Recently, for some reason I don’t understand, Vertigo (1958) was suddenly declared the best movie of all time. Although I’m relieved that the title was taken away from Citizen Kane (1941), I found this new choice just as troublesome.
You see, in my opinion, for a movie to be considered the best of all time, it can’t be deeply flawed. Vertigo, although it’s gorgeously directed and has some stunning visuals, is probably the most deeply flawed out of Hitchcock’s career, even more so than his flops like Marnie and Torn Curtain. Those other films may have been dull, plodding and lifeless but at least the script and the storytelling were competent. Vertigo’s script, on the other hand, is not only an amateurish, plot hole-ridden mess, Hitchcock made a major storytelling blunder that kept Vertigo from being the flawless masterpiece it could have been but everyone thinks it is.
To explain why I feel this way, I’m going to start from the smallest issues that mar the film and work my way up to the largest and most egregious.
Scottie and Midge’s First Scene
I am always amazed that no one ever calls out that very first scene that Scottie and Midge have together in her apartment. It’s beyond awful.
The first problem is the dialogue. Scottie and Midge feed information to the audience in a classic expository way that comes across as clunky and unnatural:
Scottie: We were engaged once, were we?
Madge: Three whole weeks.
Scottie: Yeah, good old college days. But you were the one that called off the engagement.
As if this doesn’t sound unnatural enough, “acrophobia” is mentioned at least three times, explained twice and brought up in an equally fake-sounding way. It doesn’t get any worse than when Scottie grouses, “What about my acrophobia?”
The scene is also completely tonally off compared to the rest of the film, with a lot of mugging from Scottie regarding the “corset” he has to wear, as well as some absurd jokes about the bra that Midge is designing. In any other film, this would be cute, but it’s the type of humor that makes the movie look like something out of the Frank Capra films Stewart used to play instead of some intense psychological thriller with dark sexual overtones.
Cop Out Ending
One of Hitchcock’s biggest problems as a director is that he never knew how to end his movies or just didn’t care. More than half the time, his movies ended on a cheap cop out. You can see this problem rearing its ugly head in The Man Who Knew Too Much, Frenzy and The Birds.
The ridiculous last scene in Vertigo’s bell tower is another classic example. Judy is standing next to the arch at the bell tower as she’s being confronted by Scottie. A nun comes up the staircase and she suddenly flinches in fright, backs up and accidentally falls out of the tower and plunges to her death like the real Mrs. Elster. There’s no set up explaining why she would’ve overreacted in such an over the top way. It just happens.
Worse yet, there’s not even anything ironic or poetic about her falling off the tower. She falls, and that’s it. Try as everyone might to come up with all kinds of theories about this scene, there’s really nothing much more to it than it being just another one of Hitchcock’s cop out endings. He basically just went, “Ah, screw it. She sees a nun, falls out of the tower and dies. The end.”
The McKittrick Hotel Scene
In an early scene in the movie, Scottie sees Madeleine enter the McKittrick Hotel, a place that she routinely checks into as part of her psychosis. He then goes into the hotel to speak to the concierge to ask about her and the woman says that Madeleine hasn’t been at the hotel at all that day. Impossible, because anyone who stays at a hotel has to check in first. So how did Madeleine go to her room at the hotel and not check in with the concierge first?
I have seen theories excusing this scene, some claiming that the concierge might have been in on the conspiracy or that Madeleine snuck past her. But this is unlikely and just seems to be the case of Hitchcock deciding that he liked the scene so much that he was just going to keep in the movie anyway, regardless of whether it would result in a plot hole or not.
Midge is Dropped
Right off the bat, Midge–Scottie’s platonic female friend–is set up to be a major character in the film. Not only do we learn that they go all the way back to college but they were actually going to be married at some point.
At first, it seems as if Midge is going to be there as the second banana or may become part of a love triangle, but then something weird happens. She goes from being this calm, cool and collected brainy chick into a flake. And she becomes more and more erratic as Scottie becomes infatuated with Madeleine, even going so far as to paint and destroy in a rage a self portrait of herself as Carlotta Valdes (the woman who Madeleine is supposedly infatuated with).
Why is Midge behaving like this? Is she jealous of Madeleine? Insecure? Is she suffering from a type of neuroses of her own, like Scottie with his “what about my acrophobia” and Madeleine with her suicidal tendencies?
Just as things reach a crescendo, for no reason that can be explained, Midge literally disappears from the movie as soon as the second half of the movie with Judy starts. There isn’t even so much as a passing reference to her in the rest of the movie. It’s as if she had never existed. Her disappearance and dropped subplot is more than just a simple oversight. It’s an egregious one, the kind that would be positively unforgivable if it had been in a film by any other director. But because it’s Hitchcock, everyone just shrugs it off as a minor issue.
What’s worse about the dropped Midge subplot is that it was a huge missed opportunity. What should’ve happened is that Scottie, upon learning that Madeleine was never real, realizes that Midge was really the love of his life. He tries to go back to her but ironically, through some twist of fate, she is the one who is killed in the last scene, not Judy.
Okay, but why? Why kill off the sweet, adorable Midge?
Simple. There was a very interesting theme that was beginning to unfold in the first part of the movie just by virtue of Midge being there. Throughout history, people have been obsessed with finding the so-called Dreamboat–i.e., the gorgeous hunk or the sexpot of their dreams who they feel is the epitome of sexual and physical perfection. (Think the movie, 10, starring Bo Derek.)
The problem with this pursuit is two-fold. For one, chasing after someone like that is just setting yourself up for disappointment, because the Dreamboat is always based on a complete and total fantasy. Two, pursuing the Dreamboat often blinds people from seeing the very people who would be a perfect match for them romantically.
Let’s imagine Vertigo with this theme in mind and how it could’ve played out. Instead of one woman, there are really two women competing for Scottie’s affection, Madeleine and Midge. If we went by looks, Midge would lose the competition by a country mile. She is nerdy and frumpy and nowhere in the league of the glamorous, sexy Madeleine. However, in terms of personality and compatibility, she couldn’t be a more perfect match for Scottie. Yes, she’s plain and nerdy, but she’s witty, intelligent, understands him and has a long history with him. Yet in spite of how smart and funny Midge is and how much he knows her, Scottie chooses Madeleine the Sexpot instead, even though she’s mentally unstable and reveals very little to him about herself.
Now imagine the moment when Scottie learns that Madeleine never existed. He becomes emotionally devastated that his fantasy woman turned out to be a fake and an accomplice to murder. At first he’s upset but then he realizes that Midge was the one he should’ve been pursuing the entire time. He rushes back to her but she is the one who is at the bell tower and accidentally falls to her death.
Had Vertigo ended that way, it would’ve been a brilliant allegory about the foolishness of choosing the fantasy man or woman over a real person who may not be the epitome of sexual or physically attractiveness but would be a wonderful companion nevertheless. Unfortunately, Hitchcock and his writers never saw the potential to explore this theme and unceremoniously dumped Midge halfway into the movie. What a shame.
Judy Was Not a Femme Fatale!
A lot has been made of Hitchcock’s misogyny and with good reason. There is no question that he carried some kind of twisted love/hate relationship towards beautiful women, particularly the Elusive Blonde Bitch Goddess, who became an archetype in his movies.
Besides the misogyny casting an ugly pall over some of his movies, it caused another issue. When Hitchcock let his fixations get the best of him, it compromised him as a storyteller.
Case in point: Judy Barton as Femme Fatale. Who was Judy? She was someone who was recruited by Scottie’s friend to play his wife, Madeleine, who just happened to be a blonde. She wound up falling in love with Scottie during the ruse, but circumstances being what they were, had to disappear from the scene so she wasn’t apprehended for her involvement in Mrs. Elster’s murder. A year later, Scottie comes across her out of the blue, pursues her, and then forces her to live up to his depraved fantasy of sleeping with the now dead Madeleine at any costs, even if it means making another woman dressed as her to do it.
If we’re going to go by the events of the film, Judy was not only a pawn of Gavin Elster but a victim of Scottie’s obsession, right? This isn’t to excuse her of wrongdoing. Clearly, she was an accomplice in the murder of Mrs. Elster. But she was not the villain. Gavin Elster was.
Yet in the last scene of Vertigo where she is being belligerently confronted by Scottie, she is not only made out into the villainess of the entire movie but solely responsible for the death of the real Madeleine. In fact, she is even made to pay the classic Hays code price of dying in the end.
On top of that, the movie almost casts Judy as if she were a witch who had cast Scottie under a “spell”; her death then becomes necessary to free him of his neuroses. This explains why the last shot of Scottie shows him triumphantly standing at the edge of tower looking down fearlessly at the body of Judy. He has “gotten over” his vertigo and neurotic obsessions because Judy’s spell has been broken with her death.
Judy the villain of Vertigo? When the villain was Gavin Elster? Judy responsible for Scottie becoming neurotic, when he was the one who from the beginning of the film had a history of neuroses? How in God’s name could Hitchcock have gotten it all so incredibly wrong?
The reason is that his fear and loathing of the Elusive Blonde Bitch Goddess was so strong that he projected this archetype onto the film even though she was not a part of the story.
Let’s backtrack. In Vertigo, Judy is a redhead who was asked by Scottie’s friend to put on a blonde wig to pass herself as his wife. Even though she was supposed to pass herself as the real Mrs. Elster, Madeleine was just a fictional character that she and Gavin Elster made up. The whole “I’m a mysterious blonde woman obsessed with a woman from ages ago” was all shtick.
What seemed to have happened is that Hitchcock completely lost sight of who Madeleine was. Instead of seeing her as a character that Gavin Elster and Judy made up to bait Scottie, he confusedly began seeing her a character in her own right–as an evil blonde femme fatale who had cruelly seduced Scottie into falling in love with him in a plot she masterminded to kill off the real Madeleine.
This confusion on Hitchcock’s part is why, in the film’s last dramatic scene, Judy is forced to keep wearing the wig and remain as “Madeleine”, even though she doesn’t want to. Forcing her to remain in costume wasn’t so much about Scottie forcing her to confront her role in the Elster murder plot, but Hitchcock forcing Judy to become the Elusive Blonde Bitch Goddess archetype that he has confused for being in the film.
That Hitchcock failed to miss that Judy wasn’t this archetype is also why the film ends conclusively with Scottie triumphantly looking over the dead body of Madeleine as if everything is resolved, when the man who killed Mrs. Elster gets off scot free and is left completely blameless. Hitchcock honestly forgot who Madeleine was or just didn’t care.
This insanity of making Judy the arch villain and having her pay for the murder of Mrs. Elster while allowing Gavin Elster to run free was not lost on anyone, which is why the studio forced Hitchcock to shoot an alternative ending. Hitchcock snidely shot the scene, but not without giving the studio a big FU by having Elter’s capture announced on the radio, along with a goofy news story about college students pulling a stunt with a cow.
The director may have had the last laugh with his cow stunt, but this was a case when the studio was 100% right and Hitchcock was dead wrong. Judy did not mastermind Mrs. Elster’s murder or kill her. Judy did not seduce Scottie into falling in love with her as part of a master plan. She accidentally fell in love with him and became a victim herself.
The Premature Reveal Might Be the Biggest Eff Up of All Time
From what I understand, the revelation that Judy was Madeleine was originally at the end of the film but was moved towards the middle after negative reactions at an early screening. If it’s true (and it does look to be the case), then this has got to be one of the biggest eff ups of all time by an accomplished director, probably in all of cinema.
Why? The first major reason is that it actually spoiled not one, but four twists to the movie:
- That Judy was Madeleine
- That there was even a murder to begin with
- That Vertigo was really a film noir the entire time
- That Scottie was not neurotic after all
Let me elaborate on the last three twists.
If you can, try to imagine watching the last half of the movie, but with the revelation about Judy being Madeleine left at the very end as originally intended. (To avoid confusion, let’s refer to this version of the movie as Vertigo 1.0). You will notice that without that scene of Judy in the hotel room revealing that she was Madeleine, Vertigo 1.0 is a solid psychological drama that at no point gives away that it’s a film noir or murder mystery. For all you know, Madeleine did kill herself, Scottie did go crazy, and you’re now watching a twisted drama about a mentally unstable detective who is so obsessed with screwing a dead woman that he forces another woman to stand in her place a year after she died.
Now imagine watching this drama unfold in Vertigo 1.0. Then, BAM! It’s in the scene right after Scottie sleeps with Judy when it’s revealed to you for the very first time that she was Madeleine all along, and that she was really part of a scheme to kill off Mrs. Elster.
How would you have reacted if the revelation had played out towards the end of the film and not the middle? The first thing you would’ve thought was, “OMG! There was a murder?! Who? What? When? Where? How?” Then when you finally sorted the murder plot out, you would’ve said, “Holy crap! I was watching a film noir the entire damned time, not a psychological drama! Hitchcock, you crazy, insane bastard! I could kiss you! You are the man!”
But that wouldn’t have been the end of it. You would’ve stumbled onto yet another mind-bending, shocking twist in Vertigo 1.0. You would have realized that what looked like Scottie’s neurotic obsession with making Judy over as Madeleine had nothing to do with a sexual fetish. It stemmed from a perfectly normal compulsion that played out in an abnormal way because of the unusual circumstances under which it occurred.
To understand what that compulsion was, let’s take a look at the so-called “romance” between Scottie and Madeleine. Don’t let the 1950s coyness fool you that this was nothing more than an innocent, sweet 1950s innocent love affair. Yes, it’s true that Madeleine aka Judy does fall in love with Scottie in that innocent, sweet, 1950s way. But for Scottie, it’s strictly about the ass. He has the hots for this dame and wants to screw her in the worst way.
Why does Scottie want to sleep with Madeleine? On the surface, it looks like he is sexually attracted to her for the obvious reasons: she is blonde, beautiful, sexy and glamorous. In other words, she is the epitome of the glamorous 1950s bombshell. Plus, she has a certain mystique about her because of her odd behavior and the fact that she seems to have this dark cloud looming over her head. She has “doomed” and “damsel in distress” written all over her, and it appeals to Scottie’s masculinity to be the knight in shining armor to rescue her.
But believe it or not, it’s not the blondeness of Madeleine or her mystique that’s turning Scottie on. It’s Judy herself, underneath the wigs, the hair and the makeup. You see, Judy–the woman playing Madeleine–has a sexual magnetism that goes beyond surface appearance. She could’ve gone to Scottie disguised as a doomed blonde bombshell, a hot tempered Italian brunette, a feisty redhead or whatever else and it wouldn’t have mattered. She still would’ve turned Scottie on, and he still would’ve wanted to bang her brains out.
Of course, Scottie has no idea who is really turning him on. He thinks it’s the blonde, mysterious, elusive blonde bombshell with this mystique who is sexually exciting him. So he associates the explosive sexual chemistry that he feels when he’s with Madeleine as belonging exclusively to her and no one else.
Let’s fast forward in Vertigo 1.0. It’s a year later and we meet up with Scottie and Judy. What it looks like has happened is this: Scottie had a complete nervous breakdown. Although he was released from the mental ward, he was never cured. As part of his mental illness, he goes on the prowl in San Francisco looking for that perfect woman to play out his fantasy of sleeping with Madeleine. He discovers Judy on one of his prowls, keeps hounding and hounding her to dress up like Madeleine and finally, because she loves him so much, she decides to cave in to his sick sexual demands.
Ah, but that’s only what Vertigo 1.0 wants you to think happened. What really happened is that Scottie left the mental ward completely cured. One day, he was out and about in San Francisco going about his business when he stumbled across Judy. He then became drawn to her like a bee to honey. Why? Because he felt this immediate connection with her, as in, “You know, there’s just something about this woman. I don’t know what that is. But there’s something.”
What that something is, of course, is Judy’s magnetism, the very same one that had drawn him to Madeleine. But Scottie doesn’t know that he’s feeling a pull towards her because she is the very same woman he had an explosive sexual chemistry with a year earlier. He just thinks, “There’s something about this girl, Judy.”
Scottie begins courting Judy based on that “certain something” and before long, that explosive chemistry he had experienced with Judy when she was pretending to be Madeleine comes back in full force. Now he wants to bang, just like he had wanted to the year before.
However, there’s a small problem. Because that “certain something” Scotty experiences with Judy reminds him of Madeleine, he starts getting very confusing mixed signals when he is with her. On one hand, he sees this beautiful redhead there who is turning him on. But on the other hand, something about the way she is turning him on is telling him on a subconscious level that it’s Madeleine.
The longer Scottie dates Judy, the more she titillates him. But the more she titillates him the exact same way Madeleine did, the more he is reminded of Madeleine. It’s as if Madeleine’s “signal” gets so loud that Judy fades out of the picture and all he can see and feel standing there is Madeleine. He then develops this compulsive need to have Judy dress like her before he can even sleep with her.
We, the audience–and even Scottie himself–are led to believe that the compulsion stems out of a twisted fantasy to sleep with a dead Madeleine. However, just as Scott’s fantasy reaches a crescendo, we are told in Vertigo 1.0 the shocking, jaw-dropping truth–that irony of ironies, the woman who he had desperately wanted to be Madeleine was her all along. But that’s not the only thing. It’s revealed that his obsession with seeing Judy dressed up as Madeleine had nothing to do with wanting to sleep with a dead woman. It was because Judy’s magnetism reawakened his sexual desires for Madeleine, since she and Madeleine were one and the same person.
We also learn in Vertigo 1.0 why Judy was so upset by Scottie’s sexual compulsion. It wasn’t just because her feelings were hurt by his obsession with Madeline. It was because she was also terrified of fulfilling his sexual fantasy. To dress up as Madeleine would’ve exposed the fact that she had pretended to be her the year before and potentially given away the murder conspiracy she was a part of. So, she kept stamping her feet with indignation whenever he insisted on having her dress up as Madeleine and playing up the, “Why can’t you love me for me?” angle. Yes, she wanted Scottie to love her for her but she was more terrified of him realizing that she had been Madeleine from the year before.
Cool, twist, huh? But now you’re probably thinking, “What’s the point? First it’s set up to look like Scottie was a crazy guy with some twisted sexual fetish. Then it turned out he wasn’t crazy. That’s cool, but what is the point?”
Well, now you’re going to learn the biggest reason of all why Hitchcock moving the revelation about Judy being Madeleine was a major screw up. It screwed up what would’ve been one of the most brilliant twists on the film noir genre itself, something that I’ll explain in more detail below:
Hitchcock Misses Golden Opportunity for Twist on Film Noir Genre
How does a film noir murder mystery usually play out? The villain and accomplices try to cover their tracks through subterfuge. Sooner or later, though, they accidentally drop crucial evidence or say something stupid that incriminates them and gives them and the murder plot away.
In Vertigo 1.0, had the reveal been kept at the end of the movie as planned, it wouldn’t have been incriminating evidence or a statement that gave Judy and Gavin away. It would have been Judy making the stupid mistake of sleeping with Scottie.
Yes, that’s right. Vertigo would have been the first film noir in history in which sex was what blew someone’s cover. Not a matchbook from a hotel, a slip of the tongue or an alibi that falls apart. Sex.
Remember what I said earlier: from Scottie’s perspective, Judy’s sexual magnetism belonged exclusively to Madeleine’s. In his mind, only one woman in the world could have turned him on the way she did. Not Midge, not some random blonde down the street or a busty brunette with ta tas out to there. Madeleine. Only Madeleine.
A year later, when Judy meets him, she thinks that she can enter a relationship with him without him figuring out that she is Madeleine. However, because she is Madeleine, she exudes the exact same sexual magnetism that Madeleine had. Scottie picks up on it, but on an intellectual level has no idea why Judy, this redhead, is sexually exciting him in the same way Madeleine did. He just knows that sexually, she is very reminiscent of her– so reminiscent that he develops a compulsion to have Judy dress like her before he can sleep with her.
It’s this compulsion that leads Scottie to finally discover the murder plot involving Mrs. Elster. When he finally sleeps with Judy, he thinks he’s climaxed because she fulfilled his fantasy of sleeping with Madeleine. But soon after, when the blood rushes back to his brain and he remembers that it’s Judy lying there and not Madeleine, it suddenly strikes him as odd. He realizes that no matter how much Judy could have looked and played the part, it doesn’t make sense that she would have been able to fulfill his sexual desire for Madeleine that well. He begins to think, “There’s something fishy going on here. I know it’s crazy but if I didn’t know any better, Judy and Madeleine might be the same woman. She kisses like Madeleine. I feel the same exact sexual excitement with her as I did with Madeleine. I climaxed exactly as I imagined I would have with Madeleine.” That’s when it hits him–
She is Madeleine.
Look at the timing of Scottie having his epiphany and figuring everything out. He has sex, sees the necklace, then instantly realizes that Judy is Madeleine and that she was part of a murder plot. Why then? Why that moment? Why not a day later or two days later? Because it was the sex itself that made him realize what was going on. The necklace was the smoking gun that confirmed Scottie’s suspicions.
Had the reveal been left in the last act of the movie as originally intended, audiences would have realized that Judy’s sexual magnetism is what clued Scottie into the fact that she was Madeline, and that it was her fulfilling his sexual desires that gave her and Gavin Elster’s murder conspiracy away. But because the reveal was moved to the midpoint of the movie, Vertigo plays out like a standard film noir in which an object (the jewel necklace Judy wears) gave the perps away.
Deeply Flawed Masterpiece
All of this criticism sounds like I hated Vertigo. I don’t. I think it’s probably the most visually striking and interesting of Hitchcock’s films. But it was also the most heavily flawed, in my opinion, which is why I don’t understand why it’s garnered so much acclaim recently to the point of being named best movie of all time. It’s not only not the best movie of all time, it’s not even Hitchcock’s best film.
I guess it’s gotten so much play over the years because people are seeing it as some deeply revealing film in which Hitchcock displayed his obsession with the Elusive Blonde Bitch Goddess. The problem with this line of thinking is that people are trying to make it sound as if this revelation came about as a result of Hitchcock bravely exposing himself on film as the result of heavy soul searching.
But that was anything but the case. If anything, Vertigo marked the beginning of when Hitchcock allowed his personal demons fly out of control and compromise his abilities as a filmmaker, precisely because he was losing so much self awareness. So people are giving the movie a little bit too much credit for being “revealing.” Besides, being revealing doesn’t necessarily make a movie a flawless masterpiece, which Vertigo–for all its flaws–is clearly not.
it’s not like: Judy falls: the end. And there IS a poetic interpretation to it. With her death, she ironically becomes Madeleine’s fear: Carlotta.
I agree that Vertigo is a bit overrated and I don’t believe it’s Hitchcock’s best, but I still think it’s a great movie, just not the best of all-time.
Someone should re-edit the film just for the hell of it.
I think they should. All anyone would have to do is take out that ridiculous middle part where we get the reveal at the hotel that Judy was Madeleine. Then Vertigo would have one of the most brilliant twists of all time and earn acclaim as the first psychosexual thriller ever made.
Ok, this is gonna seem like a rant, and maybe it is, but I will never in my life understand this big obsession with what is considered to be The Greatest Film Of All Time (TM). Ever since I started seriously studying film back in the late seventies, I’ve always heard that Citizen Kane was the greatest film ever made. And now it’s Vertigo. There have been (according to Google, anyway) somewhere around 500,000 feature length movies made since the invention of film, more if you take into consideration the nickelodeon and “cinema of attractions” eras before that. How you can narrow it down to just one movie is beyond me (a lesser man may say something like “126 years of filmmaking, and this is the best you can come up with?” but I’m too polite to do that).
What is the criteria being used? Is it influence or innovation? If so, why not consider a film like Star Wars, which brought back the science fiction film with a vengeance, and (for better or for worse) brought about the fixation we have with how much a movie took in on it’s opening weekend rather than the merits of the film itself. Or how about Bonnie and Clyde, which is arguably the first of the “New Hollywood” films that opened the doors for directors such as Scorsese and Coppola that we revere today. Or maybe even Heaven’s Gate, which pretty much killed that movement? Or, going backwards, maybe Double Indemnity, the archetypical Film Noir, or perhaps The Jazz Singer, which, flawed though it is, was the film that convinced the major studios that sound pictures were the future and killed off silents? Even further, how about 1903’s The Great Train Robbery, which was (probably) the first film to use editing to tell a story. And let’s not forget the early films of Edison and the Lumiere Brothers, which convinced everyone that we would sit and eat our popcorn sitting in the dark watching the things to begin with.
Saying one film is the Greatest Film Ever Made reminds me a lot of those Beatles vs. Stones discussions from the sixties, or the Ford v. Chevy arguments that my gearhead friends used to get into (and, as anyone that’s owned either a Ford Pinto or a Chevy Vega knows, is pretty much nonsense). Fruitless and pointless.
I guess what I’m saying is that every film builds on the last one, that no one film is better than the other, or more or less influential than the ones before or after it, and that all of this is incredibly subjective.
I’ve never understood this “best film of all time” nonsense, either. How could one movie or director be the best of all time if so many legendary films helped shape and redefine cinema? It’s like saying that Michelangelo was the best artist of all time (when there was Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci or Caravaggio) or saying that Mozart was the best composer of all time (when there was Beethoven, Haydn and Tchaikovsky). In a field of so many masterpieces and legendary artists, there can be no “best of all time.” Naming a movie as being the best of all time definitely reeks of the type of fanboism you mentioned happening in the rock world, of film critics unable to suffer the idea of having their favorite movie stand among equals.
That’s especially true of Citizen Kane. That whole pushing of CZ of all time was definitely a cynical campaign that was being pushed by a small group of elites. What exposed it as cynical to me was that they were also pushing this narrative that Orson Welles had been so persecuted by Hearst that he was basically “ruined” and never made another movie again. This narrative lent the false impression of a boy genius whose potential was crushed before he even had a chance to make use of it. This, of course, was nonsense, because he went on to make and act in so many movies afterward. Yet documentaries in the 1980s and 1990s were like, “Oh, the poor guy. If only he hadn’t been persecuted…imagine all the great movies he would’ve made!”
Oh, yeah, I agree completely. What’s ironic is that he DID make some great movies – The Stranger, Chimes at Midnight, The Lady from Shanghai, Touch of Evil…
What killed Welles as Hollywood’s ‘Golden Boy’ was less Hearst and more RKO’s timidity over The Magnificent Ambersons and Welles’ own excesses.
I just got done watching Vertigo for the second (maybe third?) time… and I’d swear that I had no recollection at all of that scene where Judy almost writes the note to Stewart, revealing her part in the crime. Either I wasn’t paying attention, was out of the room… I dunno… but I definitely took note of it this time and it really did feel like a blunder as soon as it happened. Up until now, my memory of the movie is that the revelation had been at the end, in the bell tower. It was a bit more confusing, the whole nature of the movie changes in that one scene… but I think I liked it better that way. Oh well.
After a long time I re-watched “Vertigo” yesterday – and I was deeply disappointed by the movie! The only thing which was as stunning as I remembered, were Madeleine’s aka Judy’s outfits. After I had seen the movie for the first time, I planned to get a perfectly cut figure hugging grey suit! And I experienced the same thing as you: as far as I could remember, the Big Reveal happened on the tower at the very end of the movie, although Scottie had become suspicious earlier after he had seen that incriminating necklace. I was shocked when I realized that denouement happened much sooner in a very casual way – blink and you missed it. IMO this spoils the movie in a major way!
To me it seems very plausible that the solution of the mystery was intended to be the big twist at the end of the movie, and I cannot believe that the test audience truly believed it would be better to have the Big Reveal earlier. It is very possible that the test viewers rejected the idea that Madeleine and Judy were the same person, because the whole murder plot is so preposterous and totally implausible. There are so many loose ends: was the real Madeleine alive or already dead, when she was thrown off the tower? How did Gavin manage to ascend the top of the tower with his real wife and then leave the crime scene with Judy without being seen by Scottie or the nuns?? There was only one staircase after all. And the perps could not be sure at all that Scotty, who was deeply in love by now, would not get over his vertigo and follow Madeleine aka Judy? The whole convoluted murder plot was silly, and that might be the reason why the test audience reacted badly. But this major flaw cannot be fixed by giving away the twist prematurely. The opposite is true. If the twist would have been revealed at the end of the movie, the audience would have had no time to analyse the plot. However, by supplying the solution earlier, the audience has more time to digest the information and to notice the gaping plot holes.
I am not at all surprised that “Vertigo” was a huge financial flop! And the premature denouement is not the only flaw of the movie. There are many more huge plot holes and flaws. Why was Midge even in the movie?? Why didn’t Scottie feel the least bit guilty when he fell in love with a woman who was for all he knew his friend’s beloved wife? How did Madeleine enter and then leave the hotel without being seen? How did she enter her room without a key? What happened with Gavin? Did he get away with kiling his wife? I understand why there could be no happy end for Scottie and Judy and why she had to die. Judy was in on Gavin’s devious plan after all, and actively helped him to kill his wife. That makes her a murderess as well! Scottie could not simply ignore this and live with Judy happily ever after. But I would have liked a tidier ending. Was Scottie even more of a mental basket case, or was he able to overcome his trauma? Was there a happy end for him and Midge? I think that this must have been planned as a possible ending. Otherwise I do not see why Midge was even in the movie. And with a bit of a fashion make-over she actually had the potential to look stunning. And unlike Madeleine aka Judy she was a natural blonde 😀
I understand better now why “Vertigo” was never my favorite Hitchcock movie. And it is preposterous to claim that this flawed work is the best movie ever made!
One major flaw, a rich businessman’s wife dies in a fall from a bell tower, there is an inquest and investigation. Was the businessman’s wife photo never published in the newspaper or displayed at the inquest?
On that note – I wondered why (how) a murdered women’s body with a broken neck, got carried up the bell tower, and why the police investigators wouldn’t have gone up to that platform to check it for scuff marks or whatever, and wouldn’t the dead women’s temperature reveal she had been dead for an extended period of time (otherwise did the perpetrator manage to get his wife (alive) up those stairs and then break her neck??? Prior to throwing her out? Would the coroner notice a lack of bruising that occurs when a person is alive and falls to her death – So I guess I’m too detail oriented to believe that story.
I’d guess he’d have to have gotten her up there alive… going through the church and all, with her not suspecting his intent. The rest of it, the forensic stuff… maybe not checked into as closely given Stewart’s character testifying to her weird obsession and previous falling into the bay.
Lots of maybes… maybe.
I also think that Gavin’s real wife was alive when she got on top of the tower. But there are so many glaring plot holes. How did Gavin and Judy manage to leave the crime scene without anyone noticing?? There was only one stair after all!
I can understand that the test audience did not like the denouement. But this cannot be fixed by revealing the twist earlier.
The script for Vertigo is probably one of the most incoherent and convoluted of all time. If it had been shot by any other director, it would’ve gotten a big fat zero, but it’s Hitchcock, so…
Case in point–and my memory’s a little fuzzy on this detail–but if I recall correctly, Scottie visits the bell tower after Madeleine explains that she had a nightmare, right? But the thing is, she never says specifically that she was talking about the bell tower. It was just bait. Literally, Gavin came up with this scheme of having Madeleine bait Scottie by vaguely alluding to this one specific building, in the hopes that he’d instantly know what she was talking about and then take her there–which he does.
This is so ridiculously specific as to be implausible, and it’s a type of contrivance that drives me crazy in this and other movies like this one, where a “master plot” plays out in a way that seems brilliantly calculated but on closer examination, turns out was pulled off because of dumb luck or of a person reacting to or a situation playing out in an oddly specific way.
Vertigo is nowhere near being ‘the best ever’ film. It’s nowhere near being Hitchcock’s best. Apart from the eleven (and still counting) continuity and production mistakes, there is the absurd story-line, vacuous dialogue and some awful acting. The scene where Novak’s ‘real’ character opens the hotel door to Scotty is simply dreadful. She has been involved in a murder (the film, by the way, never makes clear why or how deeply she was involved), during which she cruelly deceived the man who has suddenly appeared before her, a man we are to believe she also loves, and yet there is not even a flash of recognition, alarm, confusion or any form of emotion one would expect from a human being, as opposed to an automaton, in this situation. Hitchcock, I am convinced, enjoyed having a lend of his audiences, and Vertigo is his ‘best ever’ joke on us.
Hi, and welcome to the blog!
I’m not sure if Hitchcock was having a laugh. It becomes apparent, starting with Dial M for Murder, that Hitchcock became so obsessed with putting his fetishism with ice blondes onscreen that he would force it at the expense of storytelling. For example, the only reason why he shot Marnie was that he wanted to shoot the rape scene. He didn’t care anything about the actual story he was adapting; it was just an excuse for him to shoot the scene. So, what happened was that we got a super boring, tedious, long-ass movie about a blonde woman who shoplifts and can’t have sex.
Similarly, Hitchcock seemed to have seen Vertigo as just another excuse to play out his fetishism with ice blondes, so there’s no consistency or logic to the story, since that wasn’t what he was most interested in.