points, these things, were not certainties when Hitchcock decided that after The Wrong Man, Vertigo, would be his next film.
In Hollywood, Announcements are Never a Sure Thing
1. James Stewart had made two consecutive films with H which seemed to indicate they had a happy working relationship and would continue to do so. JS thought he was a certainty to play Scottie in Vertigo. He also thought he was a certainty to play Roger Thornhill in North by Northwest. Behind the scenes, Hitchcock wanted Cary Grant for North by Northwest and kept holding out to see if he waited long enough Grant’s schedule would allow it. Meanwhile he didn’t want to lose Stewart, so while he and Ernest Lehmann were getting the NbNW script in order, he kept delaying a starting date. After three films with Hitchcock, JS was probably right to think that NbNW was a sincere offer and would come off. H may well have been juggling two actors’ schedules with the progress with Lehmann on the screenplay, trying to keep both options alive and not wanting to make a decision until he was certain of who was available.
There probably aren’t any nice guys in Hollywood, and H was likely as bad as anyone else when it came to sweet-talking people and trying to get what he wanted. Everyone has an agenda and when H had to settle for KN, he was unkind, after the fact, in his comments on her performance. Other reports indicate he was unkind to both Vera Miles for dropping out, and KN, during filming. MN quotes JS as saying, “‘I was discovering for the first time – after all those years – that Hollywood was really a cut-throat business.’ Jim told me, “It wasn’t my actor friends who were cutting throats. It was the directors.'” [p.239]
There’s no clear evidence of who he said this to and what films and directors it was regarding. It’s a comment inserted in the context of losing roles in Anthony Mann and Hitchcock projects, Man of the West and North by Northwest.
Hitchcock is quoted in both DD and MN’s biographies as saying he was relieved when JS had to start filming BB&C for Columbia and dropped out, because that gave him the chance to get CG, who he wanted, but previously was unavailable. It’s lucky that these kind of behind-the-scenes machinations didn’t interfere with JS doing Vertigo.
2. It’s similarly a matter of circumstances that gave KN the role of M/Judy. H didn’t want her, but recognised the appeal of a box office attraction like Novak. Paramount had to jump through hoops thrown by Harry Cohn (Columbia) to allow them to borrow her. One condition was that JS agreed to do a film Novak for Columbia. (need page quotes from Aulier and MN and DD)
3. Samuel Taylor’s idea (DA, V) to reveal the twist in the French novel, three-quarters of the way through the film, instead of at the end, was inspired. It made the film not about the mystery but about the relationships. It made it a film about Judy pretending to be Madeleine, and then forced to become Madeleine for a second time, and Scottie changing from a nice guy into a controlling, angry, guy. (DA has three different accounts of how the revelation was made earlier, and how it got put back into the film, after Hitchcock had decided to delete it from the film. The timing here is unclear but DA makes a good case for this guess, when he attributes the decision to the way things were the day before Alma H was released from hospital and the days after she was released.)
4. The natural genius of Hitchcock and Herrmann.
5. The others: the creator of the dolly out-zoom in shot; the dream sequence; the Saul Bass titles, the costumes and editing, the special effects work and Hitchcock insisting that Vertigo was the right title, and not giving way.
6. Hitchcock’s 5-picture deal with Paramount which gave him a lot of freedom and autonomy, especially when he didn’t take a fee, made it as a co-production with Paramount and his own company, and took on part of the development costs. His jackpot of huge money from his television venture, Alfred H Presents, meant he could work for free, on projects he was passionate about.
[Michael Nunn: Jimmy Stewart: The Truth Behind The Legend, 2005 has a list of sources but hasn’t taken the time to attribute any given source or reference from other books to numerous comments which he quotes. A completely unreliable book. Compare the Katharine Hepburn biography with the hundreds and hundreds of specific articles, letters or archival references. That’s how you write a biography.]
[Donald Dewey: James Stewart: A Biography, 19]
Stewart becomes Elster. Judy becomes who she really is, and wants to continue loving Scottie even though it doesn’t make any sense. So instead of running she stays but Scottie isn’t who he was before just as she isn’t who she was when she pretending to be Madeleine.
Judy wasn’t who she represented in the first half, and Scottie isn’t, in the second half, who he represented himself to be in the first half. But they miss each other. We see the nice guy in Scottie in the first part and the nice girl in Judy in the second part. The mirrors they pass in the film, in Ernie’s, in the dress shop, in her hotel room, reveal how, from two people, they have become four separate people.
When he took M to the old building the first time it was to get rid of her fears. This time, it was to get rid of his fears. But Scottie of the second part isn’t the same Scottie. He’s become deceitful. He lies to Midge, and won’t tell her what he’s being doing, saying he’s been “wandering.” When Judy wants to know where they are going at the end (We’re going awfully far”), he tells her, “I just feel like driving”, Judy asks, “Where’re you going?” “One final thing I have to do. (beat) And then I’ll be free of the past.”
I’ve now looked more closely at KN’s performance, in the light of H’s quotes about what she didn’t do which he wanted from her performance, and what she says about how H treated her and how she thought she did pretty well.
In fact, she did brilliantly. She is different, through her voice, even though her eyebrows are unmistakable. She plays Judy playing M as a deadpan actress. There’s hardly any inflection in her voice. It’s as if she’s been told to do everything she can possibly do to not play Judy as if she is playing a role and just deliver a one-dimensional character – Madeleine. Then in Part 2 she is allowed to raise the pitch of her voice, act, become sad, become forlorn, become scared because she knows that she’s been found out.
The danger of lies and deceit when developing relationships, is that you can’t have a foundation any more solid than the base., which the two people involved create for themselves.
It’s a delight to watch the film and break it down into all its elements: direction, photography, design, costumes, music, acting, writing, storytelling, craft-makers and editing.