This 1958 movie was the final of four collaborations between Alfred Hitchcock and James Stewart. The film performed modestly in cinemas, and Hitchcock apparently blamed Stewart for this, saying that at 50, Stewart was too old to draw in large audiences anymore. (Hitchcock also made a few less than complimentary comments about female star Kim Novak.) Regardless of it’s initial viewing figures, it has since become regarded as one of Hitchcock’s best films, and a classic of the genre.
I find Hitchcock’s movie’s somewhat hit-and-miss. To Catch A Thief and North by Northwest are both superb (maybe it’s the Cary Grant effect) and if you haven’t seen them, you definitely should! This is the third Hitchcock/Stewart I’ve seen, and is my favourite of all three, although it’s not perfect by any means.
Stewart plays John ‘Scottie’ Ferguson, a detective who leaves the police force, due to suffering from acrophobia. An old friend named Gavin Elster asks Scottie to tail his wife Madeleine, as Gavin is concerned about Madeleine’s unusual behaviour and fears that she will end up hurting herself. Scottie accepts the job, but quickly becomes obsessed with Madeleine…
There was a lot to enjoy about this film – Stewart (whatever Hitchcock thought) was perfect in the role of Scottie, a man who finds his equilibrium disturbed by the elusive and beautiful Madeleine. Personally, I thought this was one of the best roles I had ever seen Stewart play. I also really liked the dynamic between Scottie and his friend Midge (Barbara Bel Geddes). Kim Novak looked stunning as Madeleine, and she gets the chance to really demonstrate her acting chops in this film. There was real chemistry between Stewart and Novak.
The story itself is pretty straightforward, but there is a big twist, which I absolutely refuse to disclose here. Had I known about it before viewing the film, it would certainly have spoiled it for me, so I won’t spoil it for anyone else.
However, the film raises as many questions as it answers. There is an air of implausibility about the whole thing – a common thing with Hitchcock films – and one scene in particular, while intruiging enough, seems to serve no real purpose. I also find the use of highly dramatic music at moments of tension to be unnecessary, although I appreciate that at the time that the film was made, it was probably a very effective technique. (I always just feel that I don’t need dramatic moments to be signposted; I can spot them for myself).
In the hands of less capable actors, this film could have fallen flat. However, the talents of the two main stars keep things tense and interesting, and fans of the genre, and I would recommend watching it at least once.
Year of release: 1958
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Writers: Alec Coppel, Samuel A. Taylor, Pierre Boileau, Thomas Narcejac, Maxwell Anderson
Main cast: James Stewart, Kim Novak, Barbara Bel Geddes, Tom Helmore