Monday, October 10, 2011

Missing the obivous

I miss the obvious all the time. See the typo in the title of this post? Obvious, isn’t it?

But on a more serious note: I just realized that I’ve been missing something in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958) that now seems ridiculously obvious. I first saw Vertigo in 1984 and have seen it many times since. I’d say that Vertigo is my favorite film. But I think I’ve misunderstood the relationship between John “Scottie” Ferguson (James Stewart) and Midge Wood (Barbara Bel Geddes), which has seemed to me a matter of close friends of many years standing. One line of dialogue makes me now think that I’m wrong: “How’s your love life, Midge?”

If Scottie is in the habit of dropping in on Midge, wouldn’t he know, at least sort of? This question could be a matter of awkward exposition, a way to introduce the subject of Scottie and Midge’s past relationship. But here’s what I think is going on. We know that Scottie and Midge were close in college. As Scottie recalls, they were engaged — for “three whole weeks,” as Midge adds. They later (I now think) drifted apart. The death of the police officer who falls from a rooftop in the film’s opening scene has made the news, along with Scottie, who clung to a gutter, paralyzed by acrophobia, as the man fell. Midge (I now think) has seen this news and gotten in touch, feeling tenderness and pity and hoping to rekindle their relationship. More dialogue from Scottie and Midge’s first scene:

“Aren’t you ever gonna get married?”

“You know there’s only one man in the world for me, Johnny-O.”
This exchange too is not what one would expect between close friends of long standing.

Later in the film, Midge leaves a note under Scottie’s door asking “Where are you?” When Scottie drops in, she explains: “I just thought that if I gave you a drink and fed you some dinner, you’d be so grateful you’d take me to a movie.” Awkward and self-abasing, she’s making a play for him. No soap: Scottie’s already in a movie. It is under the direction of Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore) and stars a woman named Madeleine (Kim Novak).

[“We were engaged once, weren’t we?” Barbara Bel Geddes as Midge Wood.]

comments: 2

William V. Madison said...

Fascinating. I'm going to have to go back and look at the movie again.

Michael Leddy said...

Let me know what you think, Bill.