Who can forget that heart-stopping ending of VERTIGO when Kim Novak accidentally falls out of the bell tower and James Stewart’s character, ‘Scottie’, finally conquers his vertigo.
It’s a despairing, desolate ,yet inevitable ending.
Because there was no other ending appropriate for this story of obsession, it seems shocking that anyone would choose to override Hitchcock’s vision. But the Hollywood Production Code Administration tried.
In the era of strict censorship, the PCA were not happy that wife-killer ‘Gavin Elster’ would escape justice. The PCA said,
”It will be most important that the indication that Elster will be brought back for trial is sufficiently emphasised.”
The film, as it comes to an end, makes no further mention of Elster, so Hitchcock was forced to film a new scene which would have directly followed that unforgettable shot of James Stewart, with his arms outstretched in despair.
The Barbara Bel Geddes character, ‘Midge’ is in her apartment. Her radio is on and we hear that ‘Gavin Elster’ has been arrested. James Stewart enters and without turning round, she prepares a drink for him. He walks slowly over to the window.
She gives him the drink then steps away from him. Nothing is said.
He gazes out the window.. The end!
Fortunately Hitchcock discarded this scene after a first viewing of the rough cut. And fortunately he got away with disregarding the PCA.
The scene ,which runs just under two minutes , was first included on dvd in 1993 and is also on You Tube.
Some thoughts on Vertigo:
Amazing to see that, on its release, Vertigo didn’t receive the high praise with which it is now regarded. Time magazine called it “Another Hitchcock-and-bull story.” The New Yorker described it as “far fetched nonsense.”
How time and tastes change.
At ten year intervals from 1952, the British Film Institute through its magazine, ‘Sight and Sound’, invited a selection of the world’s film critics to choose the ten best films of all time. The criteria included being the most important in film history; pinnacle of achievement; the biggest impact on the voter’s view of cinema.
Vertigo didn’t appear in the Top Ten till 1982 when it was joint 7th.
The latest poll from 2012 had Vertigo at number one, replacing Citizen Kane which had topped the polls from 1962.
Which brings me to my idea of a poll, a simple one- how about listing your Top Ten Hollywood sound films covering 1927 to 1960. And we can see if any of our personal favourites turn up in other people’s lists.
Myths – or not:
Before Vera Miles was due to have hair, makeup and costume tests, Hitchcock was screening “The Eddie Duchin Story.”……..
After the luke warm reception to the film, did Hitchcock really think that Jimmy Stewart was too old at 50 for the part. After all, Kim Novak was ‘only’ 25 years younger than Stewart, but who noticed.
The flashback shot that shows what really happened . Wonder who’s playing the dead Madeleine. A stunt woman, Polly Burson,worked on the film, so maybe her.
Questions. After a few viewings of Vertigo over the years, I find myself questioning quite a lot of the plot. I know we have to suspend reality a lot of the time in films, but plots have to have some plausibility.
How did Elster get the dead body into the Mission and up to the top – without being seen. ( Judy later admits to Scottie that Madeleine was dead.) At night? So he was there with a dead body for hours before Scottie and Judy arrive.
Is that a wound that can be seen on the face of the real Madeleine?
Did Judy know what Elster’s end game was? If not, what story did he spin her and what did she think was going to happen on the tower.
How and when did Judy and Elster get down, again without being seen. How quickly did the police arrive. We see two nuns running to the body, followed by police, but the time scale isn’t clear.
Wouldnt the police have gone up the tower to see if there was any evidence that Madeleine had slipped?
Judy later reveals to Scottie that Elster strangled his wife. At the inquest, the coroner says there was a post-mortem, so surely the strangulation would have been evident.
Apart from that, the only evidence presented for the case of suicide was from Elster and Scottie. There is no other evidence of mental instability.
( I love how Elster tells Scottie he doesn’t blame him for Madeleine’s death! – he says, “You and I know who killed Madeleine.”
If you are interested in the San Francisco locations for VERTIGO, two great sites are https:/ http://www.toursanfranciscobay.com and reelsf.com
The Empire hotel where ‘Judy’ lived was renamed the York hotel and is now the Vertigo Hotel! (Surely the only place to stay when visiting San Francisco!)
The reception desk at The Vertigo hotel – with the film screening behind !
The hotel advertises: “Check into the Hotel Vertigo and you’ll realise that equilibrium is overrated.”
The building Hitchcock used for the location shots of the McKittrick Hotel, where Madeleine has a room. This building ,from the 1890s, was the home of a businessman,Henry F.Fortmann till the 1940s. By the time of filming it was empty and was later demolished in 1959.
A great looking old building. A shame it’s gone.
The scene at the McKittrick hotel is puzzling. Madeleine parks her car outside and Scottie sees her raising the blind in an upstairs room.
When he speaks to the lady at the reception desk (Ellen Corby), she confirms someone called Carlotta Valdez rented the room, but that she’s not in just now. Her key is on the rack. Scottie asks her to check the room and she calls him up to show no one is there!
He looks out the window and the car is gone.
Why would Madeleine leave as suddenly as she had arrived, and if she did, how did she get out without being seen – a back exit?
Interesting that Hitchcock should use same shot of Madeleine at the McKittrick and Judy at the Empire .
The Carlotta Valdez gravestone was removed from the Mission Dolores because of all the visitors it was attracting. Wonder what happened to it.
That painting of Carlotta which Madeleine gazes at has also disappeared.
You could always stand on the same spot as Jimmy Stewart does, as he watched Madeleine. (The Palace of the Legion of Honor.)
Does ‘Judy’ look anything like Madeleine? Dark hair, thick eyebrows and stronger makeup. Don’t think so. So why would Elster – or ‘Scottie’ think so.
It’s not clear how long Scottie was being treated for his breakdown. There was some mention of 6 months or a year. However long it was, when he knocks on Judy’s door and she opens it and sees him, how could she possibly have shown no reaction? This is the man she loves and with whom she has been through quite a traumatic time. Just seems implausible.
The transcription of Judy’s voice-over as she tries to write a letter to Scottie, explaining everything, but she tears it up.
(I love how the grey outifit worn by Madeleine is still in Judy’s wardrobe.)
I guess we just have to accept that Scottie just happened to be walking along the street when Judy passes by.
And that shop worker Judy can bring to life so convincingly the mysterious Madeleine . This is my biggest problem. At least, why not have made Judy an actress? Could Judy really be transformed ( even her voice is different) into the sophisticated socialite, Madeleine Elster?
Judy gives herself away by putting on the necklace that had belonged to Carlotta and Madeleine and, finally, Scottie realises he has been duped. That Judy and Madeleine are one and the same.
He says, “You shouldn’t keep souvenirs of a killing.”
Tom Helmore was so plausible as Gavin Elster , as he draws Scottie into his scheme to murder his wife and make it appear suicide. A few more flashback scenes with him would have clarified some of Elster’s murder plot.
There is some perfunctory attempt near the end of the film to explain some of the plot but it’s all rather rushed. Once Scottie knows the truth, he angrily says to Judy, “Did he train you – did he rehearse you?……the two of you hid back there and waited for it to clear and then sneaked down and drove into town, is that it?”
Judy admits that Elster ditched her and all she got was some money and Carlotta’s necklace.
I’d love to hear any thoughts on the issues I have raised.
And just to add , I fully appreciate all the great things about Vertigo, starting with the great graphics of Saul Bass over the titles; the fantastic Bernard Hermann score which adds so much to the drama; the performances of Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak; all the great San Francisco locations, the wonderful saturated use of colour; and the one and only Hitchcock touch.
Ownership of Vertigo reverted to Hitchcock 8 years after release. He also owned the rights to Rear Window, The Man Who Knew too Much, The Trouble With Harry and Rope. He took them out of circulation for many years.
After his death, Universal bought the rights to the 5 films and they began to be seen again in 1983.
Great publicity shots.