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Vertigo: Ridiculously complicated or complicatedly ridiculous? *SPOILERS*


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#1 of 44 OFFLINE   SD_Brian

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Posted January 10 2008 - 05:23 PM

If you haven't seen Vertigo, this is your official spoiler warning.

I've seen 'Vertigo' several times, most recently last night and, for some reason, this was the first time it ever hit me just how absurdly complicated Gavin Elster's plan to murder his wife was.

To succeed, his plan requires the following: A detective, afraid of heights, who can follow a woman who is not Elster's wife, but looks just like her. The detective must become convinced that Elster's wife is not really Elster's wife at all, but that she is posessed by the ghost of her great-great grandmother, Carlotta Valdes. Once the look-alike has convinced the detective of those things, she must lead him to an old Spanish mission and make him follow her into the bell tower. Of course the detective's fear of heights will mean that he won't be able to follow her past the third floor and he will become incapacitated directly in front of a window, just in time to see the body of Elster's REAL wife, whose neck has been broken, fall from several floors above. Finally, since the detective has witnessed all of these things, he must testify that Mrs. Elster was mentally incapacitated and that her death was a suicide. With the plan completed, Elster is free to collect his inheritance and leave the country. All too easy.

Even James Bond villains don't go to this much trouble. Seriously, can anyone name a movie that has featured a more complicated plan to off somebody?

#2 of 44 OFFLINE   george kaplan

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Posted January 10 2008 - 10:08 PM

Well, I don't know about 'more' complicated, but there are certainly a number of films that would give it a run for the money, including Gaslight, Murder on the Orient Express, Diabolique, Body Double, Body Heat, Another Thin Man, etc. But the main point, is Gavin Elster didn't just set out to concoct that plan. It was a reading about various events (like Scottie's condition) and meeting certain people (like the woman who looks similar, but not exactly like his wife), that gave him the idea. But all kinds of movies, not just mysteries, rely heavily on coincidence and extremely unlikely events, to propel their stories forward. Just the nature of the beast.
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#3 of 44 OFFLINE   Robert Crawford

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Posted January 10 2008 - 11:24 PM

You want to talk about complicated murders in a film, how about "The Big Sleep" in which the writers and director had problems with identifying which person murdered whom.

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#4 of 44 OFFLINE   SD_Brian

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Posted January 11 2008 - 03:41 AM

What I find most bizarre about Vertigo's murder scheme is that Ellster went through all that trouble, doing a lot of research and seemingly leaving little to chance, but left the entire success of his plan hinging on Jimmy Stewart not being able to make it up that flight of stairs. What was his back-up plan if Stewart, consumed with his need to protect the girl, suddenly overcame his condition and made it the rest of the way up?

#5 of 44 OFFLINE   Haggai

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Posted January 11 2008 - 03:58 AM

Yes, it was a pretty convoluted scheme that rested awfully heavily on that one psychological detail. But as you said, you'd seen the movie several times before ever thinking about those precise details...so Hitch sure knew what he was doing, didn't he? Posted Image It's amusing for us to speculate about it, but of course the movie didn't need Elster to have a back-up plan (not that you were trying in any way to argue that point when you started this thread).

#6 of 44 OFFLINE   SD_Brian

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Posted January 11 2008 - 06:01 AM

It all reminds me of that scene on The Simpsons (a long time ago) when the nuclear power plant went on strike and Mr. Burns decided to take vengeance on the city by shutting off all of their power. Burns and Smithers go through several Batman-esque security measures to get to the special room where "the button" is. They slide down fire poles, go through secret panels, submit to facial scans and then, when they finally get to the super-secret room, it's revealed to have a rusty screen door, falling off its hinges that leads outside, and stray dogs are able to wander in and out.
Quote:
It's amusing for us to speculate about it, but of course the movie didn't need Elster to have a back-up plan (not that you were trying in any way to argue that point when you started this thread).
I'm definitely not trying to disparage Vertigo, though it is far from being my favorite Hitchcock movie. I personally find the first half to be sort of dull (and far-fetched) but the second half is absolutely brilliant. It is interesting that most critical discussions I've read seem to solely focus on Vertigo's second half, while only vaguely (if at all) discussing the movie's first half and the murder plot therein.

#7 of 44 OFFLINE   george kaplan

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Posted January 11 2008 - 07:38 AM

I also think you overstate the case somewhat.
he will become incapacitated directly in front of a window, just in time to see the body of Elster's REAL wife, whose neck has been broken, fall from several floors above.
I do not believe this was part of "the plan". Elster wasn't counting on him seeing the fall, only not being able to follow up. The fact that he saw the fall was just a convenient contrivance of Hitch's, not part of the scheme.

As far as 'far-fetched' goes, the dust cropper murder attempt from North by Northwest, while great cinema, is far more unbelievable and bizarrely elaborate as a means of killing a guy who could have just been offed easily while sleeping on the train (they knew exactly where he was and were right there).
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#8 of 44 OFFLINE   SD_Brian

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Posted January 11 2008 - 08:16 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by george kaplan
I also think you overstate the case somewhat.
I was deliberately doing so in a quest to inject some humor into the summary.
Quote:
Originally Posted by george kaplan
As far as 'far-fetched' goes, the dust cropper murder attempt from North by Northwest, while great cinema, is far more unbelievable and bizarrely elaborate as a means of killing a guy who could have just been offed easily while sleeping on the train (they knew exactly where he was and were right there).
I suppose the bottom line in all of this is that we should be grateful to people like Hitchcock for at least putting some thought and effort into coming up with inventive methods of attempting to kill people. If all movie-killings were mere stabbings and shootings, the world would be a much duller place.Posted Image

#9 of 44 OFFLINE   Mark Hawley

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Posted January 11 2008 - 09:46 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by george kaplan
As far as 'far-fetched' goes, the dust cropper murder attempt from North by Northwest, while great cinema, is far more unbelievable and bizarrely elaborate as a means of killing a guy who could have just been offed easily while sleeping on the train (they knew exactly where he was and were right there).


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#10 of 44 OFFLINE   RobertR

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Posted January 11 2008 - 09:52 AM

Quote:
If all movie-killings were mere stabbings and shootings, the world would be a much duller place.

I remember an interview with Hitchcock where he talked about how to build up suspense. He said that if you just show a bomb going off, people will get a momentary thrill, but he preferred to show the bomb before it goes off, while the people in the room talk about other things, unaware of the bomb’s presence. That produces a much lengthier, more satisfying buildup of emotions from the audience. The same reasoning applies to an elaborate murder scheme as opposed to just offing someone.

#11 of 44 OFFLINE   Greg_S_H

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Posted January 11 2008 - 09:58 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by RobertR
I remember an interview with Hitchcock where he talked about how to build up suspense. He said that if you just show a bomb going off, people will get a momentary thrill, but he preferred to show the bomb before it goes off, while the people in the room talk about other things, unaware of the bomb’s presence. That produces a much lengthier, more satisfying buildup of emotions from the audience. The same reasoning applies to an elaborate murder scheme as opposed to just offing someone.

Then how do you explain Janet Leigh in the shower, smart guy? Posted Image

Hitchcock, creating shock by breaking his own rules.

#12 of 44 OFFLINE   RobertR

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Posted January 11 2008 - 10:11 AM

Quote:
Then how do you explain Janet Leigh in the shower, smart guy?
Yeah, but that was preceded by a shot of Norman looking through a peephole to check her out naked, so the audience knew something might happen later. Posted Image And the murder itself set up the feeling of dread about what would happen next.

#13 of 44 OFFLINE   Greg_S_H

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Posted January 11 2008 - 10:23 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by RobertR
Yeah, but that was preceded by a shot of Norman looking through a peephole to check her out naked, so the audience knew something might happen later. Posted Image And the murder itself set up the feeling of dread about what would happen next.

And wasn't he thinking about goats and getting friendly with himself? Wait, that wasn't Hitchcock.

#14 of 44 OFFLINE   SD_Brian

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Posted January 11 2008 - 10:32 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Greg_S_H
Then how do you explain Janet Leigh in the shower, smart guy? Posted Image
The real shock of the shower scene is that Anne Heche, whose character and story we've been following for the past hour, is suddenly killed off and Norman Bates (and his mother) take center stage for the rest of the movie.

Wait a second... Anne Heche? That wasn't Hitchcock either! Posted Image

#15 of 44 OFFLINE   Mark Hawley

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Posted January 11 2008 - 11:18 AM

What's interesting about Psycho is that Hitchcock seems to have it both ways because we can see somebody enter the bathroom and slowly walk towards the curtain, yet when he rips down the curtain, the music starts shrieking and she gets repeatedly stabbed, it's very shocking.

Same with Arbogast's murder. He slowly walks up the stairs, we see a bedroom door open, and a shadow of someone waiting, then he lunges towards him, the music shrieks and he get stabbed in the forehead and tumbles backwards down the stairs.

So it's very shocking despite the fact that we've been 100% let in on the fact that it was most definitely going to happen, but both scenes end up being quite suspenseful because of this.

#16 of 44 OFFLINE   MatthewLouwrens

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Posted January 11 2008 - 04:19 PM

I would just suggest that even the thread title is a massive spoiler for Vertigo. The first half of the film are presented as a mystery - what exactly is going on here? It's not until the death scene, and then the flashback, that we discover it was a murder plot.
I would strongly recommend the thread title be changed - certainly if I had first seen the film knowing it was a murder plot, I would have viewed it in a completely different manner.

And, as other people have said, the plot really is absurd. But so are many other Hitchcock films. And so are many other films, some of which are cited. The great thing about Vertigo, and many of the other great films cited above, is that they are so good that you don't think about it while you're watching the film. In fact, that's a test of a good film - if you're thinking about the improbability of the events you're watching, then the film hasn't managed to cause you to suspend disbelief, and is probably not that good.
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#17 of 44 OFFLINE   SD_Brian

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Posted January 11 2008 - 05:11 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by MatthewLouwrens
I would just suggest that even the thread title is a massive spoiler for Vertigo.
Point well taken. My bad.

I'm glad I didn't go with my original thread title, "I CAN'T BELIEVE DARTH VADER IS LUKE'S FATHER!"*

If a mod could change the thread title to something without a spoiler, it would be much appreciated. Perhaps, "Vertigo: Ridiculously complicated or complicatedly ridiculous?"

*sorry if I spoiled that one for anybody but, since Episodes I-III have come out, I think that's one spoiler that's well past its statute of limitations.

#18 of 44 OFFLINE   Cees Alons

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Posted January 12 2008 - 02:54 AM

OK, I changed your title.
Man do I hate, HATE, HATE spoilers!

Do you realize (I'm building something up now) that I also had to change 15 sub-titles of posts? (still building) And that editing the subtitles when it needs to be done isn't a simple function?

In fact (there it is): this is one ridiculously complicated operation, or should I say complicatedly ridiculous?


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#19 of 44 OFFLINE   SD_Brian

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Posted January 12 2008 - 05:01 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Cees Alons
In fact (there it is): this is one ridiculously complicated operation, or should I say complicatedly ridiculous?
I'm sorry Posted Image
Perhaps one day we will live in a utopic society where every man, woman and child has seen Vertigo and we will no longer have to worry about spoiling things...
Thank you for your efforts! Posted Image

#20 of 44 OFFLINE   Cees Alons

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Posted January 12 2008 - 05:11 AM

You're welcome! Posted Image
I actually liked doing it.


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