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Written by Timothy Sexton
John "Scottie" Ferguson
Jimmy Stewart had already collaborated with Alfred Hitchcock on three previous when he got the call for a fourth go-around with Vertigo. Everything appears to have gone quite smoothly on the set as no reports of conflicts between the director and the man who was starting to become known as Hitch’s “everyman” have ever arisen. Nevertheless, Vertigo would become the film that brought the collaboration between Stewart and Hitchcock to a rather thudding and unpleasant end. What changed between the final call of “Cut” from the director on his star’s last day of filming and Hitchcock’s decision to start looking elsewhere for his not-Cary Grant leading man of choice? The box office disappointment of Vertigo which Hitchcock pinned on Stewart being 25 years too old for a hottie like Kim Novak to possibly find attractive as a potential romantic partner.
Judy Barton/Madeleine Elster
Novak represented another of Hitchcock’s cool blondes—for half the time she appears on screen anyway—and she proves herself more than capable of keeping up with the other blondes that populated Hitchcock’s movies of the 1950s. Despite this, Hitchcock was apparently willing to look everywhere for the reason of the film’s incapacity to connect with audiences except for the one place it probably belonged: the audience. The complicated post-release legacy of Vertigo is one in which Novak also comes under scrutiny by Hitchcock for contributing to the film’s box office disappointment with the suggestion that she was miscast for the complex part. One interesting bit of a trivial concerning the Novak’s appearance in the film is that her casting was only made by possible when Columbia struck a deal with Paramount to loan her out for Vertigo in exchange for an agreement that she would be able to reteam with Jimmy Stewart for the film Bell Book and Candle.
Barbara Bel Geddes
If there is a beautiful blonde at the center of the Hitchcock’s examination of voyeuristic sexual perversity, then there must be a rather plainer and mousier counterpoint. Grace Kelly had her Thelma Ritter, Janet Leigh had her Vera Miles and Kim Novak in Vertigo has Barbara Bel Geddes. The name of the version of this Hitchcockian archetype assayed by Bel Geddes really says it: Midge. A name which can sound remarkably like—if mumbled slowly—“middle aged.”
An argument can certainly be made that Tom Helmore gives the most memorable performance in Vertigo. His debonair mode of oiliness provides just the right amount of suspicion and distrust of Gavin Elster to give one pause about what exactly is up here, but he never telegraphs the true depths of his sinister side. Many may find Helmore’s face or voice strangely resonant without knowing quite why and if so, perhaps it will help to jog the memory to be reminded that many years later he once again played the much older husband of a hot young blonde. Only in this particular case, he was the one marked for an excruciating murder until things went wonderfully awry for him: he was the intended who fortunately avoided the misery that came as a result of having the title character of a Night Gallery episode called “The Caterpillar” surreptitiously placed into his ear.
The coroner is certainly not a major character in Vertigo, but he is essential. It is the coroner who contributes to the disintegration of Scottie’s fragile mental and emotional state following the death of Madeleine. The coroner virtually emasculates Scottie by situating his paralyzing fear of heights as the one thing standing between Madeleine being dead or alive at that moment. The strength of strong character actors to the underlying authenticity of a movie is on full display when the coroner gets him momentarily in the sun as one Henry Jones proves not for the first or last time that he truly was one of the all-time great character actors in Hollywood history.
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