Perhaps a dozen viewings into this classic of the bizarre, I am still realizing things about it.
In youthful glimpses of it on B&W TV, I remember not really getting it. By the time it was rereleased in the 1980s I had become a Hitchcock aficionado having published an essay on his TV program in an Anthology from City Lights. I had read quite a bit on Vertigo and was psyched for the grand re-opening at a San Francisco movie house. Hitch owned the city once again.
That was probably the only other viewing besides my latest in which the audio was up to the magnificent score by Bernard Herrmann. This is pure cinema and it consists almost entirely of sound and vision not dramatic dialog and the score is utterly predominant.
Herrmann is a madman and a genius and this is a film of amour fou, of mad love.
What I learned that was new in terms of the soundtrack was due to the fact that I wore ear-buds. From the first one couldn’t help but notice that there are huge segments of the film with no dialogue; what I noticed this time was that even when there was dialog it was exceedingly quiet and moreover it subordinated to the musical score. The volume of the score doesn’t subside in order to hear the talking.
I have long owned the score on LP and it alone is a transporting art experience, with Hitch’s opulent Hollywood hyper-romanticism it is of course one of the headiest drafts in film history. A t once a lugubrious Douglas Sirk romance and a disquieting exposition of the psychopathology of everyday life worthy of Bunuel.
The other remarkable innovation accompanying this viewing was my first look at the so-called “Foreign censorship ending.”
What an astonishment it is and what a missing piece of the puzzle.
What follows is my own theory of the movie and the reveal at the end is the “censorship ending.”
Scottie is a charming narcissist with gentle but strong presumption of imperious male privilege. He has had sexual relations with Midge but managed to extricate himself from their engagement. (Now he just enjoys her domestic comforts without the ring or the sex.) He thinks nothing of dangling this fact before her adding that she was the one to break it off. The close-ups of her face tell a different story.
This is Scottie’s real moral guilt --not that some foolhardy cop died in a bootless attempt to rescue him
Then comes the highly implausible plot in which Kim is the macguffin mannikin. I won’t dwell on how absurd it is that a former friend would further damage him to that extent in order to pull off a Rube Goldberg fake suicide of his wife plot. He is the sadistic agent of the cruel fate that Scotties can’t escape. This is a morality play in the form of a “murder mystery.”
His sexual obsession for the shopgirl turned actress, who adopts obvious poses in front of her dead doppelganger’s portrait or in the window of her house, is the plot. Her mystical slippage a the display of tree rings foreshadows Dark Shadows, yet gullible Scottie commits for the ride.
He goes quite mad after the actual wife’s body falls in front of him. I find his semi-animated nightmare sequence very effective and quite terrifying.
(note: I have experience severe vertigo and have had a loved one die in fall).
BB’s final scene in the official film is really very sad--she’s alone in a clinic corridor and admits to herself he’s never coming back.
So then with the promptness of narrative of a fairytale, he somewhat recovers, bumps into Kim’s character in the street and lets the fugue state he is in set an obsessive tone.
Then not only does she agree to get to know him, and submit to the makeover but--what was I thinking?!--she wears the Carlotta brooch.
Right after they finally had sex too.
The chandelier-like brooch is difficult to miss by someone with an Asbergers-esque obsession over her appearance.
Does her call the cops? No he decides to extract brutal revenge. The image of her high-heeled feet being dragged-up the steeple staircase is all you need.
In the censorship ending we see BB again. She is listening to the radio that reports that the guy who set Scottie up is being sought in Europe for his crimes.Then Scottie comes in. Without speaking she makes them two big drinks. Scottie goes to the window to stare out. She sits back contentedly. She’s got her man back.