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Can’t understand Vertigo


Technicolor33
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18 minutes ago, Technicolor33 said:

Why did James Stewart’s college buddy kill his wife ? What was the whole purpose ? Maybe someone can help me understand the movie. Feel free to message me. I don’t want to spoil the plot to those who haven’t seen it yet.

Maybe he wanted Stewart to SEE him "kill" his wife.  (And even the quotation marks may be spoilers.)

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3 hours ago, Technicolor33 said:

Why did James Stewart’s college buddy kill his wife ? What was the whole purpose ? Maybe someone can help me understand the movie. Feel free to message me. I don’t want to spoil the plot to those who haven’t seen it yet.

It sort of doesn't matter why "Scottie's" college buddy wanted his wife dead...it's what Hitchcock called the "MacGuffin".  As you may already know,  Hitch would just use a plot device as an excuse for - well, for the plot to happen.  He didn't concern himself with character motivation or a clear and understandable reason for what triggers the action in his stories.  He just regarded those sorts of things -- things such as Stewart's old friend. ( hm, some friend...) wanting his wife killed as a reason for everything that happens in Vertigo.  

We hardly see or hear from the college buddy once James Stewart has committed to the job- the job of tailing the wife.  I have to say,  the c0ck and bull story the friend comes up with is both implausible and fascinating.

As for spoilers,  I figure everyone here on these boards has already seen "Vertigo" at least once,  so I'm not too worried about giving anything away.

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4 hours ago, Technicolor33 said:

Why did James Stewart’s college buddy kill his wife ? What was the whole purpose ? Maybe someone can help me understand the movie. Feel free to message me. I don’t want to spoil the plot to those who haven’t seen it yet.

He killed her because he could no longer take her incessant nighttime snoring.

(...remember, 1958 would be YEARS before they'd come out with those Breathe Right ® nasal strip thingies)

;)

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It's kinda like the differences between a lot more 'modern' movies and movies of the past:

Why did the criminal in the Old West rob THE GREAT WESTERN BANK? 

Old movie:  Because he was bad and wanted the money without working for it!  And will kill anyone who gets in his way.

Modern Western:  Because he wanted the money to take care of his poor, downtrodden Mum who was left in the lurch by his Dad when he was 4 years old and blah blah blah.  He was sent to various orphanages and foster homes and has now 'reconnected' with his Mother and wants to pay for her dental work so he hatches a plan to rob the bank without hurting anybody and all the rest of that "character motivational" tripe. 

 

 

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I hadn't tried to analyze it as you have, TECHNICOLOR33, but, if I did think of it at all,  I think I was laboring under a vague, apparently mistaken assumption.   For some reason, I just assumed that brown-haired "Judy",  the woman that Jimmy thinks is Madeleine when he gets out of the sanitarium,  was somehow romantically involved with Gavin Elster, his college roommate, at the time Gavin was plotting his wife's death.  Blinded by her dependence and/or love for Gavin, she went along with his horrific plan.  He may have paid her as well?   If he wanted at the time, to run off with Judy, then the elaborate murder could be part of the scheme.   But as one could imagine, after the deed was done, the alliance between them fell apart....

But, nobody here seems to think that, so I'm re-evaluating!   

 

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The reason he killed her is easy. He was obsessed with the most roundabout way possible to carry out such a deed. Certainly he was smart enough to think a more direct manner but if he did that what would Hitch do with it? A concerted attempt of not trying to understand the movie is imperative for the enjoyment.

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One of the biggest plot holes (SPOILER ALERT) was Elster's assumption, in murdering his wife, that Scotty wouldn't see her body  after she "fell" off the church tower and realize she was not the Madeleine that he knew. His entire murder plot would have been exposed if Scotty had done it. One hell of a big gamble for a "smooth operator" like Elster to take (even if it did pay off for him for a while). Plus weren't any photographs published in the media of what the real Madeliene looked like for Scotty to see? Kinda stretching credibility there, to put it mildly.

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5 hours ago, Technicolor33 said:

Why did James Stewart’s college buddy kill his wife ? What was the whole purpose ? Maybe someone can help me understand the movie. Feel free to message me. I don’t want to spoil the plot to those who haven’t seen it yet.

It won't spoil the movie, because it's not what the movie is about.  He wants her money.

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3 hours ago, Dargo said:

He killed her because he could no longer take her incessant nighttime snoring.

(...remember, 1958 would be YEARS before they'd come out with those Breathe Right ® nasal strip thingies)

;)

Maybe that’s why in Rear Window , Raymond Burr’s character murdered his wife and cut her up.

or maybe he just snapped one day and killed her over her nagging.

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I'll confess that I've grown to be a fan of this movie.  Not a big fan; but perhaps a little more than your average run-of-the-mill type.  What finally convinced me to really watch it and pay attention to it is that I can't make it make any sense.  So you might ask,"What the Dickens are you talking about, then?"

Well, for me, it is the Bernard Herrmann score.  Once I started letting it engulf me, the whole movie just floats along as if it lives in a dream or shadow.   It's purely an experience for me, something to be felt rather than puzzled through and solved.   It certainly isn't "Dial 'M' for Murder!"

Now, like most of my opinings around here, that's just me and my reaction.  

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2 hours ago, brianNH said:

I'll confess that I've grown to be a fan of this movie.  Not a big fan; but perhaps a little more than your average run-of-the-mill type.  What finally convinced me to really watch it and pay attention to it is that I can't make it make any sense.  So you might ask,"What the Dickens are you talking about, then?"

Well, for me, it is the Bernard Herrmann score.  Once I started letting it engulf me, the whole movie just floats along as if it lives in a dream or shadow.   It's purely an experience for me, something to be felt rather than puzzled through and solved.   It certainly isn't "Dial 'M' for Murder!"

Now, like most of my opinings around here, that's just me and my reaction.  

And kind of the very same way I've always felt about this Hitchcock movie, Brian. I think it's a very well made film containing some very inventive visuals, but never felt it any sort of cinematic "masterpiece of the greatest kind", however.

(...and I'll now add that I've never understood how over the years its reputation has grown to such a great degree that within the past few years it is often ranked right up there with Citizen Kane???)

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10 hours ago, Dargo said:

 

(...and I'll now add that I've never understood how over the years its reputation has grown to such a great degree that within the past few years it is often ranked right up there with Citizen Kane???)

Speaking for myself, while Citizen Kane is technically impressive, it has never had any emotional impact upon me. I don't care about any of its characters.

Unlike Vertigo, in particular, at its ending. It's disconcerting and disturbing to see Jimmy Stewart, of all people, cast as an obsessive individual who fantasies about a woman for whom he feels responsibility for her death, a death that actually didn't even happen (at least, not hers). This is one of my favourite Stewart performances and at the film's climax when you see a frightening, vengeful anger in him suddenly subside as he says to Judy, "Oh, Madeliene, I loved you so" his emotional pain and vulnerability is palpable. Then, with Herrmann's memorable, dream-like musical score soaring, the final full figure image of a helpless Stewart, ironically now cured of his acrophobia, looking down at the body of a woman he has lost for a second time (only this time for real) the effect, for me, is haunting.

The Film Sufi: “Vertigo” - Alfred Hitchcock (1958)

I can understand the confusion that many have with the story (not to mention some slow stretches earlier in the film as well) but this Hitchcock film gets to me to a degree that few others do. The story, in the final analysis, is not that important, merely a conveyance by Hitchcock for his portrayal of obsession.

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7 hours ago, TomJH said:

 

Unlike Vertigo, in particular, at its ending. It's disconcerting and disturbing to see Jimmy Stewart, of all people, cast as an obsessive individual who fantasies about a woman for whom he feels responsibility for her death, a death that actually didn't even happen (at least, not hers). This is one of my favourite Stewart performances and at the film's climax when you see a frightening, vengeful anger in him suddenly subside as he says to Judy, "Oh, Madeliene, I loved you so" his emotional pain and vulnerability is palpable. Then, with Hermann's memorable, dream-like musical score soaring, the final full figure image of a helpless Stewart, ironically now cured of his acrophobia, looking down at the body of a woman he has lost for a second time (only this time for real) the effect, for me, is haunting.

The Film Sufi: “Vertigo” - Alfred Hitchcock (1958)

 

Yes, this is the role that is probably the most complex and interesting of Stewart's career. 

He had already begun to move away from the good ole' boy roles that were prominent in his film biography in the 30's, early 40's. I say the shift into more darker territory started with IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE and really came to fruitation here in VERTIGO.

Once upon a time, I didn't like VERTIGO because it was too confusing for me to follow, but after multiple viewings, I got the gist of the story and really appreciate the movie a lot more now.

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7 hours ago, TomJH said:

It's disconcerting and disturbing to see Jimmy Stewart, of all people, cast as an obsessive individual who fantasies about a woman for whom he feels responsibility for her death

I'd say this just goes to show how good an actor Jimmy Stewart actually was, and something I've known and appreciated since I was very young. 

I must also say here Tom that I find it a bit odd that you sound surprised and appear to think Jimmy might have somehow been miscast in this role, and whereas you might recall that he seldom actually played the pillar of emotional strength type of character in films, but instead quite often characters with real and believable human flaws.

(...but re the entirety of the movie here once again, I still say while in many aspects it is indeed an excellent film, I still don't understand how it has gone from receiving merely mixed reviews upon its initial release to now days being talked about as possibly "the best American movie ever made"?)

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30 minutes ago, Dargo said:

I'd say this just goes to show how good an actor Jimmy Stewart actually was, and something I've known and appreciated since I was very young. 

I must also say here Tom that I find it a bit odd that you sound surprised and appear to think Jimmy might have somehow been miscast in this role, and whereas you might recall that he seldom actually played the pillar of emotional strength type of character in films, but instead quite often characters with real and believable human flaws.

(...but re the entirety of the movie here once again, I still say while in many aspects it is indeed an excellent film, I still don't understand how it has gone from receiving merely mixed reviews upon its initial release to now days being talked about as "the best American movie ever made"?)

Dargo, I didn't say that Jimmy Stewart was miscast in Vertigo. On the contrary, I regard this as effective casting against type. Let's face it, if someone like, say, Raymond Burr had been fantasizing about a woman in a film (note, I said in a film, not in real life) an audience would think, "Well, what do you expect?" But when it's Stewart, no longer with a boy next door image, to be sure, thanks to those Anthony Mann westerns and some of his other post war work, but, still, essentially, a regular normal guy screen persona, that makes it all the more chilling because it is unexpected. And Stewart achieves a depth in his playing, particularly in the film's final scene, that was uncommon even for him.

It's very interesting to see Stewart's screen image slowly evolve after the war, playing characters with a darker side many times, showing a greater range as an actor than he had appeared to have before the war. The scene in which Stewart dissolved into tears as he prayed at the bar in It's A Wonderful Life has deeply moved many viewers over the year, but the conflicted anguish that slowly flowed from Stewart was spontaneous and unexpected on the set. Those tears were not in the script. They came from some deep well within an actor just returned from the war who didn't like to talk about what he saw there. Capra knew he had struck emotional gold in Stewart at that moment, to the extent that the scene we see in the film was the only take. The director knew he would never be able to recreate a moment quite like that again, with such tormented emotional anguish from an actor reaching for a deep seated pain within himself.

George Baily GIF - Its A Wonderful Life George Bailey James Stewart -  Discover & Share GIFs

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I think Jimmy Stewart was robbed of an Oscar nod for Vertigo.  And, to add insult to injury (did I just type that?), when Vertigo didn't do as well as expected at the box office, Hitchcock changed his mind about casting Stewart in North by Northwest.  Of course, Cary Grant turned in a terrific performance, and for that matter, should have received his own Oscar nod.

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It's curious, that Jimmy Stewart was one of those actors that could seamlessly transition from roles suited for younger men to those requiring age and world-weary experience.  During one of the tributes that TCM runs as filler from time to time we have Stewart's daughter talking about her dad.  She mentions that from her perspective he came back from the war a changed man.  It's then that we begin to get the very interior of the soul and conscience roles that Stewart takes on from the late 40's into the 50's.  

I'm trying to recall in too much detail off the top of my head here, but the most prominent image I can come up with is Stewart's not saying a word but in his face revealing angst and turmoil crying from a soul in pain.  I think it's tremendously astounding for a human being to act these things for other people to watch.  But for some reason Jimmy Stewart excels at it.  This from an "Aw, shucks" type of role he was perfect for just a decade earlier.  

And, by the way, one of my very favorite performances by Stewart is his Elwood P. Dowd  in "Harvey."  Not the kind of role we've been talking about so far; but still completely convincing as a man who has chosen to be pleasant for the rest of his life, all the while nudging others to find unsuspected joy around them.  

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12 hours ago, Technicolor33 said:

Maybe that’s why in Rear Window , Raymond Burr’s character murdered his wife and cut her up.

or maybe he just snapped one day and killed her over her nagging.

Well, if he’d pick up after himself and walk the dog occasionally, she wouldn’t have to nag him, consequently he wouldn’t have killed her and cut her up, and the whole thing could have been avoided. Shorter movie, tho. 

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7 hours ago, TikiSoo said:

That is the key for my enjoyment of every movie/story, interest in the charactors.

Interesting in the characters is actually essential. But does that entail "caring about" them (which perhaps needs definition). I puzzle over this because it seems to me that this is not a necessary ingredient for liking a movie. A likeable character is fine and I suppose that will do. But it's not like I'm being a cheerleader. But it CAN happen. I recently watched Girl Most Likely (2014) with Kirsten Wiig and I was actually rooting for her character in that one. A comedy which I thoroughly enjoyed but no one else seems to. Ms Wiig certainly carried the film but gets some really brilliant support from Annette Benning, who plays the mother who might not be likable to some but I liked her a lot. A mother-daughter relationship thoroughly akin to a desperately dysfunction family. Actually I've seen it about three times. Maybe Kirsten Whig doesn't qualify as the necessary person to be liked to make a movie worthwhile. Because she is so darn cute.  

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3 hours ago, laffite said:

A likeable character is fine and I suppose that will do.

"Caring about" a charactor sometimes includes not liking them...first charactor that comes to mind is Richard Widmark, who often plays a despicable bully. But his apparent delight in hurting others makes him interesting. I think we all secretly hope for redemption, even for others. 

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7 minutes ago, TikiSoo said:

"Caring about" a charactor sometimes includes not liking them...first charactor that comes to mind is Richard Widmark, who often plays a despicable bully. But his apparent delight in hurting others makes him interesting. I think we all secretly hope for redemption, even for others. 

There are lots  of great scoundrels in the movies to hold your attention. Unfortunately, Elster in Vertigo is not one of them. He's so bland (even if calculating) I bet most movie goers can't even be bothered to look up the name of the actor playing him.

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