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Saturday, July 30, 2011


The James Bond Turning Point

Cause for celebration during senior year was Sean Connery returning as James Bond in Diamonds Are Forever. Dog-like loyalty had inspired my boycott of On Her Majesty's Secret Service for its lacking the real 007, thus years' delay seeing this perhaps best of Bonds. Headed toward an end of high school, I wanted not for certain things to change, even as surely they would, both television and movie-wise. Connery Is Bond, said UA in 1967's You Only Live Twice publicity, making OHMSS all the more a violation of their aesthetic contract with fans (how many others ducked Lazenby in 1969?). Connery being back amounted to restoration of proper order and spiked interest in Diamonds Are Forever.

Our trip to Winston-Salem's opening day, six wedged in and me driving, was 1971 Christmas come early, the Thruway Theatre's holiday attraction held over into a next annum. Already at seventeen was I embarked on nostalgia trips like this and there'd be more at the Thruway two years later when Jack The Giant Killer turned up as a kiddie booking (me again the oldest kiddie there). Movie-going seemed so utterly changed between the mid-sixties and 1971. I'd begun to feel old seeing so much disappear. Double-features first, even at last-stand Liberty, then concessions $oared. Pictures bad or good lingered longer ... no more three changes a week as before. Diamonds Are Forever seemed a lifeline to ways past, though seeing it was to know James Bond and theatres hosting him would never again be the same.


Diamonds Are Forever recently streamed from Netflix. I watched for whatever memories it would bestir from Thruway's forty-year ago opening day. There's no calling this a best of Bonds, except among tastes running toward jokey installments to come. Of these, Diamonds earns laughs most honestly, but whose idea was it to make 007 a figure of fun? I guess 1971 was the point at which camp finally caught up with the series (in hindsight, you wonder why it didn't happen sooner). Certainly Diamonds' success indicated this as direction a public wanted to go. I read at the time how UA offered Connery the moon to come back, which raises another question I've still not got straight ... Was Lazenby fired or did he quit?


The seriousness of OHMSS's ending was not maintained for even a moment of Diamonds Are Forever. A recast Lazenby would've gone about the pre-credit search for Blofeld with far greater intensity than a disengaged Connery visibly aged since You Only Live Twice of four years back. There's a feeling throughout Diamonds of Connery being there purely for cash. He had tired of the part and made no secret of it. Too much compensation had gone to his jowls and midsection. The wit of SC's earlier Bond had become indifference. Still, we were happy to have him back because Connery was, if nothing else, a link to adolescent discovery of James Bond and the glimpse of grown-up-ness that afforded.


Connery Getting Ready To Fall Asleep While Standing Up During Diamonds' Casino Sequence.
There were aspects of Diamonds Are Forever that we knew would date quickly. A precursor to the redneck sheriff who'd contaminate the first two Roger Moores was here, as car chases once played at least moderately straight became stunt driven extravaganzas a network might have animated for Saturday mornings. The Howard Hughes inspired character that was Jimmy Dean was merely two bad ideas among many inappropriate to James Bond, while a homicidal homosexual couple, good for biggest laughs among 1971 viewers, play not so well to heightened 21st century sensibilities.


What Diamonds Are Forever had was tempo. It's like serial chapters wired together and never mind coherence lacking. There must've been hard decisions made going into this one. Surely producers realized that, from here, we'd not take James Bond seriously again. Still, there are fun enough moments in Diamonds to forgive what we'd lose, sort of like eating out on a credit card you know is overdrawn. DAF seems closest to an imagined Bond picture Howard Hawks might have directed: Just give the audience good scenes and don't annoy them too much the rest of the time (if only he had been in charge here!).


There were grosses. Oodles of that. Diamonds was an early occasions I remember Variety talking about a monumental opening weekend. Playboy saluted Bond girl Lana Wood with an extravagant pictorial. She'd later slap-back the franchise writing of an off-set Connery canoodle ... He smelled like the bottom of a lion's cage! ... said Lana. It was tough regarding him the same after that. Someone else talked of SC wandering Vegas casinos during the shoot sans hairpiece and outer-wear appropriate to Bond. Handlers had to hustle him upstairs for a change to avert fan disillusionment (in fact, a lot of tourists didn't even recognize 007).




Saturday, July 23, 2011


A Recent Weekend's Watching

Company down last weekend and we ran six features, plus innumerable shorts (is that overdoing it?). First was A Woman Of Paris, aka the Charlie Chaplin feature people watch least. It was his attempt to go sophisticated, tell truth of cafe idlers he observed on Euro triumph touring where such types presumably sucked up to him. There'd also been an affair with Peggy Hopkins Joyce, who must have rocked CC's world as she had innumerable husbands/lovers. Chaplin hadn't been long admitted to this club, so Woman Of Paris is maybe less relaxed about decadent lifestyle than imitations that would follow (and maybe surpass) it. Too bad a lot of those are lost now, especially Ernst Lubitsch's contributions. The stopped-being-funny-man spent a year on A Woman Of Paris --- Doug/Mary surely seethed over UA partner Charlie's blowing time back of cameras rather than tramp-ing for profit on behalf of indie-venture he'd launched with them.



Good as it turned out, A Woman Of Paris had not a chance before crowds used to Chaplin merry-making (domestic rentals stalled at $648,000). Part of reason he'd done WOP was to golden parachute Edna Purviance off his lot and to dramatic triumph elsewhere. Her girlish days were gone; there's little remnant left even in opener part where she's innocence not yet defiled. I had a boy crush on 8mm Edna --- how many ingénues from 1916 were this cute? --- she being dream girl to beat in Mutuals like Behind The Screen (in cap and overalls --- my favorite), The Rink ... numerous others. They say Purviance read about Charlie's first marriage in newspapers, this after several years the two were offscreen intimate. Too bad Edna didn't leave her side of that story.

Also read that Oona talked CC into reviving A Woman Of Paris after fifty years it went fallow. Made me wonder if there were even surreptitious runs in the US prior (checked Everson's index ---  Woman Of Paris wasn't there --- and if anyone could have scored a print, it would have been WKE). Re-editing/scoring was done when Chaplin was eighty-six --- imagine revisiting a thing so long unseen (even by him). Buffs were hot for A Woman Of Paris though, it being #1 curiosity and rarest of all things Chaplin. I'd love knowing what rentals WOP has collected since going back into 70's circulation. Hulu Plus offers it streaming in high-definition as part of their Janus package. I'll be surprised if Criterion follows up with Blu-Ray availability, but odder things have happened.


Ed Wood was next by guest request. I watched this marveling that Disney would front such a movie geek indulgence, EW a losing by-product of studio business done with hot-off-Batmans Tim Burton, whose pet project this obviously was. You get a feeling of those involved figuring of course we all know about Ed Wood, and that a film based on his exploits would be just what Burton's eager public would be waiting for. This one's indeed an object lesson in overestimating other people's interest in what you're interested in, a hazard known but too well by those of us immersed in old films/stars familiar to precious few others.

There were veterans of Ed Wood wars spoiling still for fights when Ed Wood was released in 1994 (several angrily declaring he never wore women's clothes while directing, but how could Burton have passed up creative-licensing such a hook?). Others took up cudgels for long-departed Bela Lugosi, much too much the gentleman, they said, to have ever used language as Martin Landau does here, he being an otherwise near-dead ringer for late-in-life BL. Again, this was coarse 90's sensibility visited upon the 50's --- purists could take it or leave it. Being seventeen years past '94, just about everyone associated with Wood or Lugosi has gone eternity's way as Ed Wood takes on its own charmed antiquity. Big studios aren't likely to bankroll more black-and-white, extended insider jokes so taken with themselves as this hangover from too many late shows.

Pepe Le Moko is streaming too on Hulu Plus, thanks to that provider's Janus deal. To see a 30's French film in HD after years enduring basement-level dupes is revelation plenty. Finally making sense too is exalted critical rep Pepe developed among those few with access to decent prints. Pepe Le Moko was figured good enough to break out of French confines and maybe splash in US markets, a distinction that would prove its undoing after producer Walter Wanger simply bought the pic outright so he could domestic-do a copy with Euro exotics already settled stateside. Charles Boyer thus replaced Jean Gabin, and recent import Hedy Lamarr romantic partnered him. Good as photo-finished Algiers turned out, it would lack appealingly rough edge of France's original that by dint of Wanger's remaking, wouldn't get US play beyond art and repertory venues.


I've yet to make total peace with sub-titled movies, try as I might, and for years striving toward skill of speed-reading translations w/o missing visuals crucial to the show. My guest proposed but a glance to get essence of words and never mind close perusal of what's at bottom of the image ... but ... I can't help lingering on printed words when they pop up, which is reason I wish they'd use sub-titles only for indispensable narrative info. There's a skill to viewing non-English speaking films that some have and others, like me, never will. Many can't abide a film they have to read. I came off Pepe Le Moko feeling I'd missed part of it, and indeed I had, just for adhering to printed instruction I really didn't need to understand most of what went on. A best watching of foreign films is perhaps the second and beyond times when you know the story and sub-titles can be turned off forever after, a benefit of digital delivery where such option is on most menus.


Last among our program I'll mention is Home Before Dark, of moody 1958 Warners origin just lately (and finally) available on widescreen disc, being a story Bette Davis, or more appropriately Ida Lupino, might have done fifteen years earlier for WB. Its overlong probe of mental illness and domestic trouble resulting is enhanced by locations shot in snowy New England --- director Mervyn LeRoy makes picturesque use of these. Jean Simmons goes for broke of emotional inside-outing actresses wouldn't enjoy much longer as studio manufacture limped toward final decline. Home Before Dark comes of Autumn season for Warner pics that were recognizably theirs. For old time's sake, we're given encore of Now, Voyager themes on the soundtrack. HBD was adult-themed drama kids were likely barred from seeing when new, not that most would have an interest, but for times emerging when most tickets were youth-purchased, it's near unique in appealing first and foremost to grown-up patronage.




Saturday, July 16, 2011

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.


Duotone Lobby Cards In Accordance with Hitchcock's Low-Key Campaign for Vertigo.

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 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 couple of early-70's runs. Few pics got such network (over?)exposure. CBS was last of the webs to play, then re-play, Vertigo and The Man Who Knew Too Much in 1973. 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.




Saturday, July 09, 2011



What's The Matter With Vertigo? --- Part Two

I am at verge of calling Vertigo the definitive "guy" flick, providing said guy is of intensely romantic bent and subject to obsessions not unlike ones Scotty experienced. Do women dig Vertigo? Not ones I've spoken with --- Ann barely recalls our watching beyond dismissal of it as lesser Hitchcock (Rear Window's her idea of great, a sentiment shared by '58 exhibs). Does Stewart/Scotty creep out distaff viewers? It might me were I female. Lest we forget, "apt pupil" Judy falls only after Scotty drags her up the bell tower stairs. Now, there are certain men, lots I suspect, who see themselves in Scotty. I heard from a few by e-mail since last week's Part One. What they shared was too personal to include among comments, but rest assured, their identification with "Old Available Ferguson" was intense. One calls Vertigo simply the finest motion picture ever made. Obviously Hitchcock glimpsed Scotty in mirrors more than once. Did he sense as much in all us males watching?


There's an extra on Universal's DVD that could change, if not wreck, our perception of Vertigo were it appended to circulating prints. Hitchcock was Code obliged to film a tag-on indicating dragnets, in Europe no less, about to close in on Gavin Elster. The news is broadcast via Midge's apartment radio, she and Scotty splitting a bottle post-Judy plunge. It's a near nothing of less than two minutes, but plugged-into Vertigo, then or since, would lay waste to much of the film's impact and legacy. The fade as it stands leaves Scotty atop the bell tower, our impression being he'll not recover from this trauma. But the coda (did Hitchcock even direct it?) suggests SF will bounce back. There's even a comic tag to the newscaster's report. Fortunately, the scene was never inserted to release prints. I'm guessing Paramount and Hitchcock used what muscle they had (considerable) to keep it out, for which we can give thanks, even if it means Gavin Elster may still be living it up somewhere on the French Riviera (in John Robie's former villa, perhaps?).


The ideal of romance, be it man or woman's, doomed or otherwise, is best exemplified by Bernard Herrmann's extraordinary music. We may argue Vertigo's merits till cattle come home, but votes are unanimous to place his among all-time greatest scores. I'm listening now, in fact. A big reason lots (inc. me) repeat view Vertigo is Herrmann. Had Hitchcock forecast same, he might have fired the man a lot sooner than Torn Curtain. Alf didn't like any collaborator becoming indispensible. Writer John Michael Hayes found out (via pink slip) shortly prior to Vertigo. Frank Capra's One-Man, One-Film mantra was one AH applied like a club, this an aspect of the Master's ego that would cost him dearly. To take Herrmann away from Vertigo is to lose half (at least) of the pic's value. His score is that crucial, and Hitchcock of all participating had to know it.

The costing dearly part would come with Torn Curtain in 1966. The story of Herrmann being dismissed and his score thrown out is a long one and needs not recounting here (better told elsewhere). I'll digress by mentioning that sequences from TC were rescored with Herrmann's music for a DVD extra. For those fourteen or so minutes, Torn Curtain suddenly (and finally) became a good movie for me. I ask some of you filmmusic experts out there --- could Torn Curtain be fixed with a complete overlay of Herrmann substituting the John Addison music used for release prints (and subsequent videos)? I read BH's music extended to the bus sequence, which is most of the way in. Could themes from his score be reprised to fill in the rest? Surely a Herrmann-devoted arranger/conductor could step up and, at long last, repair Hitchcock and Universal's misstep of 1966. If an Orson Welles memo could revitalize Touch Of Evil after so many years and be warmly received for the effort, couldn't restoration of Bernard Herrmann's score (a great one, and largely unheard beyond a few soundtrack CD's) do as much to rehabilitate Torn Curtain's standing among Hitchcock's late-career output?

But back to Vertigo and Hitchcock's not-always infallible judgment. He was bullish from the start on a one-word title after fashion of prior Notorious, Spellbound, etc. Vertigo's shooting moniker, From Among The Dead, wouldn't do because, said Variety, (Paramount's) sales department isn't keen on the word "dead." One word is easier to remember, added Hitchcock, and it's easier for the marquee. As to fitness of Vertigo besides, it really doesn't make too much difference whether the title has anything to do with the story (Hitch evoked all-time hit, The Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse, reminding trades that people still don't know what that means). Influenced by recent success of theme song placement, the director pursued "a big piece of good will" by way of a title tune for Vertigo. Did Bernard Herrmann ultimately talk him out of what (we now know) would have been a serious bungle?

Billy Eckstine Makin' With That Mellow Vertigo Sound
There would be a Vertigo vocal, thankfully not heard over finished credits, Billy Eckstine the warbler selected (it's on a few CD's). A soundtrack LP was issued, plus another single, featuring Herrmann's music --- Love Music From Vertigo (gets best results from late-hour deejay programmers, said Variety's "Jocks, Jukes, and Disks" columnist) and on the flip side, Vertigo Prelude, which the reviewer called not as effective. Still, I'd have welcomed drifting off with either to AM slumber back in 1958. There are collectors still who prize these undoubtedly rare discs. I recall the original Vertigo album being quite sought-after during years before re-recordings of the score became available. Does Vertigo's vintage vinyl still command premium dollars?


One thing Hitchcock insisted on was Saul Bass-designed poster art to promote Vertigo. Swirling enigmas these were, minus art of stars Paramount paid hefty for, so what folly was this anti-merchandising? Para had lately moved its sales division to the west coast and that much closer to Hitchcock's hands-on supervision. Wariness over ads too arty, plus drab in the bargain, pitted sale reps against AH well before Vertigo's May 1958 opening (not a few considered the film "somewhat handicapped" by the title Hitchcock had selected). But what if the director was right for following unconventional example of recent hit The Man With The Golden Arm, its poster also designed by Saul Bass and very similar to one-sheets forthcoming for Vertigo? Time, and reaction at turnstiles, would soon answer that riddle.

Part Three and Conclusion to Vertigo Coming Next Week.




Friday, July 01, 2011

What's The Matter With Vertigo? --- Part One

Here's more wallpaper marked Vertigo. When do we finally get past interest in reading about this one? The pic must be great for so much text it generates. I'm self-conscious dipping in a well others surely have drained, having this week Verti-gone over published content in hopes GPS won't parrot what wiser heads have writ. Three at least devoted books to Vertigo. The BFI Film Classics Series tendered Charles Barr's analysis. Then Dan Auiler gave us a "Making Of" account. Frisco locales are then-and-now'ed in a beauty called Footsteps In The Fog by Jeff Kraft and Aaron Leventhal. From such fine work does Vertigo obsession spring ... that plus fact Cinemax runs it often on HD sub-channels ... lately via "5 Star Max" with 5 AM broadcasts, for which I give thanks for salvation of DVR (how many of us used to set alarms for late, late shows? --- I even did it once to see A&C in The Time Of Their Lives).


First impressions die hardest. Mine came with ABC prime-time around 1970. By then, I'd seen Rear Window, NXNW, Notorious --- so expectations ran high. The rooftop opening was this sixteen-year-old's idea of sensational --- from such sock must come Hitchcock's best. Lurching from first commercial break to endless more  slowed pace beyond measure AH calculated (did he ever watch these network cleave-fests?). Vertigo really suffered for hawking of dog food and (back then) cigarette pitches. For over an hour, I waited for something more to happen. Was this a ghost story? That seemed untypical of Hitchcock even for one less exposed to his backlog. The finish upon belated arrival (two and a half primetime hours) left me chilly as reviewer/patrons who'd gone on thumbs-down record in 1958. I learned to like Vertigo only by going inside Hitchcock's skull via bios and deep-dishing read since. It's his "best" if you're an AH student --- in fact, to call Vertigo such is boasting insider knowledge of what drove the man --- but don't imagine you can spring the pic on general viewers, for therein might lie replay of 58's summer freeze-out.

I've seen so many come away sour from Vertigo. Not a few regard me a phony for maintaining it's good, as though I were courting membership among ones who "get" the Master's masterwork. Always instructive is going back to first-run reactions. Too often we dismiss these as proof of unawareness and lack of sophistication --- wasn't it the repressed 50's, after all? My guess is that Paramount sales did panic on receipt of this oddest-duck among Hitchcocks. A first strategy was to sell hard to youth (52% of theatre patrons are under 20 years of age, said Para to trades), so there were ads blanketing college and high-school newspapers. Teen Pace-Setters included girls who read Seventeen magazine, so issues of the latter were salted ... all in service to frankly twisted expression of icky old men both behind and in front of cameras stalking romantic prey. Teenagers hated it, reported showman Jim Fraser of Red Wing, Minnesota ... this in addition to exhibs who said Hitchcock was losing his touch and Vertigo was "too arty." That last played like a chorus among lay critics trading (hopefully) tickets for coin.


That's not me calling Vertigo icky, but I'll bet the word passed lips of many a junior miss exposed to overage Jim Stewart playing out his director's singular vision. The latter would click when served with scares two years later in Psycho --- this time out, and sans humor or suspense set-pieces, there was no buffer twixt viewers and Hitchcock's morose take on losing at love. I tried watching through eyes of Paramount's (if not Hitchcock's) target audience. After all, if you weren't reaching kids in 1958, neither would you reach break-even. Vertigo was maybe a last full-out indulgence for Hitchcock. I'm guessing its failure made him study closer what drive-inners preferred in thrillers, data he'd gather leading to all-time pay-off of Psycho.

Hitchcock had always vetted scripts and casting with wife Alma. By the late 50's and his own approaching sixties, it might have profited more to follow AIP topper Jim Nicholson's example and run ideas by daughter Pat and friends. The reddest flag of my-trip-back-to youth's viewing of Vertigo was Stewart's miscasting as obsessive Scotty. The man was too old for the part as written. Exposition places him not many years out of college. Barbara Bel Geddes (b. 1922) is tendered as Jim's classmate. Now it's one thing to pair older leading men with youthful partners ... that was a 50's constant given plethora of male stars carried over from pre-war and Hollywood's failure to replenish their number afterward. But here's a fifteen-years-younger actress referring to then aged 49 Stewart as the bright young lawyer who was going to be Chief Of Police some day, admonishing his failure to recognize a brassiere she's designing with words to effect that "You're a big boy now."


Scotty seems to have been in arrested development even before his rooftop ordeal. He and Bel Gedde's Midge were engaged once ... for three whole weeks, he recalls. Good old college days, Scotty murmurs --- these having taken place a good twenty-seven years before if Stewart's age and appearance is any indication. I'm still available, he says after reminding Midge it was she who broke off the long-ago betrothal. Why didn't I notice peculiarity of all this before? Could be my own distance from college makes me appreciate how strange it is that Scotty should live so fully in that past. Heck, the whole premise of Vertigo is driven by the character's circle of school buds. Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore ... b. 1904) is ID'ed as a chum Scotty remembers but Midge does not (well, natch --- in any real world, he'd have graduated eighteen classes ahead of her!). I bet none of this went unnoticed by audiences, particularly young ones, in 1958. How much it had to do with poor word-of-mouth (and this was cited as reason for Vertigo's boxoffice drop-off after a strong opening week) is anyone's guess.


Scotty tells Gavin, I don't see much of the old college gang, which set me to thinking, Neither have I, and that was the case for a long time before reaching James Stewart's age when he made Vertigo. Did Hitchcock originally envision a younger man for his lead? That put me to wondering who he could have cast. 1958 Hollywood was barren of age-appropriate stars to enact Scotty Ferguson. I'd wish ... no challenge ... one of you reading to propose a name. The part really called for early-to-mid-thirties casting of the lead. A pre-WWII service Stewart would have been ideal, if less seasoned, for such an intense role. He could even have played it credibly after coming home in 1946, but did Hitchcock have a Vertigo in him so soon as this?


I've considered and struck off names AH might have used. Most guys who made stardom after the war were still too old, or just inappropriate. William Holden, Gregory Peck, Mitchum ... all wrong for differing reasons. Younger names didn't carry their weight in gravitas. Rock Hudson, Robert Wagner, Jeff Hunter --- the very idea of these is ludicrous. What of a John Gavin or Farley Granger? --- but would either, or a Rock Hudson, let a Madeleine/Judy get so under his skin as Stewart believably does? Good as he is at delineating the character, JS was nearly as miscast here as he'd been as Charles Lindbergh in the previous year's Spirit Of St. Louis. Double whammy of these seems to me a beginning of end to Stewart's chart primacy. Hitchcock evidently thought so too --- it was said he blamed Vertigo's (comparative) failure on Jim's aging look, and it was for that reason the director chose Cary Grant instead to star in next-up North By Northwest, a part Stewart counted on till Vertigo receipts drew up short.

Go to Part Two and Part Three:Conclusion, of Vertigo at Greenbriar Archive
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