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Movie: Vertigo (1958)

This episode of Last Heartthrob episode contains some following, the way that James Stewart follows Kim Novak in Vertigo.

You might watch for other parallels, too.

"'Did he train you? Did he rehearse you? Did he tell you what to do and what to say?'

"This cry from a wounded heart comes at the end of Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo, and by the time it comes we are completely in sympathy. A man has fallen in love with a woman who does not exist, and now he cries out harshly against the real woman who impersonated her. But there is so much more to it than that. The real woman has fallen in love with him. In tricking him, she tricked herself. And the man, by preferring his dream to the woman standing before him, has lost both." – Roger Ebert

Discussion

In his conversation with Francois Truffaut, Alfred Hitchcock explained why he wanted to make a movie of D'Entre Les Morts."I was intrigued with the efforts to create a woman in the image of a dead woman." That's the plot side. "The sex, the psychological side is that you have a man creating a sex image...He can't go to bed with her until he's got her back to the thing he wants to go to bed with." Don't blame Hitch for the broken English here. Truffaut spoke in French, Hitch got the questions through an interpreter, and he knew his answers would be translated back into French. He mentions his favorite scene. "When she came back from having her hair made blonde and it wasn't up, this means, she has stripped, but won't take her knickers off. When she says all right and goes into the bathroom and he's waiting, he's waiting for the woman to undress and come out nude. That's what I meant."

There are two women in Vertigo, Midge, played by Barbara Bel Geddes is the woman who really understands Scottie, the woman he ought to be with, but she’s not the object of his obsession. Alfred Hitchcock had that kind of relationship with an actress. His problem was that he was already happily married and she ran off to marry a prince. How much do you think Vertigo was influenced by the fact that the Midge Alfred Hitchcock lost looked like this?


In the book that Hitchcock adapted, the plot reveal, that the living woman and the dead woman are the same woman, a decoy in a murder plot, comes at the end. Hitchcock gives that secret away much earlier. Roger Ebert writes, “From the moment we are let in on the secret, the movie is equally about Judy: her pain, her loss, the trap she's in. Hitchcock so cleverly manipulates the story that when the two characters climb up that mission tower, we identify with both of them, and fear for both of them, and in a way Judy is less guilty than Scottie.

“The danger is to see Judy, played by Novak, as an object in the same way that Scottie sees her. She is in fact one of the most sympathetic female characters in all of Hitchcock.”

Do we see Judy as one of Hitchcock’s most sympathetic female characters or as an object? Why?


Naturally, a film about “metaphorical necrophilia,” Alfred Hitchcock’s words to Truffaut, should have problems with the Motion Picture Production code. It is certainly a morally ambiguous film. Scottie falls in love with the woman he believes to be his client’s wife. The only wrongdoer punished in the film receives the death penalty for impersonation. Elster, the perpetrator of the crime had escaped to another country. Thus, the part of Vertigo you probably haven’t seen.

Geoffrey Shurlock of the U.S. Production Code Administration noted: "It will, of course, be most important that the indication that Elster will be brought back for trial is sufficiently emphasized."

Hitchcock finally succeeded in fending off most of Shurlock's demands (which included toning down erotic allusions) and had the alternative ending dropped. The footage was discovered in Los Angeles in May 1993.

By the end of Vertigo, do you think the Hays Code is as dead as Judy Barton? Why or why not? If so, was Hitchcock’s accomplishment to slaying it a good or bad thing?

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