One Final Thing I Have to Do… and Then I’ll Be Free of the Past.: Vertigo (1958)

One final thing I have to do… and then I’ll be free of the past.”

It’s time for our annual Alfred Hitchcock pick! I was actually planning on doing another film, but things happened, as they do, and I switched it out with this movie.

Now as you may know from previous posts, I love Alfred Hitchcock movies. I like that he has a variety of characters from all kinds of backgrounds and motivations, but typically they are just an average person who is caught up in an abnormal circumstance.

The use of lighting and shots is always amazing:

He also always knew how to pick a story-choosing one that is well done, mysterious, suspenseful, and adding his special macabre tendencies.

Now I love almost every film of his, there are only a few that I would watch once and that is good enough for me. And with those films, even though I don’t love them or feel a need to watch again and again I can still appreciate the direction he was going in. But there are two of his films that I hate: Vertigo and Marnie.

Both of those films have a man who is our protagonist and “hero”, who horribly mistreats and abuses the woman he “loves”. While Marnie has the interesting plot of why Marnie (Tippi Hedrun) does what she does, a twist that is leads to understanding her character; I still cannot stand Sean Connery’s character or the fact we are supposed to want them to be together when he not only blackmails Marnie into marrying him, but rapes her.

But we aren’t talking about that film today. We are talking about the other Alfred Hitchcock film I hate: Vertigo.

A lot of people claim this is Hitchcock’s best work but I wholeheartedly disagree as I think a lot of his other films could easily knock this film out as they have better pacing, a better storyline, and I think the actors and actresses did just as fine a job or better.

For me I really, really don’t like the storyline. How this film came to be was that Hitchcock really liked the book She Who Was No More, by the writing team of Boileau-Narcejac, but lost out to Henri-Georges Clouzet. When the book this film was based on, From Among the Dead, came out-he immediately went to bid for it. Im going to give a quick summary and then I will share what it is about this particular film that I cannot stand.

The film starts off with our main character John “Scottie” Ferguson (Jimmy Stewart), a cop who has left the police as he has severe fear of heights that caused him to let a criminal get away. His best friend, Midge (Barbara Bel Geddes), is in love with him but he doesn’t care for her and at time can be quite rude and cruel to her. He reveals that an old friend of theirs reached out o him, wanting to meet up.

Scotty goes to see his friend, Gavin Elster, who tells Scotty about his wife and how she is acting strange. He wants to pay Scotty to watch over her and find out what is going on. Scotty does, witnesses Madeleine (Kim Novak) doing a lot of strange things, falls in love with his he (even though it is his friend’s wife), but Madeline can’t be with him as she is possessed by her ancestor and has to kill herself.

Scotty you need to back off. This girl needs help-not a relationship.

Madeleine goes to the mission bell tower and throws herself off, Scotty is heartbroken at losing her (even though he has only known her for a very small, small, amount of time.

So the pacing of this film is extremely slow, especially as it is obvious that this is not a ghost story as Hitchcock never does that. I knew from the first time she tried to kill herself this isn’t the whole story. Either she faked her death, her husband got a body double so he could kill her, she got a body double to get her husband arrested or something, but no ghosts or demon possession.

I also can’t get behind a main character who is in love with another who is not in a clear state of mind. I mean it would be different if he loved her before, this was a traumatic event that caused this momentary break from reality, etc. But he just met this woman and he’s attracted to a person who believes they are possessed by their dead relative and keeps trying to kill themselves as something inside them wants to die. If you can’t handle a normal relationship with a mostly well adjusted person like Midge (she does paint herself like the dead woman so only mostly well adjusted), and instead your ideal type is unavailable, not in a good mental or emotional stare, and in a state of depression; you clearly need to see a counselor and figure out some things.

Scotty becomes depressed, has a breakdown ( I would argue he was already having one) and goes to a sanitarium. When he has “recovered” keeps thinking he sees Madeleine everywhere and runs into a woman that looks so much like her. The woman, Judy Barton (Kim Novak), starts dating him even though he makes it clear repeatedly that he is only interested in her because she looked like the girl he really loved. I’m like girl no! Run away! Run far away from this situation!

He then makes her change everything about her remaking the woman he really loves, although not really as he didn’t even “know” her, other than she was out of her mind and pretty. Everything about Judy must go until she is more and more like Madeleine. He even makes her dye her hair so she can be an exact replica.

Judy: If I let you change me, will that do it? If I do what you tell me, will you love me?

Scottie: Yes. Yes.

Judy: All right. All right then, I’ll do it. I don’t care anymore about me

Again so, so, so, so, so, many red flags. But does Judy leave? No, poor Judy continues to stay in this abuse and acquiesce to everything he asks because she loves him, and mistakenly believes he loves her too.

One of the worst parts for me is when he forces her to change her hair.

Judy: Couldn’t you like me, just me the way I am? When we first started out, it was so good; w-we had fun. And… and then you started in on the clothes. Well, I’ll wear the darn clothes if you want me to, if, if you’ll just, just like me.

Scottie: Judy, please, it can’t matter to you.

Judy: Oh, no!

Scottie: The color of your hair…

I hate this scene with the fury of a thousand suns as not only is completely wiping out her identity to become his perfect woman, but he went for the hair. A girl’s hair is more than hair, it is a part of their identity, a mark of their femininity, a connection to their culture and family, etc. I have never met a woman who did not care about her hair, it might not be her sole focus, they make cut it short or shave their head, but there is no way they don’t “care”.

It turns out that Judy and the Madeleine he met are actually the same person. His friend Gavin wanted to kill his wife for the insurance money and hired a double to make everyone think she was crazy and wanting to kill herself. He then hire Scotty to follow her as he needed a witness of her behavior and mental state; along with choosing Scotty as he knew with his fear of heights he won’t be able to follow her up the bell tower to stop her. Judy wants to tell him the truth, but doesn’t know how. He eventually figures it out when he sees the necklace Madeleine wore, the one that belonged to the relative possessing her. Judy spills and Scotty decides they must go back to the tower to right this wrong.

They do and Scotty throws her off the bell tower, killing her.

Critic and film analyst call this film a “story of a man who develops a romantic obsession with the image of an enigmatic woman…” but that is not what this is. It is a story of a man who is NOT romantic, and is obsessive, controlling, and abusing a woman. He insists he loves her, but he doesn’t love either woman, he just wants to control them. He actually follows the cycle below with Judy.

I also believe Hitchcock was really working through some feelings when making this film. Alfred Hitchcock married and stayed married to his wife, but he became in “love” with Ingrid Bergman after working with her. He used to make passes at her, was extremely coarse and sexually harassing her. He even spread a story that she got him into a bedroom at a party and demanded he have sex with her, but she always insisted it wasn’t true (and I believe her). But Ingrid was unattainable, at least until she divorced her husband for another man, and not just any man another director! And one she had a child with. I think Madeline represents Ingrid Bergman, a married woman he wanted and believed wanted him but couldn’t be together. That line Madeline says about how they can’t be together because someone within her won’t allow it, I think that is supposed to represent Ingrid Bergman’s pregnancy. Madeleine dies, and in a way Ingrid Bergman died as she left Hollywood.

After Bergman he turned his obsession to Grace Kelly, treating her the same way he treated Bergman. But she left him too, in 1956 she married the prince of Monaco and too left Hollywood. The the year before this film came out, in 1958, Ingrid Bergman left her husband and married another director, but that director was not Alfred Hitchcock. I think he had a lot of anger as these women he “obsessed over” but couldn’t have. Grace Kelly being Judy, a creation that betrayed him (marrying and leaving Hollywood) and too had to die in order for him to start again.

Which he does as Alfred Hitchcock then truly became Scotty as he found a new girl, another “Judy”, as he was obsessed with Tippi Hedren and controlled everything about her. He wouldn’t let anyone talk to her-unless they were filming, and abused her. She tried to talk to the studio heads but he was such a money maker they refused to do anything. And when she refused him, he blackballed her. Too bad she wasn’t able to have justice. If you would like to know more I really recommend reading Spellbound by Beauty: Alfred Hitchcock and His Leading Ladies by Donald Spoto. Just like the horrible way Scotty treats Judy trying to make her his picture of a perfect woman, until he has no need of her, so Hitchcock treated Hedrun.

So I think this falling for a woman that can’t be with you and trying to recreate that creation only to have it not be with you again-plus the fact that the lead murders her something not seen in his previous films, most of the male leads are wrongly accused, or in Rebecca have a moral loophole. I think he was acting out his anger and passion that he felt toward the rejection/losing these women.

I think Midge is Alma, the woman that puts up with witnessing this destructive behavior and is their for the person, even though they don’t really deserve it.

And before you start thinking I’m too conspiracy with this thought one of people credited with the screenplay is Samuel A. Taylor who never read the original novel, but only was given Hitchcock’s outline of the story. So the plot we have comes solely from what Hitchcock wanted it to say.

Hmmm…

I also don’t like that our lead murders someone, this is something not seen in his previous films, as most of the male leads are wrongly accused, or as in Rebecca have a moral loophole. I think Hitchcock was acting out his anger and passion that he felt toward the rejection/losing these women.

With the content of this film, I will end on this:

I Am a Survivor of Domestic Violence and I Know Help is Out There:

Are you being abused?

It’s abuse when someone who should care about you does or says things that hurt you or make you feel afraid, helpless or worthless. Here are only a few examples:

  • Slapping, hitting, punching, choking, grabbing, shoving, kicking you or your kids, your pets
  • Threatening you, your kids, friends, family or pets
  • Hitting, kicking, slamming walls, doors, furniture, possessions
  • Forcing you to have sex
  • Calling you names, swearing at you, yelling
  • Controlling all the money, even money you earn
  • Blaming you or your kids for everything
  • Putting you down, making you feel like nothing you do is ever good enough
  • Treating you like a servant or slave
  • Controlling where you go, what you do, what you wear
  • Controlling who you see, who you talk to
  • Humiliating you in front of other people
  • Refusing to let you leave the relationship

It can also look like the below cycle

If you are in danger call 911, a local hotline, or the U.S. National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 and TTY 1-800-787-3224.

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