A blog and podcast about seminal and classic cinema from 1895 to 1990. Cult flicks, film noir, science fiction, horror and all kinds of exploitation.

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Nov 30, 2013

Paleo-Cinema Podcast 123 - Uptight Vertigo.




This time around, I'm looking at one of the best regarded movies of all time, Hitchcock's 1958 tale of death, heights and dual identity, VERTIGO and a forgotten film about black revolutionaries in 1960s Cleveland Ohio, Jules Dassin's UPTIGHT. The new voicemail number is  206-337-7721.

6 comments:

Dave Brandt said...

Hey Terry,

I must be one of those boring people who agree with the conventional wisdom about Vertigo. I think it's is one of the greatest masterpieces of 20th century cinema -- along other character study of a some newspaper man. But that was just B & W; Vertigo is in color and widescreen, so it must be better :-).

Yeah, I think that the casting was superb, especially the leads. I've heard the story that James Stewart was "too old" but that was in the context of explaining why it wasn't the box office hit that it deserved to be. I suppose that the box office wasn't that great since it is a disturbing film; it wasn't a conventional drama that the public was conditioned to expect. That's all. Casting an age-appropriate leading man would have been better for the box office, but it undercuts the impact of the film. Long-term impact. 50+ years later.

I can 'splain:

Hitch was deliberately casting against the James Stewart persona. By the time he made this, Jimmy Stewart had spent 25 years building up his persona as the "all-American hero". He played Lindberg, Glenn Miller, he played in all those westerns, all those Capra flicks. But now he's playing a deeply troubled,obsessed, twisted guy. On the surface, he is a fine-upstanding middle American.

It terms of 1950's TV, it would be like casting one of the all-American "dads" as Scotty. The dad from Ozzie & Harriet, Leave it To Beaver, Father Knows Best. But this time, "father" doesn't know best. But that's the point! That's the movie.

What James Stewart could do is bring his persona with him, but Hitch twisted it to show a very dark side of 1950's Americana.

Another point is that it strengthens how committed Scotty was to his obsession. The huge difference in their ages is invisible to him -- but it's very visible to us! We can see that it can't be a healthy relationship. But he can't even begin to think about whether he is a desirable mate to a young woman. It can't even occur to him.

Scotty is deeply sexist (i.e., the all-American boy is deeply sexist).
For example, in that pivotal scene in the hotel room where Scotty finally succeeds in making her put on the costume, he comes right out and says that her feelings couldn't possibly matter! In his world, young women exist to act out men's fantasies. They're playmates. [Did Sal watch Vertigo with you? Just wondering.]

One more thing, nowadays one can't watch this without thinking about Hitch's determination to remake Tippi Hedren into his mythical "Hitchcock Blonde" fantasy figure. Its amazing that he actually made a movie about that sort of obsession a few years earlier!


Terry Frost said...

I see your point Dave, but Stewart had already got rid of that All American Boy person after his WW2 service in movies like Bend In The River, Rope (with Hitchcock) and Rear Window (again with Hitch). Perhaps Hitchcock cast him to work with someone whom he already knew. I still think it's dodgy casting but we can agree to cordially disagree. :-)

John Johnson said...

John Johnson>
Great show, many thanks. So glad to hear that someone else felt the same way about Jimmy's casting. I never realized I felt this way about the film until this last re-watch (like you) picking up the Essentials box set. Vertigo is such a revered film by filmmakers whose opinions really matter to me, and with the additional attention it is getting because of the Sight and Sound list, it really bothered me that my estimation seemed to be going down while rising with the Vox Populi.
The first thing that has always bothered me is the scene where Jimmy is demonstrating to Midge on the kitchen stool how he is going to beat his condition; and then folding like an oragami flower into Midge's overtly masculine arms. This has to be one of the wimpiest things I've ever seen a Golden era star do. Then there is the odd bit of innuendo on Mr. Hitchcock's part in the costuming of Barbra Del Geddes? Who is deliberately butched up, looking like she is on her way to LPGA Tournament. Is Hitch suggesting the strong "think for themselves" girls are butch, and that the needier, more compliant type of woman exemplifies femininity? Just asking the questions here.
Another thing that has bothered me is unlikely third act. How probable is it that Judy, with a visit to the gas chamber hanging over her head, would choose to hide in plain sight, waiting for Scotty to recognize her on the street? To what then? she is so obsessed with him that she pretends not to know him? None of it makes a lick of sense. If Hitch had worried more about the plot holes in the script and less about what brazier the women would be wearing, the film might have had a better critical and box office reception.
And last but certainly not least is the rather obvious age difference. It sort of made my skin crawl. While we want to blame Hitch here, this is really a problem that spills over into many of Stewart's later films. How disgusting is it to see him pawing a young Carol Baker in How The West Was Won? Even in the more or less independent pictures he made with Anthony Mann you see this sort of thing repeated. This was clearly a sign of the times but it is a cup from with Jimmy drank with abandon. Still Vertigo is probably my favorite Hitchcock film, with it's visuals married to Bernard Herman's brilliant score. It is fun to watch Stewart playing out the obsessive Scotty. Much like the half-baked psychology at the end of Psycho, Stewart's performance, as well as the film itself, seems informed more by Reader's Digest than any real understanding of psychology. Scotty's obsession with Kim Novak makes sense to me though. She has a sexual quality that is lacking in the Grace Kelly's or Tippi's whose vaginas might well be forged in Tiffany glass. Novak is a tigress. Oh well, before I slip unto obsession I will simply repeat my thanks for your good work.

John Johnson said...

John Johnson>
Great show, many thanks. So glad to hear that someone else felt the same way about Jimmy's casting. I never realized I felt this way about the film until this last re-watch (like you) picking up the Essentials box set. Vertigo is such a revered film by filmmakers whose opinions really matter to me, and with the additional attention it is getting because of the Sight and Sound list, it really bothered me that my estimation seemed to be going down while rising with the Vox Populi.
The first thing that has always bothered me is the scene where Jimmy is demonstrating to Midge on the kitchen stool how he is going to beat his condition; and then folding like an oragami flower into Midge's overtly masculine arms. This has to be one of the wimpiest things I've ever seen a Golden era star do. Then there is the odd bit of innuendo on Mr. Hitchcock's part in the costuming of Barbra Del Geddes? Who is deliberately butched up, looking like she is on her way to LPGA Tournament. Is Hitch suggesting the strong "think for themselves" girls are butch, and that the needier, more compliant type of woman exemplifies femininity? Just asking the questions here.
Another thing that has bothered me is unlikely third act. How probable is it that Judy, with a visit to the gas chamber hanging over her head, would choose to hide in plain sight, waiting for Scotty to recognize her on the street? To what then? she is so obsessed with him that she pretends not to know him? None of it makes a lick of sense. If Hitch had worried more about the plot holes in the script and less about what brazier the women would be wearing, the film might have had a better critical and box office reception.
And last but certainly not least is the rather obvious age difference. It sort of made my skin crawl. While we want to blame Hitch here, this is really a problem that spills over into many of Stewart's later films. How disgusting is it to see him pawing a young Carol Baker in How The West Was Won? Even in the more or less independent pictures he made with Anthony Mann you see this sort of thing repeated. This was clearly a sign of the times but it is a cup from with Jimmy drank with abandon. Still Vertigo is probably my favorite Hitchcock film, with it's visuals married to Bernard Herman's brilliant score. It is fun to watch Stewart playing out the obsessive Scotty. Much like the half-baked psychology at the end of Psycho, Stewart's performance, as well as the film itself, seems informed more by Reader's Digest than any real understanding of psychology. Scotty's obsession with Kim Novak makes sense to me though. She has a sexual quality that is lacking in the Grace Kelly's or Tippi's whose vaginas might well be forged in Tiffany glass. Novak is a tigress. Oh well, before I slip unto obsession I will simply repeat my thanks for your good work. (delete if this a duplicate?)

John Johnson said...

John Johnson>
Great show, many thanks. So glad to hear that someone else felt the same way about Jimmy's casting. I never realized I felt this way about the film until this last re-watch (like you) picking up the Essentials box set. Vertigo is such a revered film by filmmakers whose opinions really matter to me, and with the additional attention it is getting because of the Sight and Sound list, it really bothered me that my estimation seemed to be going down while rising with the Vox Populi.
The first thing that has always bothered me is the scene where Jimmy is demonstrating to Midge on the kitchen stool how he is going to beat his condition; and then folding like an oragami flower into Midge's overtly masculine arms. This has to be one of the wimpiest things I've ever seen a Golden era star do. Then there is the odd bit of innuendo on Mr. Hitchcock's part in the costuming of Barbra Del Geddes? Who is deliberately butched up, looking like she is on her way to LPGA Tournament. Is Hitch suggesting the strong "think for themselves" girls are butch, and that the needier, more compliant type of woman exemplifies femininity? Just asking the questions here.
Another thing that has bothered me is unlikely third act. How probable is it that Judy, with a visit to the gas chamber hanging over her head, would choose to hide in plain sight, waiting for Scotty to recognize her on the street? To what then? she is so obsessed with him that she pretends not to know him? None of it makes a lick of sense. If Hitch had worried more about the plot holes in the script and less about what brazier the women would be wearing, the film might have had a better critical and box office reception.
And last but certainly not least is the rather obvious age difference. It sort of made my skin crawl. While we want to blame Hitch here, this is really a problem that spills over into many of Stewart's later films. How disgusting is it to see him pawing a young Carol Baker in How The West Was Won? Even in the more or less independent pictures he made with Anthony Mann you see this sort of thing repeated. This was clearly a sign of the times but it is a cup from with Jimmy drank with abandon. Still Vertigo is probably my favorite Hitchcock film, with it's visuals married to Bernard Herman's brilliant score. It is fun to watch Stewart playing out the obsessive Scotty. Much like the half-baked psychology at the end of Psycho, Stewart's performance, as well as the film itself, seems informed more by Reader's Digest than any real understanding of psychology. Scotty's obsession with Kim Novak makes sense to me though. She has a sexual quality that is lacking in the Grace Kelly's or Tippi's whose vaginas might well be forged in Tiffany glass. Novak is a tigress. Oh well, before I slip unto obsession I will simply repeat my thanks for your good work.

John Johnson said...

John Johnson>
Great show, many thanks. So glad to hear that someone else felt the same way about Jimmy's casting. I never realized I felt this way about the film until this last re-watch (like you) picking up the Essentials box set. Vertigo is such a revered film by filmmakers whose opinions really matter to me, and with the additional attention it is getting because of the Sight and Sound list, it really bothered me that my estimation seemed to be going down while rising with the Vox Populi.
The first thing that has always bothered me is the scene where Jimmy is demonstrating to Midge on the kitchen stool how he is going to beat his condition; and then folding like an oragami flower into Midge's overtly masculine arms. This has to be one of the wimpiest things I've ever seen a Golden era star do. Then there is the odd bit of innuendo on Mr. Hitchcock's part in the costuming of Barbra Del Geddes? Who is deliberately butched up, looking like she is on her way to LPGA Tournament. Is Hitch suggesting the strong "think for themselves" girls are butch, and that the needier, more compliant type of woman exemplifies femininity? Just asking the questions here.
Another thing that has bothered me is unlikely third act. How probable is it that Judy, with a visit to the gas chamber hanging over her head, would choose to hide in plain sight, waiting for Scotty to recognize her on the street? To what then? she is so obsessed with him that she pretends not to know him? None of it makes a lick of sense. If Hitch had worried more about the plot holes in the script and less about what brazier the women would be wearing, the film might have had a better critical and box office reception.
And last but certainly not least is the rather obvious age difference. It sort of made my skin crawl. While we want to blame Hitch here, this is really a problem that spills over into many of Stewart's later films. How disgusting is it to see him pawing a young Carol Baker in How The West Was Won? Even in the more or less independent pictures he made with Anthony Mann you see this sort of thing repeated. This was clearly a sign of the times but it is a cup from with Jimmy drank with abandon. Still Vertigo is probably my favorite Hitchcock film, with it's visuals married to Bernard Herman's brilliant score. It is fun to watch Stewart playing out the obsessive Scotty. Much like the half-baked psychology at the end of Psycho, Stewart's performance, as well as the film itself, seems informed more by Reader's Digest than any real understanding of psychology. Scotty's obsession with Kim Novak makes sense to me though. She has a sexual quality that is lacking in the Grace Kelly's or Tippi's whose vaginas might well be forged in Tiffany glass. Novak is a tigress. Oh well, before I slip unto obsession I will simply repeat my thanks for your good work.