Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Katie-Bar-The-Door Awards (1958)

"If I let you change me, will that do it? If I do what you tell me, will you love me? All right. All right then, I'll do it. I don't care about me anymore."

That's Vertigo in a nutshell. Ostensibly, it's a murder mystery, but it's really a stalker movie with the viewer thrust into an uncomfortable complicity with a control freak. You could legitimately complain that Hitchcock's normally-reliable suspense angle doesn't work, but that's beside the point. What you're watching is an abusive relationship from the inside out with a sugar coating of murder on top.

Vertigo isn't North By Northwest; Vertigo is Sleeping With the Enemy.

It's an old Hollywood trick. Bible movies were often about sex, Westerns about racism, noir about the emptiness of the American Dream, but served up in a palatable popcorn genre, the studios were able to skirt both Production Code censorship and audience reluctance to talk about anything serious. In the process, they made some of the best movies of the period.

Here, James Stewart plays an ex-cop, Scottie Ferguson, retired from the force after a bout of vertigo during a rooftop chase left a fellow officer dead. [SPOILERS] An old school chum hires Scottie to follow his wife Madeleine (Kim Novak) who believes herself to be possessed by the spirit of a long-dead woman, Carlotta Valdes, who committed suicide during San Francisco's golden age.

Scottie's acrophobia masks a deeper psychological problem—personally, I think the evidence obliquely suggests his mother killed herself when he was young, but that's just my surmise—and he chases Kim Novak around, not for a second believing she's possessed by a ghost but convinced that if he can keep her from toppling over into insanity, he can avoid falling himself. When she instead falls to her death, largely (he believes) because of his own weakness, it pushes him all the way over the edge.

And then after a year, he gets out of the sanitarium, bumps into a Madeleine look-alike (Kim Novak again) and tries to relive the past, this time fixing it. Instead, in the fashion of a classic Greek tragedy, he ensures the very end he was trying to avoid.

It's not a thriller, it's not a mystery, it's not a noir. Maybe it's just a perverse love story dressed up in Hitchcock clothing. I didn't much care for it the first couple of times I saw it, including at the Uptown in Washington, D.C., after its restoration—I found it slow, the spiritual possession angle preposterous (although I imagine Val Lewton could have made you believe every second of it) and the mystery, well, once Kim Novak reveals the plot mid-way through, there is no mystery. But somewhere along the line, Vertigo put its hooks into me and it's my choice as the best movie of 1958.

"If you'll permit the Siren a bit of life advice, barbed clothing critiques from a straight man are a 100% surefire sign of a control freak to be avoided at all costs."Self-Styled Siren

winner: Vertigo (prod. Alfred Hitchcock)
nominees: The Big Country (prod. Gregory Peck and William Wyler); Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (prod. Lawrence Weingarten); The Defiant Ones (prod. Stanley Kramer); Horror of Dracula (prod. Anthony Hinds); A Night To Remember (prod. William MacQuitty); Separate Tables (prod. Harold Hecht); The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (prod. Charles H. Schneer); Touch of Evil (prod. Albert Zugsmith)

PICTURE (Comedy/Musical)
winner: The Horse's Mouth (prod. John Bryan and Ronald Neame)
nominees: Auntie Mame (prod. Morton DaCosta); Bell Book and Candle (prod. Julian Blaustein); Gigi (prod. Arthur Freed); Indiscreet (prod. Stanley Donen)

PICTURE (Foreign Language)
winner: Mon Oncle (prod. Jacques Tati)
nominees: Ascenseur pour l'échafaud (Elevator to the Gallows) (prod. Jean Thuillier); I soliti ignoti (Big Deal on Madonna Street) (prod. Franco Cristaldi); Jalsaghar (The Music Room) (prod. Satyajit Ray); Kakushi-toride no san-akunin (The Hidden Fortess) (prod. Sanezumi Fujimoto and Akira Kurosawa); Popiól i diament (Ashes and Diamonds) (prod. Zespól Filmowy "Kadr")

ACTOR (Drama)
winner: James Stewart (Vertigo)
nominees: Tony Curtis (The Defiant Ones); Peter Cushing (Horror of Dracula); Charlton Heston (Touch of Evil and The Big Country); Christopher Lee (Horror of Dracula); Paul Newman (The Long, Hot Summer and Cat On A Hot Tin Roof); David Niven (Separate Tables); Sidney Poitier (The Defiant Ones); Vincent Price (The Fly); Frank Sinatra (Some Came Running); Spencer Tracy (The Last Hurrah)

ACTOR (Comedy/Musical)
winner: Alec Guinness (The Horse's Mouth)
nominees: Cary Grant (Indiscreet and Houseboat); Andy Griffith (No Time For Sergeants); Jacques Tati (Mon Oncle)

winner: Susan Hayward (I Want To Live!)
nominees: Ingrid Bergman (The Inn Of The Sixth Happiness); Rita Hayworth (Separate Tables); Shirley MacLaine (Some Came Running); Jeanne Moreau (Ascenseur pour l'échafaud a.k.a. Elevator to the Gallows); Kim Novak (Vertigo); Jean Simmons (The Big Country); Elizabeth Taylor (Cat On A Hot Tin Roof)

ACTRESS (Comedy/Musical)
winner: Rosalind Russell (Auntie Mame)
nominees: Ingrid Bergman (Indiscreet); Doris Day (Teacher's Pet); Kim Novak (Bell Book And Candle)

winner: Alfred Hitchcock (Vertigo)
nominees: Richard Brooks (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof); Stanley Kramer (The Defiant Ones); Akira Kurosawa (Kakushi-toride no san-akunin a.k.a. The Hidden Fortess); Satyajit Ray (Jalsaghar a.k.a. The Music Room); Andrzej Wajda (Popiól i diament a.k.a. Ashes and Diamonds); Orson Welles (Touch Of Evil); William Wyler (The Big Country)

DIRECTOR (Comedy/Musical)
winner: Jacques Tati (Mon Oncle)
nominees: Vincente Minnelli (Gigi); Mario Monicelli (I soliti ignoti a.k.a. Big Deal On Madonna Street); Ronald Neame (The Horse's Mouth); Richard Quine (Bell Book and Candle)

winner: Burl Ives (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and The Big Country)
nominees: Joseph Calleia (Touch of Evil); Ernie Kovacs (Bell Book and Candle); Eli Wallach (The Lineup); Orson Welles (Touch Of Evil)

winner: Hermione Gingold (Gigi and Bell Book and Candle)
nominees: Marlene Dietrich (Touch of Evil); Barbara Bel Geddes (Vertigo); Wendy Hiller (Separate Tables); Deborah Kerr (Bonjour tristesse); Hope Lange (The Young Lions); Angela Lansbury (The Long, Hot Summer); Tina Louise (God's Little Acre); Lee Remick (The Long, Hot Summer); Gwen Verdon (Damn Yankees!); Kay Walsh (The Horse's Mouth); Cara Williams (The Defiant Ones)

winner: Orson Welles, from the novel Badge Of Evil by Whit Masterson (Touch of Evil)
nominees: Alec Guinness, from the novel by Joyce Cary (The Horse's Mouth); Agenore Incrocci, Furio Scarpelli, Suso Cecchi d’Amico and Mario Monicelli (I soliti ignoti a.k.a. Big Deal On Madonna Street); Ryuzo Kikushima, Hideo Oguni, Shinobu Hashimoto and Akira Kurosawa (Kakushi-toride no san-akunin a.k.a. The Hidden Fortress); Alec Coppel and Samuel A. Taylor, from the novel D'entre les morts by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac (Vertigo)

Bernard Herrmann (Vertigo) (Score); Robert Burks (Vertigo) (Cinematography); Ray Harryhausen (The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad) (Special Effects)

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