Sunday, June 26, 2011


Title: Psycho
Year: 1960
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Screenplay: Joseph Stefano
Source Material: The novel by Robert Bloch
Running Time: 108 minutes
A black & white picture

Sunday 26th June, 12 noon
Ah, so we come to one of the most famous films of all time! I recall seeing this for the first time many moons ago. I had set the video for it and I remember switching on the TV late at night, just to see if it had finished and I caught the final few seconds. That irritated me somewhat. Ah, well.

I wasn't sure if I was going to make it this weekend as I had a rather busy social day yesterday and a bit too much wine last night. I was a tad hung-over this morning, but I managed to get through the movie unscathed as I think my body needed to just crash out a bit.

It's hard to believe I am so close to the end of this project and that I have been doing it for over a year. I'd feel better if I knew more than a handful of people were bothering to read it, but as I've said before, I'm really only writing it for my own amusement.

Norman Bates - Anthony Perkins
Lila Crane - Vera Miles
Sam Loomis - John Gavin
Milton Arbogast - Martin Balsam
Sheriff Chambers - John McIntire
Dr Richmond - Simon Oakland
George Lowery - Vaughn Taylor
Tom Cassidy - Frank Albertson
Mrs Chambers - Lurene Tuttle
Caroline - Pat Hitchcock
California Charlie - John Anderson
Cop - Mort Mills
Marion Crane - Janet Leigh




Sam Loomis and Marion Crane are entwined in some post-coital canoodling in a hotel room. Their love affair feels illicit due to the stresses Sam is under. They want to get married but he is concerned as he is still paying off his father's debts and also paying alimony to his ex-wife. If they had some money, he'd be more than happy to start a new life with Marion.
Marion's late lunch is over and she heads back to work.
Her boss, Mr Lowery, is still out with a client, Mr Cassidy, but they soon return. Mr Cassidy wants to pay $40,000 cash on a house for his daughter's wedding gift. Mr Lowery advises Marion to take the cash to the safe at the bank for over the weekend.
She places it carefully in her handbag and heads off early as she has a headache.

She does not go to the bank. Instead she heads straight home and packs her bags. She decides to drive to see Sam. On the way out of town, her boss sees her as she stops at a pedestrian crossing. She is plagued by thoughts of how people are going to react. The drive is weary and she soon tires. She pulls over to sleep for a while. However, it is dawn when she is awoken by a highway patrolman who is concerned by her rather suspicious nature. He lets her go but later, when she decides she needs to swap cars at California Charlie's car yard, he follows. She pressures California Charlie into helping her swap her old car for a new one and she gives him $700 on top. She is irked by the presence of the policeman and panics, nearly leaving without her luggage which has yet to be transferred from her old car.

She continues on with her drive, now concerned about the discussion Charlie will be having with the cop.
The rain is heavy and she is forced to pull over at the Bates Motel.
No one is around initially, so she honks her horn and a young man comes down from the big house to greet her. He says his name is Norman Bates. He lets her have a room - cabin 1 - but she signs in as Marie Samuels from Los Angeles. Norman invites her to have a bite to eat up at the house. She goes to unpack while he goes to prepare. While she sorts herself, the rain stops and she is able to hear voices coming from the big house. Norman is being berated by an older woman who is chastising him for flirting with the new guest.
Eventually, Norman comes down with a tray holding some sandwiches and a jug. He thinks it's better than taking her up to the house.
They eat in the parlour behind the office. Norman talks of his taxidermy hobby and also his mother. As they talk about human nature amongst other things, Marion begins to realise the error of her ways. She makes her excuses and leaves to get an early night. She plans to return to Phoenix the following day. She even tries to work out how to pay back the money she has since spent.

She takes a shower - as she undresses, she is unaware that Norman is watching through a spy hole connecting the parlour with her cabin - and Norman does not watch for long - he retreats back to the house.

Marion steps into the shower and feels relaxed with a weight off her shoulders knowing she has planned to do the right thing.

However, her plan will never be executed as a tall feminine figure enters the bathroom, draws back the shower curtain and plunges a kitchen knife into Marion's vulnerable body. Stabbing repeatedly at the naked victim, Marion's cries do nothing to prevent her demise.

The woman darts out of the crime scene and back up to the house. Norman is horrified when he sees the blood. He heads down to cabin 1 and discovers Marion's corpse. He wraps it in the shower curtain and mops up the mess in the bathroom. He puts Marion's body along with her belongings (and the $40,000) in the trunk of her car. He takes it to the nearby swamp and sinks it.

The next week, Lila Crane, Marion's sister, goes to visit Sam Loomis in Fairvale at his hardware store. She is severely worried about Marion's whereabouts and considers that Sam might know - but he doesn't. A private detective named Arbogast arrives and starts asking questions. He spends a few days searching hotels and motels around the district. Eventually, after a long search, he comes across the Bates Motel.
He interviews Norman who seems edgy and reluctant to pass on information. Arbogast figures that Marion used Marie Samuels as an alias and goes to phone Lila to tell of his suspicions. He says he is going to return to the house to speak to Norman's mother and will return to Fairvale within an hour.

Back at the motel, Arbogast finds the place deserted. He walks up to the house and lets himself in. He ascends the stairs but as he reaches the top, a woman leaps out of one of the bedrooms and plunges a knife into his chest. Blood splatters on his face and he topples backwards down the stairs. The woman follows him down and throws herself on top of him and finishes him off.

Sam and Lila are very concerned three hours later when Arbogast has not returned. Sam intends to follow him. When he arrives, no one is there. Norman is at the swamp disposing of more evidence for his mother.

Sam heads back to Fairvale and he and Lila go to see the Sheriff. They tell of the whole story - including the stolen money - and the Sheriff is perplexed by the statements about the old woman at the house.
He says Mrs Bates died ten years ago.

The nest day, having met the Sheriff and his wife outside church, Sam and Lila decide to do their own investigating. They head out to the motel and pose as a married couple. Norman gives them cabin 10 but they snoop around cabin 1. They find a shower with no curtain and a piece of paper indicating sums regarding $40,000!
Sam goes to keep Norman occupied whilst Lila heads up to the house. Sam talks with Norman and Lila finds Mrs Bates' room - it is full of antiques and there's an indentation on the bed where she sleeps. Lila also finds Norman's room - full of childhood toys. As she heads back downstairs, Norman has grown suspicious. He hits Sam on the head and heads to the house. Lila sees him coming and hides down the stairs toward the cellar. Norman rushes in and heads immediately up to his mother's room.
Lila, out of curiosity, descends to the cellar. There she sees the old woman sitting with her back towards the door. Lila steps forward and touches the old woman's shoulder. The woman's body swivels in the chair and Lila sees the face of a woman - one that has long been dead, No eyes in the socket, no flesh around the mouth. She screams and then she hears someone coming down the stairs. In strides Norman, dressed in a wig and dress, clutching a knife. As he races forward, Sam appears from behind, grabbing Norman and restraining him. The wig falls off and Norman collapses.

At the county court house, Lila and Sam are recovering from their ordeal. A psychiatrist explains the nature of Norman's mind and about how he had murdered his mother ten years ago and then, through guilt, kept the idea of her alive, ultimately integrating her personality into his own.

Norman is alone in a cell with a blanket. His mother has taken over, perhaps permanently... she knows she had to confess Norman's sins. It was what she had to do, but she knows they'll look at her and know that she is innocent as she would never even harm a fly...


Great Lines

Norman: "12 cabins, 12 vacancies!"


Norman: "A hobby's supposed to pass the time, not fill it"


Norman: "A boy's best friend is his mother."


Marion: "Wouldn't it be better if you put her... some place?"

Norman: "You mean an institution? A madhouse? People always call a madhouse 'some place', don't they?"


Norman: "We all go a little mad sometimes."


Norman: "Mother, oh God, mother! Blood... blood!!"


Norman: "She might have fooled me, but she didn't fool my mother."


Sheriff Chambers: "If the woman up there is Mrs Bates, who's that woman buried out in Greenlawn Cemetary?"


Norma Bates (on how others will view her): "Why, she wouldn't even harm a fly..."

Anthony Perkins gives (in my opinion) one of cinema's finest and nuanced performances. Every line he delivers, every stutter, every twitch, is perfection.

Martin Balsam gives a confident and naturalistic performance as Arbogast and both Janet Leigh and Vera Miles are beautifully cast as sisters.

I have an enormous fondness for Patricia Hitchcock; partly because of her comic timing, her understated beauty and (mainly) because of her wonderful role in Strangers on a Train. Here she has a smaller role as Caroline, Marion's work colleague and although she does not get a huge amount of screen-time, she delivers every line brilliantly.

John Gavin is hot. enough said.

A lot of trivia about the film has been discussed for the past 50 years so I shan't spend time on noting that the blood was chocolate sauce or talk about the sequels and the bizarre remake. (I really admire Psycho II by the way!)

What I will mention though is the frequent use of crane shots throughout. These longer takes are so utterly fantastic to watch - they draw you in completely. The two best are the one immediately following the murder and the other when Norman is talking to his mother prior to taking her downstairs to the cellar. Fantastic.

My Verdict
Sometimes the film is better than the book. Psycho is proof of this.
It almost loses a mark for the rather long-winded explanation from the psychiatrist at the end, but the rest of the film is sublime, so I shall be forgiving.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

North by Northwest

Title: North by Northwest
Year: 1959
Studio: Metro Goldwyn Mayer
Screenplay: Ernest Lehman
Source Material: This is an original screenplay.
Running Time: 130 minutes

Sunday 19th June, 8:30am
It seems I am forever doing laundry. How can one person, living alone, manage to accrue so many dirty clothes in the space of one week. Am I leading a double life? Do I have multiple Personality Syndrome? Who can say? Suffice to say that I have been getting up and down off the couch to reload the washing machine during the length of the movie - and a rather long movie at that. I think it's his longest movie to date (I could go back and check, but frankly, I cannot be arsed). This film is renowned for many reasons and it is also considered one of the top 100 American films ever made. Let's roll!

Roger Thornhill - Cary Grant
Eve Kendall - Eva Marie Saint
Phillip Vandamm - James Mason
Clara Thornhill - Jessie Royce Landis
The Professor - Leo G Carroll
Handsome Woman - Josephine Hutchinson
Lester Townsend - Philip Ober
Leonard - Martin Landau
Valerian - Adam Williams
Victor Larrabee - Edward Platt
Licht - Robert Ellenstein
Auctioneer - Les Tremayne
Dr Cross - Philip Coolidge

Roger Thornhill is an advertising executive working in New York. He leaves his office with his secretary and heads to the Plaza hotel for a meeting with some other gentlemen. Through a misunderstanding, two heavies assume he is a secret agent named George Kaplan and bundle him off in a car and take him to a country house - despite his protestations.
Here he meets an enigmatic man who calls himself Lester Townsend and he threatens 'Kaplan' in order to get him to cooperate. Roger refuses, continually insisting he knows nothing about what 'Townsend' is talking about. 'Townsend' leaves to attend to his dinner guests whilst the heavies pour bourbon into Roger and take him out to set up his demise. They place the steaming Thornhill into a car and set him off driving down the road, hoping he'll steer himself off the cliff. However, Roger commands the car better than they expect but are soon dissuaded from pursuing further when Roger is stopped by the police.
At the station, Roger has little luck making anyone believe his mother. In court the next day, the judge and even his own mother fail to believe his mad story. He, his mother and the detectives head back out to the country house, only to find no scene of any crime and the mistress of the house lies through her bare teeth, saying Roger was there for a party and drove off drunk later in the night. She also says her husband is at the General Assembly Building for the United Nations.

Let out on bail, he returns to the Plaza with his mother. They search the supposed room of George Kaplan and discover that the clothes there would not fit Roger.
Roger finds a photo of the man he knows as 'Townsend' and
The phone rings and Roger answers. This unfortunately does not help prove he is not Kaplan to his kidnappers who then come up to get him. They meet them in the lift and evade capture. Roger escapes in a taxi and heads to the general Assembly Rooms. There he introduces himself as Kaplan to the receptionist and he gets them to page Townsend. Townsend appears, but it is not the man he met the night before. He tries to get answers from this new man but before he gets any further one of the heavies has thrown a knife which sticks in the poor man's back and kills him. Roger is discovered lifting the knife from the fatal wound and caught on camera - he is now wanted for murder.

Meanwhile, in a private office, a man known as the Professor discusses the recent events with his cohorts. They are a government agency and their 'George Kaplan' never existed. He was invented as a decoy to keep their enemy unaware of a real double agent within their midst. They are happy for this Roger Thornhill to play the role whilst they sit back.

Roger escapes to Grand Central Station where he passes by the guards without a ticket and boards the train to Chicago having learned that this is where Mr Kaplan was supposed to have headed since checking out of the Plaza.
On board, he evades capture with the help of a beautiful young woman named Eve Kendall. He dines with her and they have instant chemistry. She comments on the initials on his personalised match-book as she is curious about his three initials R.O.T. She hides him within her compartment when the police board and search the train.

During the journey, Eve sends a note to her employer, Phillip Vandamm (the man Roger knows as the fake Townsend) simply asking What do I do with him in the morning? Eve.

When they arrive in Chicago, he leaves wearing a porter's uniform and whilst he changes in the restrooms, Eve speaks to one of the heavies. She tells Roger she has telephoned the hotel at which George Kaplan is supposedly staying and she has got some specific instructions of where he wants to meet. She says goodbye but seems regretful of her actions.

Arriving in the middle of nowhere by bus, Roger waits patiently at the proposed co-ordinates. Cars pass by without stopping. A man arrives and waits for a bus. Initially, Roger thinks this must be Mr Kaplan, but it's merely an innocent bystander who is curious when he spies the crop-duster plane dusting where there are no crops. As the bystander leaves on his bus, the plane turns and heads toward Roger.
He tries to hide in the nearby corn, but they force him out with the dusting of chemicals. He rushes out into the road to stop a truck, but the small plane than crashes right into the truck and explodes. Roger escapes as he steals the car of a passer-by whose curiosity got the better of him.

Roger returns to Chicago and to Kaplan's supposed hotel. He sees Eve there. He goes up to her room - he is now suspicious of her after she seemingly gave him instructions to his would-be death. He flirts with her to make her believe he isn't suspicious but when she leaves as he fakes showering, he follows her to an auction house.
Here he discovers her with Vandamm and his heavies. Vandamm is purchasing a statuette. During the auction, Vandamm drags Eve away, realising she has feelings for Roger and leaves the heavies to finish Roger off. Roger causes a commotion at the auction and is arrested by the cops who have consequently just saved Roger from imminent doom.

When calling in to the station to report the capture of Roger Thornhill, they are given instructions to take him to the airport instead. They do as they are told and it as at the airport Roger meets the Professor. The Professor explains the situation - the decoy, the fact Eve is their double agent etc - and persuades Roger to maintain the façade for another 24 hours, for Eve's sake. They head to South Dakota...

A meeting is arranged at a public venue in a café at Mount Rushmore National Park. Here, Roger tells Vandamm that he will allow him to leave the country only if he gets to keep Eve. Vandamm refuses, but Roger grabs Eve but she pulls out a gun and shoots him. She runs away and the Professor confirms the wounding of Roger. Vandamm leaves.
Roger's wounded body is taken to hospital, but on the way, they stop at a rendezvous point in the woods where they meet up with Eve. The gun had blanks and Roger is fine. It was all part of a plan to fool Vandamm. It is then revealed by the Professor that the new plan is for Eve to continue as her role as a double agent and she is to go with Vandamm on the plane out of America. Thornhill is furious, but is knocked out by the Professor's driver before he can retaliate.

Roger is then being kept at the hospital in a locked room. The Professor brings him clean clothes and at the earliest opportunity, Roger climbs out of the window and makes his escape.
He takes a taxi to Mount Rushmore. On the mountainside is a lodge where Vandamm is hiding out with his henchmen and Eve. Roger listens in at the window and overhears a great deal - including the whereabouts of the microfilm within the belly of the statuette. He also learns that one of Vandamm's henchmen has figured that Eve is a double agent so they plan to dispose of her. Roger climbs up into her bedroom but he is too late, she has already gone downstairs. He writes on the inside of his personalised match-book a quick note:

"They're onto you - I'm in your room."

He creeps out of the bedroom and tosses it down to the lounge area hoping she'll see it. She does. Eve reads the note, makes an excuse about a lost earring and retreats to her room. Roger tells her that she is in danger and tells her she has to get away from them.
She returns to Vandamm and starts to move out to the plane that is awaiting them.
Thinking he is alone in the lodge, Roger tries to follow but is surprised to find himself held at gunpoint by the maid. He realises in time that the gun is the same one that Eve used - full of blanks - and escapes to the car outside. Eve makes a break for the car away from her captors and they drive down to the gate - however, it is locked, so they dash off through the woods.
They find themselves on top of the monument of Mount Rushmore and attempt to climb down to get away from their pursuers. The two heavies try to follow but in the ensuing fight, both fall to their demise. One is thrown by Roger, the other is shot by the Professor who has made it in time. Eve is struggling to hold on from the precipice from which she is dangling. Roger reaches out and pulls her up. We cut to the two of them in the compartment of a train as newly-weds and as they embrace, the train enters a tunnel.


Great Lines
The screenplay has witty and clever lines in abundance. Here are a few:

Thornhill: "In the world of advertising there's no such thing as a lie. There's only 'expedient exaggeration'."


Clara Thornhill: "I think I'd like to meet these killers!"
leading to the moment in the lift when she asks; "You gentlemen aren't really trying to kill my son, are you?"


Eve sees the initials 'R.O.T.' on Roger's match-book.

Eve: "What does the 'O' stand for?"

Thornhill: "Nothing."


This nest line is delivered so curiously and innocently by the bystander, but it signposts something much more ominous:

Man: "That plane's dusting crops where there ain't no crops!"


When the valet tells Roger his suit will be cleaned, pressed and returned within 20 minutes, Roger says to Eve: "Now, what could a man do with his clothes off for 20 minutes? Couldn't he have taken an hour?"

To which Eve responds coolly: "You could always take a cold shower."


At the auction house, Roger meets with Vandamm again.

Vandamm: "What possessed you to come blundering in here liek this? Could it be an overpowering interest in art?"

Thornhill: "Yes, the art of survival."


When Eve asks why his previous two wives divorced him, Roger has a deeply ironic reply.

Thornhill: "I think they said I lead too dull a life..."

Cary Grant - a man who can do no wrong. Yes, he may be too old for the role and yes, he is only seven years younger than the woman playing his mother, but they are both brilliant in their respective roles with an utterly believable mother/son rapport.

Eve Marie Saint is a stunner and can play the cool blonde as well as the next actress, but I do feel there's an uncomfortable distance between her and Hitchcock. Maybe I'm wrong, but given his track record, I may be on the nail here.

James Mason is incapable of delivering a line badly. Every word he utters is magnificently menacing in a suave and charismatic way. Lawd bless 'im, guvnor.

In the scene where Eve 'shoots' Roger, a kid in the background sticks his fingers in his ears, obviously aware of what's about to happen. Bah! Hitch should have sacked him.

Bernard Herrmann's score is fantastic. In fact, he is in the middle of a brilliant hat-trick. The scores for Vertigo, North by Northwest and Psycho are all magnificent pieces of work.

One of the most notable things about North by Northwest is the many* unusual and occasionally unnatural camera angles used by Hitchcock throughout. They certainly lend an air of uncomfortable voyeurism in many shots. My absolute favourite is when Roger flees from the Assembly Building and we see his tiny figure sprint down a path to a taxi from so high above, it almost looks cartoon-like. It's a striking image highlighting his remoteness from everything safe.

*I nearly wrote 'myriad' at this point, but isn't that term just becoming so pretentiously ubiquitous these days - and often incorrectly used. Grrr!

My Verdict
Genuinely entertaining. All the hallmarks of classic Hitchcock; Innocent man on the run, icy blonde, lots of suspense. A few plot-holes here and there, but you fly past them so fast, you probably won't notice. Despite being so revered, I still only give it 9/10 - like Vertigo previously, I admire it greatly but still do not love it. (And, frankly, that's what this blog is about, right?)

Monday, June 13, 2011


Title: Vertigo
Year: 1958
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Screenplay: Alec Coppel and Samuel Taylor
Source Material: The novel D'Entre Les Morts ('From Among the Dead') by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac
Running Time: 124 minutes

Monday 13th June, 9:00am
Here in Australia, it is 'Queen's Birthday' long weekend. I decided to take the Friday off as well so I could have four days of peace. I have to admit, now it's almost lunchtime on the final day, I have succumbed to some sort of cabin fever. I'm still in my PJs and feeling rather apathetic about most things.
However, I had to continue with the blog. My original intention was to get it out of the way on Friday... then Saturday.. then Sunday. Oh bugger. Well, it's done now and here I am typing it up.

John 'Scottie' Ferguson - James Stewart
Madeleine Elster/Judy Barton - Kim Novak
Marjorie Wood - Barbara Bel Geddes
Gavin Elster - Tom Helmore
Coroner - Henry Jones
Doctor - Raymond Bailey
McKittrick Hotel Manager - Ellen Corby
Pop Leibel - Konstantin Shayne
Car Owner - Lee Patrick

John Ferguson is a detective in San Francisco. After the death of a colleague during a rooftop chase, for which he feels responsible, John decides to retire and continues to battle with acrophobia and the subsequent vertigo. He is known to his friends as 'Scottie' and he hangs out with an ex-fiancée of his named Marjorie "Midge" Wood who designs lingerie.
He has a call from an old friend called Gavin Elster who works in the ship-building industry. Gavin wants Scottie to follow his wife - not for the usual reasons, but because he is curious to know where she has been. He seems to think she is being possessed by the spirit of another woman.
Scottie thinks it's all nonsense but is curious enough to agree to rendezvous at Ernie's restaurant that evening.
At Ernie's, he sees the beautiful Madeleine and there is something bewitching about her which makes him decide taht he will follow her as Gavin requested.

The next day, he follows her to a florist where she buys a bouquet; she visits the grave of a 'Carlotta Valdes' (Born December 3rd 1831 - Died March 5th 1857); then a gallery where she sits before a portrait of Carlotta - he notices the similar styled hair Madeleine has. Eventuially, he follows her to the McKittrick Hotel - he sees her enter and then spies her in the upstairs window. He goes to investigate but the manageress says that the woman who rents that room was not currently visiting.
He has lost her trail...

Scottie does some more investigating with the help of Midge and they visit the Argosy book store where Midge's friend gives some information about the late Carlotta Valdes who apparently killed herself after her life fell apart. Carlotta was also Madeleine's great grandmother.

Another day, Scottie follows Madeleine again - this to to Old Fort Point beneath the Golden Gate Bridge. He watches as she dismantles the floral bouquet and tosses it into the bay before throwing herself in after. He leaps in to save her and takes her back to his apartment to recover. She doesn't seem to remember much about what happened during her trance. She leaves without saying goodbye and he Scottie speaks to Gavin on the phone about the connection between Madeleine and Carlotta. Gavin is concerned;

"She's 26. Carlotta Valdes committed suicide at 26!"

Madeleine returns the next day to Scottie's apartment apologising for her sudden departure. He takes her for a drive and they talk about the recurring dreams she has which feel like premonitions. She wonders if she's mad. He takes her in his arms and kisses her.

Meanwhile, Midge has taken up painting again and, for a joke, paints a version of Carlotta's portrait but with her own face in place of the original. Scottie is less than impressed and Midge chastises herself for her foolishness.

Madeleine later tells Scottie about the Spanish villa she sees in her dreams - he realises it's not in Spain, but a Mission just south of San Francisco called San Juan Bautista. They go to see the museum and he confesses her love for her. She pulls away and races to the church - He follows, but then she dashes up the tower and due to his acrophobia, he cannot follow. He is appalled when he hears a scream and sees her body fall past the window. Her body is broken on the roof below.

A hearing is held and the jury conclude it was a suicide and Scottie is not to blame. Gavin is sympathetic to Scottie's plight and tells him that he is going to leave for Europe to start a new life.
Scottie starts having nightmares with visions of bouquets, Carlotta's necklace, her grave and the feeling of falling from great heights.
These dreams tip him over the edge and he is sent to an institution where Midge visits on a regular basis - but she feels he is lost for good. His doctor knows he is suffering from a severe guilt complex, but Midge knows it is worse because Scottie was in love with Madeleine.

Eventually, months later. Scottie returns to normal society, but he is still plagued by images. He obsesses over things that remind him of Madeleine and then, one day, he sees a brunette woman in the street who looks almost identical to Madeleine.
He follows her back to the Empire Hotel. He introduces himself to her, but she is a little scared. She tells him she is Judy Barton from Salina, Kansas. He convinces her that he is harmless and that he'd like to take her for a meal. She is reluctant at first, but then concedes. He says he'll return in an hour to pick her up.
This is when she panics.
In flashback we witness the truth...

When she ran up the steps of the tower as 'Madeleine', she went through the trapdoor where Gavin was waiting for her. He had the real Madeleine in his arms with a broken neck. He tossed her body out of the window. They waited for everything to die down before leaving again...

Back in the present moment, Judy starts to pack her bags, but then stops. She begins to write a note to Scottie...

"Dearest Scottie,
And so you found me.
This is the moment I dreaded and hoped for; wondering what I'd say and do if I ever saw you again. I wanted so to see you again, just once. Now I'll go and you can give up your search. I want you to have peace of mind. You've nothing to blame yourself for. You were the victim. I was the tool and you the victim of Gavin Elster's plan to murder his wife. He chose me to play the part because I looked like her. He dressed me up like her. He was quite safe because she lived in the country and rarely came to town. He chose you to be the witness to a suicide. The Carlotta story was part real, part invented to make you testify that Madeleine wanted to kill herself.
He knew of your illness. He knew you'd never make it up the stairs to the tower. He planned it so well. He made no mistakes.
I made the mistake. I fell in love. That wasn't part of the plan.
I'm still in love with you and I want you so to love me. If I had the nerve, I'd stay and lie, hoping that I could make you love me again, as I am, for myself... and so forget the other and forget the past. But... I don't know whether I have the nerve to try..."

With this final word, she stops and tears the letter up. She unpacks her case and decides to go on that dinner date after all.

Over a few days, Judy and Scottie spend a lot of time together. He pampers her and treats her well... until he starts buying clothes for her. He is insistent that she has the exact clothes that Madeleine used to wear. He makes her dye her hair blonde and forces her to pin it in the same way. She is disturbed by all this, but does as he asks. Then, one night, when she feels all is well, they plan to go out for dinner.
As he waits for her to finish making herself up, she puts on a necklace - it catches his eye. It's the same necklace Carlotta wore in the portrait.
He changes the plans for the evening and drives back down to San Juan Bautista. He has pieced it all together. He is fuming - almost deranged - he forces Judy to climb the steps within the tower, recreating the fatal night. He manages to make it all the way up to the crime scene. Judy, distressed and worn down, confesses to the truth and admits she was paid by Gavin to impersonate his wife - she was paid with money... and the necklace.
She also confesses how she had truly fallen in love with Scottie and that was why she was still there. They embrace in the tower, but the looming shadow of a nun (who had been concerned when she had heard voices) terrifies Judy and she screams, staggers backwards and falls from the tower to her death.
Scottie steps out onto the sill of the window and looks down...


Great Lines
During one of Madeleine's trances, she talks to the tree whose inner circles record a passage of time, touching the rings as she does so;

"Somewhere in here I was born... and there I died. It was only a moment for you. You took no notice."


Midge is distressed at Scottie's collapse and fears music therapy is not the answer;

"I don't think Mozart's going to help at all..."


Scottie points out Judy's downfall;

"You shouldn't keep souvenirs of a killing - you shouldn't have been that sentimental."

The final shot of Scottie standing at the top of the tower looking down is a clear sign that he has overcome his acrophobia - but at what cost.

There are a couple of unanswered questions. Firstly, does Gavin ever get caught for the crime? Secondly, why did the manageress at the McKittrick Hotel say Carlotta/Madeleine/Judy had not been in the hotel that day, when clearly she had? Was she on Gavin's payroll too?

Scottie's entropy into an obsessive and slightly deranged man is fascinating and a little disturbing. He becomes a modern-day Pygmalion, creating the perfect woman for his needs.

It would be folly to write about Vertigo and not mention the camera technique made famous by this film. Created by Irmin Roberts and used to great effect in this movie is the superb vision of the depth perspective zooming away from the point of view of Scottie when he is having his spells of vertigo. This is created by zooming in whilst pulling back (or vice versa) and is uncomfortable yet effective to watch. It has since been used many, many times in cinema, but it will be Vertigo for which it is best remembered.

The cast is relatively small and everyone plays their role beautifully. The two female leads are fantastic. Kim Novak is utterly convincing in her dual role and for first time viewers who aren't familiar with her work, they may be asking themselves if Judy Barton is indeed played by someone else - for at least a few minutes.
Barabara Bel geddes also does a superb job for she is in the role of the gooseberry. "Midge" is the character who shares our perspective. She is an outsider looking in and unable to help. She is both charming and endearing but also flawed, just as you or I would be. The last we see of her is a slow walk down a corridor at the institution where we can feel her despair as it echoes across the walls.

James Stewart is wonderful, as always. Enough said.

My Verdict
All other guides give Vertigo full marks and I feel like I am cheating Hitchcock if I do otherwise. It is an amazing film, but I just don't love it like I love some of his others (which is my issue more than anyone else's!)
Maybe one day I will figure out why, but until I do, I will do something I have not yet done in this blog. I will go decimal!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Wrong Man

Title: The Wrong Man
Year: 1956
Studio: Warner Brothers
Screenplay: Maxwell Anderson and Angus MacPhail
Source Material: Based on a true story
Running Time: 101 minutes
A black & white picture

Sunday 5th June, 8:30am
I cannot believe it is June already, time has flown by. It is hard to believe I have been doing this blog for over a year now. Although I have loved doing it, I will be pleased to be free of the commitment when it's over. just a couple of months to go.

Oddly, I had a bit of a lie in this morning. I didn't get up until 7! That is quite a lie in for me as I usually awake around 5 or 6. It seems I had about nine hours sleep. Heavens to Betsy.

I wasn't really in the mood for this film today as I have seen it a couple of times before and have always felt it was a little dry, however, I ploughed through and found myself enjoying it more than before.

Christopher Emanuel 'Manny' Balestrero - Henry Fonda
Rose Balestrero - Vera Miles
Frank O'Connor - Anthony Quayle
Lt Bowers - Harold Stone
Tomasini - John Heldabrand
Ann James - Doreen Lang
Olga Conforti - Lola D'Annunzio
Gregory Balestrero - Robert Esson
Judge Groat - Dayton Lummis
Detective Matthews - Charles Cooper
Betty Todd - Norma Connolly
Mama Balestrero - Esther Minciotti
Constance Willis - Lauinda Barrett
Gene Conforti - Nahamiah Persoff
Robert Balestrero - Kippy Campbell
Daniell - Richard Robbins
Miss Dennerly - Peggy Webber

The early morning hours of January the fourteenth, nineteen hundred and fifty-three, a day in the life of Christopher Emanuel Balestrero that he will never forget...

'Manny' works as a Bass Fiddle player at the Stork Club, a late-night venue for the well-to-do. He has a small two-bedroom home where he lives with his wife, Rose, and their two sons Bob and Greg.
In the early hours of January 14th, he leaves work and does his usual routine. Takes the underground train from Fifth avenue, reads the paper, checks the horse odds on the racing pages, gets some toast and coffee at his usual haunt and then returns home. He checks in on the sleeping children and then goes in to his own room to see Rose. This particular morning, she is still awake due to the pain of her wisdom teeth coming through. Apparently, the cost at the dentist will be $300 and Manny says he will try and borrow some money.

The next day he heads to the insurance office and asks about a loan on his wife's policy. The teller behind the counter is obviously a little disturbed by something. She goes to talk to her colleagues. She believes that Manny is the man who held up the office with a gun a few weeks ago. When he leaves, he visits his mother briefly before heading home. In the mean time, the police have been called and they are waiting for him when he gets home.

Without allowing him to speak to Rose or the kids, they whisk him off to the 110th precinct where he is interrogated - they take him for a drive and ask him to enter a couple of locations so that witnesses can recognise him. The majority seem to think he is the man who held up their stores. One girl is not entirely convinced.
Back at the precinct, they ask Manny to write a note that is dictated to him - it's the note the hold-up man had given to the teller at the insurance company...


The detectives get Manny to write it out twice and on one occasion, he misspells the final word, just like the hold-up man. 'Draw' instead of 'Drawer'.

Meanwhile, Rose is at home panicking about where Manny could be.

The detectives take Manny's fingerprints after witnesses from the insurance office identify him as the criminal. They take his belongings (but allow him to keep his Roasary beads) and lock him up for the night. Manny's brother-in-law, Gene, has been making enquiries trying to find out information as to Manny's whereabouts and soon learns of the arrest.

The next morning, after a brief court appearance, Manny is taken to Long Island City prison but he is not there for long as Gene and Olga manage to provide the $7,500 for bail.
Rose arranges to meet Frank O'Connor, a solicitor. He says he will represent them but says that they will have to find evidence of their location during the dates on which the crimes were committed. One such date was July 9th the previous year, so Manny and Rose head to the hotel at which they were staying that month. They recall playing a card game with some other guests, but when they seek out these other holiday makers at their respective homes, it is discovered that they have both since died.
Rose begins to lose her mind at the fragility of their case. She begins to blame herself for the mess. She believes if she had been better with their economics, Manny would never have needed to ask about borrowing money on her life insurance. She thinks they should lock themselves in at home and hide from the outside world.
At one point, it gets all too much for her and she lashes out at Manny with her hairbrush. It strikes his head and then smashes the mirror on the dressing table.

Manny sends her to a psychiatrist who diagnoses her with mental problems caused by severe guilt complex. He advises putting her in an institution until she gets better.

The trial begins and the prosecution, Mr Tomasini, tries to paint Manny as a gambler trying hard to pay off debts.
O'connor forces the issue of mistaken identity.
Frustratingly, one of the jurors causes a scene and they have to call it a mistrial which means they have to start all over again but with a new jury.
The stress is getting to Manny who has been clutching his Rosary beads day-in, day-out. He prays for some sort of assistance from God...
That night, the real culprit tries to hold-up another store. He is apprehended and taken to the 110th precinct. Here one of the detectives sees the previous error and brings in the life insurance witnesses once more - again, they are convinced that they have picked the right man, but this time it is the right man.

The charges against Manny are dropped and he can return home. He visits Rose in the sanitarium, but she is still lost and distant. He hopes she will return to him some day soon...

Two years later, Rose Balestrero walked out of the sanitarium - - completely cured.
Today she lives happily in Florida with Manny and the two boys.. and what happened seems like a nightmare to them - - but it did happen.

The End.

Great Lines
The film dialogue tends to steer clear of witty dialogue, for obvious reasons, but Manny's children do add a realistic touch of light relief toward the beginning of the film whilst discussing Mozart at the piano:

Bob: "It says here that Mozart wrote it when he was 5. So I should be able to play it. I'm 8."

Greg: "I'm 5, so I should be able to write it!"

Later on, there's one line which is delivered perfectly by Manny to the 'right' man:

Manny: "Do you realise what you've done to my wife?"

It's so real and true. A lesser writer may have had Manny simply ask 'why?' or say something similarly selfish, but true to Manny's character, he thinks of others first, in this case, his wife.

The night Manny spends in the cell at the 110th precinct is shot beautifully, causing a very claustrophobic atmosphere within the cell. Also, when he is transferred to Long Island City Prison, we are subjected to the terrifying journey prisoners make as they adapt to their future, being lead through the barred corridors. The camera following Manny into his cell through the small oblong opening takes us deep within the psychological nightmare that jail provides.

My favourite shot is when Manny is praying before a painting of Jesus in the hope that divine intervention will take place, then we see the real villain heading to his next victim's store. For a few seconds, their faces overlap on the screen and we see the similarities... but also their differences.

What I find most interesting about this story is how the real victim here is Rose. Although Manny is the innocent man accused of a crime he did not commit, it is Rose whose life is torn apart the most - her beliefs are torn down, exposing her mind to the ravages of guilt and paranoia.

The final screenshot depicts the family reunited and walking down a street in Florida. A caption that tells us that Rose recovered is actually lying to us. According to sources, Rose never fully recovered and that, with hindsight, gives one a shiver down the spine.

My Verdict
A sombre film lacking in Hitchcock's trademark black humour, but one can expect that coming from a true story. Henry Fonda does a great job as Manny, but it is Vera Miles who steals the show as Rose. 7/10