Saturday, August 4, 2012
Vertigo the Best Movie Ever? Get Real.
A posh British film magazine has just produced the once-every-decade results of its Best Films of All Time poll and Vertigo now tops the list, defeating Citizen Kane which moved down a notch to number two.
What a crock! The entire poll is suspect since, of the top ten films, only three are American--in an industry which, during its entire classic period, was dominated by Hollywood. And of the American films on the list, only Citizen Kane was truly groundbreaking in its day--though I find it almost unwatchable now. With Vertigo (1958) in the number one spot, Kane (1941) at number two and John Ford's truly silly The Searchers (1956) at number seven, I must tell you I seriously beg to differ!
Directors Billy Wilder (Double Indemnity, Sunset Boulevard), William Wyler (The Best Years of Our Lives, The Heiress), John Huston (The Maltese Falcon, Treasure of the Sierra Madre), Preston Sturges (Sullivan's Travels), Frank Capra (Its a Wonderful Life, It Happened One Night), Elia Kazan (On the Waterfront, A Face in the Crowd), Joseph L. Mankiewicz ... well, I could go on and on. These directors aren't even on this so-called top ten list. Balderdash!
Why the British picked the films they did--especially Vertigo is beyond me. Hitchcock is British to be sure and they obviously like that--since the vote was very anti-American. But David Lean is British and he directed Lawrence of Arabia, for heaven's sake. Why isn't Lean on their list? Too commercial probably.
Vertigo isn't even Hitchcock's best. Rear Window and North by Northwest are much better films and have better casting. Who can forget Grace Kelly in Window? And weird, wonderful Psycho is probably Hitchcock's best. I've seen it so many times I pretty much know the script by heart (so you probably shouldn't watch it with me.)
I have nothing against Jimmy Stewart--he's a great actor and a true movie star. But in Vertigo he's way too long in the tooth to be playing the troubled young man who is still dating! And forgive me, but Kim Novak is a terrible actress. Her diction lessons produced a breathy voice with an accent so bizarre I've never heard any other American use it. And she always looks like she's one martini and a piece of fried chicken from the Craft Services table away from being too zaftig to get into her wardrobe. She has none of the chic of Grace Kelly and, alas, none of her talent. (I hear she is a nice lady though, who lives in Carmel and I'll give her points for that.) (But not for acting.)
Oh, and the plot of Vertigo? Forgive me, but if Jimmy Stewart really had been a cop when he got vertigo, he must have been a truly hapless one. Because any idiot could see he is being set up by the plot of this film.
I think what people like about it are the gorgeous pictures of San Francisco. Hitchcock hated location shooting (and some of his films suffer, I think, from their studio sets which often look like studio sets pretending to be something else) but in Vertigo he did manage to push himself away from the dinner table long enough to go on location. San Francisco of the 1950s was a city with an unforgettable beauty and style. Add to that the haunting Bernard Herrmann score and you do have an imposing film.
But the best film of all time? Getouttaheyah. Compare it to Casablanca, To Kill a Mockingbird, or Billy Wilder's The Apartment--to name just three--and anyone who doesn't have his head stuck in a dark place could see the difference.
As the years go by, the little fads that have made second tier films like The Searchers and Vertigo (and even the truly corny Godfather) favorites with film elitists, will pass. And the really best films--the ones in which every single thing about them is just right--like the little jewel The Shop Around the Corner (starring the youthful Jimmy Stewart and the irresistible Margaret Sullavan, directed by the great Ernst Lubitsch) will return and regain their rightful place(s).
Those Brit judges? They should go see Marnie, perhaps Hitchcock's most underrated film (which has an even stranger and more twisted psychological theme than Vertigo--and features Sean Connery in his prime). They will discover that their brains are like that circular graphic surrounding Stewart's head in Vertigo. They are just too, too twee.
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