Hitchcock’s Fear of Falling

I love Alfred Hitchcock. I got excited when I heard there was to be a movie about him—Hitchcock, scheduled for 2013 release. I looked up everything I could on IMDb.com to see what it was all about. It stars Anthony Hopkins as the man himself, Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh, Jessica Biel as Vera Miles, and James D’Arcy as Anthony Perkins. From this information, I assume the story revolves around the making of Psycho (1960).

I suppose that’s appropriate, considering that film is most closely associated with the legendary director. Psycho is not my favorite Hitchcock film. It scared me the first time I saw it… and the second and third, and every time since. Hitch was a master of inducing the fight-or-flight reaction.

At first, I was a little disappointed that a film about Hitchcock wasn’t going to include anything about Vertigo (1958). That’s the motion picture that I most associate with the “real life” of Alfred Hitchcock. I’ve since come to grips with the idea that there needn’t be a movie about that bizarre story, because he told it as he made that picture.

Vertigo begins with detective Scottie Ferguson, played by Jimmy Stewart, losing his partner in a fall. The shock and horror of the incident leaves Scottie with a terrible case of acrophobia. This overwhelming fear of falling isn’t the driving force behind the story, though. This is a tale about obsession.

In the movie, Scottie becomes obsessed with a beautiful woman that he is hired to follow. He falls in love with the woman, played by Kim Novak, and to his horror, he witnesses her suicide. His fear of falling kept him from stopping her as she jumped to her death.

He later sees her walking about the streets of San Francisco, but she looks different. Her name, her hair, and clothes are different, but her face and voice are the same. He befriends her, and sets about changing her. He gradually makes her over into the woman who died before his eyes.

What’s incredible about the film is that Vertigo is Hitchcock’s own story. He had a favorite leading-lady—Grace Kelly. She was everything Hitch loved. She was beautiful, innocent, seductive, mysterious and talented. Kelly had starred in Dial M for Murder, Rear Window, and To Catch a Thief, which were huge hits for Hitchcock. A few years after making To Catch a Thief, Kelly retired from Hollywood to marry the prince of Monaco. She was lost to Hitchcock, and he couldn’t woo her back.

Watch Vertigo and you’ll see how Kim Novak’s character is completely styled to resemble Grace Kelly. Look at the character of Midge, played by Barbara Bel Geddes, and you’ll see Kelly’s signature hairstyle in her, too. In fact, nearly all of Hitchcock’s leading ladies after Vertigo are Kelly-ish in their appearance, including Eva Marie Saint, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles, and Tippi Hedren. He truly had a magnificent obsession.

I always wondered if this parade of dazzling blondes was his desperate attempt to reconstruct what Kelly produced effortlessly, or if it was a subliminal message to her. “I created you, and I can recreate you at will.” I’ll never know for sure, but wondering is half the fun of watching.

That’s a wrap for this Toast to Cinema. Thanks for reading!