Vintage Cable Box: “Vertigo, 1958”

“She’ll be talking to me about something. Suddenly the words fade into silence. A cloud comes into her eyes and they go blank. She’s somewhere else, away from me, someone I don’t know. I call her, she doesn’t even hear me. Then, with a long sigh, she’s back. Looks at me brightly, doesn’t even know she’s been away, can’t tell me where or when.”

Vertigo, 1958 (James Stewart), Paramount Pictures

There’s a story about writer Pierre Boileau, watching a newsreel in a packed movie-house some time post-war in Paris, and swearing he sees an old friend (whom he believed long dead) in the newsreel. His “logic brain” tells him this can’t be his dead friend, but the more irrational brain conjures images of ghosts and beseeches him to do some digging and find his friend. He must be alive! This is the seed of D’entre les morts, the source material for what could, arguably, be Alfred Hitchcock’s greatest movie, Vertigo. Personally, I think Hitch was drawn to the more perverse aspects of the story, but knew a top-notch mystery had to catalyze his effort at unraveling his romanticized fantasy world of San Francisco. Jimmy Stewart is his muse (and alter-ego) in this adventure.

After enduring a personal (and highly publicized) tragedy involving the death of a fellow policeman from a fall, Stewart’s John “Scottie” Ferguson suffers vertigo, a loss of balance and coordination as a result of his fear of heights. His best friend (and former lover obviously still in love with him), “Midge” (Barbara Bel Geddes) tries to help him in his recovery. He has retired from being a cop. He gets a call from an old school chum, Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore) to keep tabs on his neurotic wife, Madeleine (Kim Novak), who goes off by herself on long journeys, but seems to suffer a selective amnesia about where she goes each time. Sometimes she goes to a museum and stares at a painting of a woman who bears a striking resemblance to her. Stewart diligently follows her and takes notes.

Stewart becomes attracted to her, and being that he has no real job anymore, he obsesses over her, to “Midge’s” annoyance. “Midge” doesn’t want to hear about the pretty little rich girl with mental problems, and I can say I hardly blame her, but she is kind-of barking up the wrong tree here, and she can’t get a clue. Stewart follows her to the base of the Golden Gate Bridge, where she jumps into San Francisco Bay (ostensibly a suicide attempt). He rescues her, takes her back to his swingin’ bachelor pad, undresses her, and puts her in front of a roaring fire. She wakes, claiming to have no memory of the incident, quickly dresses, and gets the Hell out of there, yet she keeps leaving him a trail of crumbs to continue their developing relationship. As wounded (emotionally and physically) a person as Stewart is, what happens next is not only devastating but cruel.

Madeleine lures him to a Mission, jumps from a bell tower, and this time (we’re led to believe) successfully kills herself. This sends “Scottie” into a spiral of deep depression, catatonia, and self-hatred. He blames himself for Madeleine’s death. With “Midge’s” help, he slowly recovers, but then he begins to notice a woman with fiery red hair who bears a striking resemblance to Madeleine. Her name is Judy Barton (also played by Kim Novak), who’s more of a “common-sense” girl; smart and sarcastic. He tries to pick her up, but she sees right through it, so he takes the more “gentlemanly” approach by courting her. In a scene that nearly derails the movie, “Judy” comes clean to the audience (but not to “Scottie”) by writing him a note, confessing that she truly is Madeleine, and that she was paid off by Elster to pretend to be Madeleine, as Elster concocted a plan to kill his real wife and take her money. After writing the note, she thinks about it and rips it up.

Maybe “Judy” thinks she and “Scottie” can have a life together. Maybe she thinks he’ll overlook the whole murder thing and be her man for all time, but then as convicted assassin Arthur Bremer once said, “How many things go right in this crazy world?” This is where “Scottie” goes nuts, or so we assume. He makes “Judy” over. He has her wardrobe changed. He changes her makeup. He has her hair bleached and dyed blonde, and puts her in those expensive outfits Madeleine wore. When the effect is complete, it’s hideously staggering. “Judy” just wants his love, and he abuses her with his compulsion. All that’s needed to complete the effect is the necklace “Judy” brandishes. It appears to be the same necklace worn by the woman in the painting.

This seals the deal for Stewart so he drives “Judy” to the Mission where he leads her to the bell tower. “Judy” confesses to her crimes, and just when you think these crazy kids could make it work, a nun startles her and she falls to her death. This is the textbook definition of a “downer” ending; a powerful statement in the burgeoning modern film industry, but depressing as all Hell. Defeated by the failure of The Wrong Man, he had many projects in development, but he chose Vertigo, his darkest, most romantic movie (surpassing Rebecca). He was a brave filmmaker. North by Northwest would be his next trick on audiences. Stewart is sympathetic, despite some of his character’s more grotesque choices – he’s unusual here, not the strong voice of moral authority and compassion, but a flawed human. This would be his and Hitchcock’s last collaboration as Hitch had blamed Vertigo’s poor box-office performance on Stewart’s age as a romantic leading man against the much younger Novak (though Novak and Stewart would subsequently appear in the much more successful Bell, Book & Candle). Vertigo is my favorite Alfred Hitchcock movie.

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird).  We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images.  We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates.  About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties. 

“Parallel Planes”

Written by David Lawler
Additional Commentary by Andrew La Ganke
Original Music by Alex Saltz, APS Mastering
Introduction Music: “Smash The Mirror” by The Who (from 1969 album, “Tommy”).
Audio Clips: Family Guy “Love Thy Trophy”, Star Trek “Mirror, Mirror”, “Mirror Image”, “The Monster Are Due On Maple Street”, “The Misadventures Of Sheriff Lobo” (Jimmie Haskell) by Frankie Laine.

Recorded December 13, 2015

© BlissVille, David Lawler copyright 2015 for all original vocal and audio content featuring David Lawler and selected guests each episode. Original Music © Alex Saltz copyright 2015. This podcast, “That Twilighty Show About That Zone” is not affiliated with CBS Entertainment, the CBS Television Network, or The Rod Serling Estate. Any and all images, audio clips, and dialogue extracts are the property of their respective copyright owners. This blog and podcast was created for criticism, research, and is completely nonprofit, and should be considered Fair Use as stated in the Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C. section 107. It is not an official product, and it should not be sold nor bought; this is intended for private use, and any public broadcast is not recommended. All music clips appear under Fair Use as well. If you’re thinking of suing because you want a piece of the pie, please remember, there is no actual pie. We at BlissVille have no money, and as such, cannot compensate you. If anything, we’re doing you a favor, so please be kind. I do this ’cause it’s fun, and nothing else.

Running Time: 37:10 Direct Download

Vintage Cable Box: “Psycho II”, 1983

New VCB Logo

“It’s starting again.”

“Psycho II”, 1983 (Anthony Perkins), MCA/Universal

psycho_ii

On occasion, you would have dual premieres of movies. HBO and Cinemax, at the time, aired new releases on the same night, usually a Saturday. One such summer Saturday, HBO debuted “National Lampoon’s Vacation” and Cinemax aired “Psycho II”. We couldn’t decide what we wanted to watch, and back in those days, you couldn’t Tivo your troubles away, so we went with “Psycho II”. I had not seen the original “Psycho” but was well aware of the famous shower scene. It would be a couple of weeks later that I finally watched the original “Psycho”, and to this day, nothing scares me more than Mrs. Bates. That goes for Michael Meyers, Charles Manson, and Donald Trump. I repeat: nothing scares me more than Mrs. Bates!

I remember a few years ago, somebody made the point (maybe it was me) that Norman Bates never truly existed; that whatever Norman was, only appeared to be an extension of his mother, the famous Mrs. Bates. When you look at Norman, even in advanced years, played by the extraordinary Anthony Perkins, he’s nothing more than a “man-child”, consumed in fear of disappointing his mother and telegraphing an all-consuming shyness around women he deems attractive, women he is driven to be attracted to – starting in 1960’s “Psycho” with Janet Leigh’s Marion Crane.

Norman’s mother had gained a peculiar form of immortality by being so endemic an image in her son’s mind that she devoured him whole and implanted her own personality. It has taken 22 years for Norman to become his own man, and sadly, there are those who still wish to destroy him. Once released from the custody of the State, Norman tries to pick up the shattered remains of his life and run his motel. He fires sleazy manager Mr. Toomey (a hilarious Dennis Franz) and makes a new friend in Meg Tilly.

Of course, all of this is a veneer; a curious effort to drive Bates mad so that he will be taken away again. Meg Tilly is the niece of Marion Crane and she and Crane’s sister (a shrill Vera Miles) take turns phoning Norman and dressing up as his mother to make him crazy. Meanwhile, very real murders are being conducted by a mysterious third party, who is revealed at film’s conclusion. As with the original “Psycho”, you can’t help but feel for Norman as his mask of sanity slips away gradually.

psycho202

Meg Tilly (at first) sides with her mother in discrediting Norman, but as she sees the struggles he tries to cope with, she develops an affection and attraction to him, ultimately protecting him from her mother’s cruel scheming. Anthony Perkins’ promising career was destroyed by “Psycho”. He was forever type-cast, as either yet another psychotic personality, or a borderline “heavy” in most movies after “Psycho”. Like Leonard Nimoy before him, he decided to wholeheartedly embrace his legacy by directing 1986’s “Psycho III” and appearing in the promising, but ultimately illogical “Psycho IV”.

Richard Franklin does an admirable job directing this first sequel to the horror classic, and having to weather the storms of vicious film critics, who bemoaned a lack of originality in Hollywood they perceived had to rely more and more on sequels to make easy money. As we know, this was only the beginning, but “Psycho II” is a well-crafted, labyrinthian thriller with elements of mystery and suspense worthy of Alfred Hitchcock. Tom Holland’s script is intelligent, sympathetic, and thought-provoking.

Next up: “Amityville II: The Possession”

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month. Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.