Part Three of Vertigo and Conclusion
|Alfred Hitchcock, Paramount Chief Barney Balaban, and James Stewart Play Hosts at Vertigo "Blood Punch" Reception.|
There was a nutty sort of press party for Vertigo held in New York, the sort you'd associate more with same-month's opening Horror Of Dracula. In fact, Vertigo and Universal/Hammer's import played virtually day-and-date to Gothamites. Paramount (and maybe Hitchcock's) confusion over how best to peddle Vertigo was reflected by "Blood Punch" via waiters in medic attire and "nurses" like something out of Charles Addams ("oxygen tanks ... and a ready coffin stood by" as journos numbering 400 were served, said The Motion Picture Herald). A lofty drinking session, as described by Variety, took place in a "Vertigo Room" on the 29th (concrete) floor of an unfinished building at 200 East 42nd Street, guests taken up in the workmen's elevators. Bets were placed as to how long it would take for a dummy tossed from this height to reach the street below (Variety reportage did not indicate if one was actually thrown). Hitchcock, Jim Stewart, and Para chief Barney Balaban --- good sports all --- were there to meet and greet. Following plentiful libation, the party repaired to Sardi's East.
Vertigo opened strong enough, but drops were noted during subsequent weeks in many keys. For interesting comparison, there was $32,000 banked at Broadway's Capital Theatre from the first five days of Vertigo's second week (which is fine, said Variety), while down-the-street Horror Of Dracula collected a solid $15,000 for five days of its own 2nd frame at the Mayfair. Just approaching half of such a big star/studio's take was plenty intoxicating for any humble horror. A distinctly middling June convinced Paramount that Hitchcock's soft-sell wasn't working, however. At these diminishing rates, Vertigo wouldn't grow legs to sustain a summer and attendant drive-in season crucial to anyone's product breaking even.
July's third week saw announcement of New Hardsell Ads to salvage Vertigo's boxoffice. The initial ad campaign, said Variety, merely attempted to create a design or a symbol (the Saul Bass art), similar to that employed in the promotion of The Man With The Golden Arm. Paramount was still ruing Vertigo's title, though it was decided they'd keep it, the feeling being that the first campaign served as a "teaser" for establishing Vertigo in the public mind. Fresh ads were indeed generated, entirely different from ones offered in Paramount's pressbook and featuring prominent imagery of Stewart and Kim Novak. By the time our own Liberty Theatre
|Duotone Lobby Cards In Accordance with Hitchcock's Low-Key Campaign for Vertigo.|
took receipt of a print in August, policy changes were in effect, but did they come too late? Paramount
acknowledged "pitfalls in having the production and home office personnel too closely together." Hitchcock had gotten his way with the ad design and it apparently did not register with the public and a change was made to conventional motion picture "sell
Paramount was hopeful of its rescue lifting Vertigo to receipts The Man Who Knew Too Much had enjoyed (close on $3.6 million in domestic rentals for the '56 release). New ads did help initially, but final tallies told a bleaker story --- $2.8 million in domestic rentals against a negative cost of $2.526 million. Don't know what foreign brought, but it would have to be a lot to get into black. A 1963 reissue with To Catch A Thief was good for an additional $160,000, but showmen preferred Thief with its lure of recent Charade's Cary Grant and still-fascinating-to-her-public "Princess" Grace Kelly (To Catch caught $293,000 in fresh revenue). Vertigo's disappointment was surely reason in part for Paramount's balking at Psycho's projected cost, obliging Hitchcock to bankroll much of it himself (and take home unprecedented % wealth for his trouble). I get no impression from Psycho's ad art of Hitchcock having vetted same (it always looked tacky to me --- but maybe that was Para's intent from get-go).
Ownership of Vertigo's negative would revert to Hitchcock and James Stewart after a contractually specified period, same as had been the case with Rear Window and The Man Who Knew Too Much. You could say Jim and Hitch were partners for life, at least to extent of negotiating future sale of these valuable assets. NBC bargained for Window/Too Much/Vertigo at rates slightly over $300,000 per title, according to Variety, for their network Nights At The Movies. James Stewart had told interviewers back in '58 that he wouldn't hesitate selling post-48 titles in which he had an interest to television provided prices were right. Them were fightin' words to exhibitors then, but by 1964 such deals were commonplace. Vertigo and tandem-billed Psycho would saturate twelve Los Angeles theatres in March 1965 to burn off what theatrical coin was left before NBC's premiere broadcast set for 11-12-65.
Tele-viewers would be Vertigo'ed to numbness over eight years of repeat runs. All three networks supped on Hitchcock/Stewart's plate. Vertigo was a ratings-getter, first for NBC in '65, again on 5-21-66, yet again for the peacock in 1967, then to ABC for a 5-16-71 run. Few pics got such network (over?)exposure. CBS was last of the webs to play Vertigo, on 1-18-73. This was the point at which Vertigo plunged into its own ten-year abyss. Much has been written about Hitchcock withdrawing "his" films in order to preserve same as a family legacy. To begin with, they weren't solely the Master's to hoard. Ownership was shared with James Stewart, and if truth were told, I'll bet the latter's percentage interest was greater than Hitchcock's. Still is, so far as payment to estates. I'd submit that Vertigo and others were withdrawn because they badly needed a "rest" from airplay. To dangle the group over a next decade was shrewd business, and I can imagine Stewart/Hitchcock laying strategy along these lines over dinner at Bellagio Road.
Vertigo almost immediately became a sought-after grail. Like fabled Yetis, it would be occasionally sighted. A Filmex-sponsored run at the Los Angeles County Museum Of Art scheduled for November 29, 1973 was cancelled due to legal complications, said Variety (Disney's Snow White was the pinch-hitter). The American Film Institute featured Vertigo among James Stewart tributing to which the actor contributed Q&A (and likely permission to screen the print). This was in October 1976. England's National Film Theatre had hoped to feature Vertigo in a 1979 Hitchcock season, but trades reported it unavailable. Foreign festivals occasionally slipped in runs. Italy got Vertigo in 1980 --- there was a midnight berth at Montreal's World Film Fest in July the same year to commemorate Hitchcock's passing, the latter regarded a coup. Long out of release due to being tied up in litigation, these classics have been sought by fest programmers all over the world, observed Variety (Rear Window and The Trouble With Harry were also included on Montreal's program).
A Variety article Todd McCarthy wrote in May 1980 addressed various features buried for one rights reason or other, the five Hitchcocks a focal point of interest. The director's agent, Herman Citron, was terse in responding to inquiry --- We're not discussing any of them. Colleges mounting AH tribs found non-theatrical doors closed tight. Films, Inc. had handled Vertigo once upon a time ... but no more. You'd not rent the pic legit, but collectors back-doored it by acquiring 16mm rental prints now out of service, from which came dupe negatives and surreptitious bootlegs. Some were surprisingly nice --- better in fact than smeary airline 16's that Universal generated after they leased the package in 1983. Vertigo was tasty and forbidden fruit for movie clubbers in the late 70's/early 80's before legit availability took fun out of sneak screenings, all this confirming that fans would not be denied their Vertigo fix, whatever device was resorted to in getting it.