When the much-discussed, once-a-decade Sight and Sound film poll recently named “Vertigo” the greatest movie in history, I wasn’t as distressed as some people by the fact that the 1958 James Stewart- Kim Novak picture knocked “Citizen Kane” out of the top spot it had occupied since 1962.
Picking one film as the greatest of all time seems a bit absurd to me, but it’s nice that the critics and reviewers put an Alfred Hitchcock movie in the top spot.
Of all the masters of cinema, Hitchcock probably made more movies that bear up under repeat viewing than any of his peers. It might be a sign of the times that a director who was seen as a mere “entertainer” during much of his life is now viewed as a great artist.
Hitchcock wasn’t a challenging writer-director in the vein of Ingmar Bergman or Michelangelo Antonioni, but he put a personal stamp on almost every picture he made in a career that started in the silent era and ended with the release of “Family Plot” in 1976.
One of the things that tickled me about the selection of “Vertigo” in the Sight and Sound poll is that it’s one of the few Hitchcock pictures that wears its thematic and artistic pretensions on its sleeve — all of that murky stuff about neurotic men molding women to their liking — which is probably why it was one of the few flops the director made during his parade of hits in the 1950s and early 1960s.
I wish the Sight and Sound poll had given more credit to one of Hitchcock’s terrific comic thrillers rather than a film whose plot construction and performances have always bothered me a bit.
Kim Novak was gorgeous in her Hollywood prime, but could barely play one character convincingly, let alone the complicated pseudo-double role she was given in “Vertigo” (I think a lot of the “acting” Novak did in the movie was actually provided by Bernard Herrmann’s haunting score).
My desert island Hitchcock would be “Rear Window,” which it will be my pleasure to introduce tonight at 6:30 at a special screening at the Bijou Theatre in Bridgeport.
The 1954 hit about male-female romantic friction and voyeurism is one of the most purely entertaining movies ever made — a perfect blend of comedy and drama, fine acting, and steadily building suspense.
James Stewart was never better than he is here as a Greenwich Village photojournalist, laid up with a broken leg, who passes the time eavesdropping on his neighbors across the courtyard.
The photographer is at first simply amused and titillated by what he sees — a gorgeous dancer who parades around in very little clothing, a newlywed couple burning up the sheets behind their drawn shades — but then he begins to wonder if a henpecked husband might have killed his wife.
Grace Kelly had the warmth and charm that Novak lacked, making her the perfect choice for the role of Stewart’s girlfriend, a fashion editor who is wondering if their relationship has stalled. Kelly starts as a skeptic when it comes to Stewart’s murder plot, but she is eventually won over, and puts her own life at risk to prove he is right.
The great Thelma Ritter turns up as the photographer’s visiting nurse — supplied by his insurance company — who gives the picture a big dose of pure, wisecracking New York City street wisdom and humor. Ritter always added tremendous wit and realism to any movie she worked on, and Hitchcock recognized her importance to “Rear Window” by giving her the movie’s final line (and sickest joke).
(For details on tonight’s screening, go to www.thebijoutheatre.com)