Week of Movies: 10 & 9

Monday 20 November (2006)

We’re back on another ‘week of’ and this time, it’s movies. ‘You fool!’ I hear you cry. ‘You can’t possibly expect to make a convincing list of the top ten movies ever!‘ Correct. That would be foolish and kind of pretentious (ho ho.) Instead of doing the ‘best movies ever’ routine, as I did with games, I’m just going to do my ten favourite movies. And God, it was tough. I always had a very vague ‘top ten’ but when I wrote it down I realised that there were about twenty movies in there, and they were in no kind of order at all. Figuring that order out was a real bitch, and I’m still not convinced I’ve got it right… but nevermind. I know that in a year (hell, in a couple of months) my opinion will change and some of these movies may not appear on an equivalent list then. Some may be in a different position. But fuck it! On with the show.

My 10th Favourite Movievertigo (1958)

I think it’s fair to say that the first time I saw Vertigo it completely blind-sided me. I knew it was Hitchcock, which gave it merit by default, and it had Jimmy Stewart in – and let’s face it, he was one of the all time greatest leading men. Still, it sounded kind of boring – a detective has a nervous breakdown and is forced to retire, then in a recovery effort decides to help his friend find out what’s wrong with his wife. He then falls in love with the woman himself and… bah. Boring!

Good God. I’m incredibly glad I didn’t base my decision to watch this on the plot summary on the back of the video case, because the actual plot is a lot more sinister. Stewart plays ‘Scottie’ Ferguson, the San Franciscan detective. In the opening scene he witnesses a fellow policeman fall to his death during a rooftop chase, and as a result develops severe vertigo, causing his early retirement. His old friend Gavin Elster, learning of this vertigo, asks him to follow his wife Madeleine (Kim Novak) around because she seems to be possessed by the spirit of another woman, who commited suicide years earlier. Sure enough, the woman spends her time in a trance-like state, hanging around the grave of this dead woman Carlotta Valdes. One day when Scottie is tailing her, she jumps into San Francisco bay in a suicide attempt – Scottie resuces her and takes her home.

She tells him that she’s been dreaming about an old Mission; San Juan Bautista, so Scottie takes her there in an effort to solve the mystery. Tragically, Madeleine goes into a trance and runs up to the bell tower. Scottie is unable to follow here due to his crippling vertigo, and she falls to her death. This puts him into a state of catatonic despair, and he is briefly hospitalised. However, one day he sees a woman the spitting image of Madeleine walking the streets of San Francisco – and the plot, as they say, thickens.

It’s an incredibly original mystery, and completely Hitchcockian. Those classic themes of passion, madness, paranoia – they’re all here, and explored superbly. Jimmy Stewart, Hollywood’s ‘good guy’, is thrown all over the place – from tragic hero to crazed maniac, and it’s all in the name of love. Set against the absolutely beautiful backdrop of fifties ‘Frisco, and combined with Herrmann’s haunting score, this is a film which defies genre by inhabiting several with style and aplomb.

Easily Hitchcock’s best, and probably my all time favourite study of the human psyche. If nothing else, however, this is simply a fantastic tale, extremely well told. If you haven’t seen it already, just go out and buy it now.


My 9th Favourite Moviethe maltese falcon (1941)

When people think of Humphrey Bogart, they invariably think of Casablanca – and why not? It’s a great movie. It’s not, however, his best – that honour lies with John Huston’s prototypical film noir; The Maltese Falcon.

Now, I’m a person who grew up watching cartoons. And, without fail, every one of those cartoons would have a ‘film noir’ episode – and of course, I didn’t know what ‘film noir’ was. Years later I developed a passion for it, and The Maltese Falcon was the first place I looked. Perhaps this is why I consider it to be the genre-defining film, or maybe it’s because it simply is. You see, every one of those old cartoons owes a debt to this movie – Bogart’s Sam Spade is the archetypal film-noir private investigator, and the characters in this piece are typical of the genre; looking out for number one, and lusting for money.

The titular Falcon is actually a jewel encrusted statue (although covered in black enamel to hide its value) and there are several classic characters after it. The first is Mary Astor’s Brigid O’Shaugnessy, the ultimate femme fatale – lying, scheming, and not beyond using her body to get what she wants. She’s the one who enlists the help of Sam Spade, albeit under an assumed identity and without revealing her true motives (naturally.) The second is a man named Joel Cairo (God even the names in this movie are genius) – played to perfection by the serpentine Peter Lorre. And finally we have Sydney Greenstreet, playing Kasper Gutman, the third prospector.

It may be an old movie, and it may be in black and white, but I really think that the film noir genre hit a very high peak with this film. Hell, being black and white works in its favour, and there’s really nothing to fault with the film. Sixty-five years later it’s just as entertaining, and it’s truly a masterclass in old-school Hollywood.

If you only see one Humphrey Bogart movie, see this one. If you only see one film noir, see this one. It’s without a doubt the most brilliant private-eye movie ever made.


One Response to “Week of Movies: 10 & 9”

  1. Sally Says:

    I want to see them both! I know you have Maltese Falcon, but Vertigo? Lendage please! xxx

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