Since we talked about The Man Who Knew Too Much the other day, I thought I’d follow it up with arguably the greatest Hitchcock film in Vertigo. I watched it the other day for the 4th or 5th time. What struck me about it, as often does, is how odd it is to see Jimmy Stewart is this role. Like, it doesn’t feel as if Stewart should have the range to pull this off, as opposed to say a Paul Newman or Jack Lemmon or Cary Grant. He’s too old for the role anyway–he and Barbara Bel Geddes are supposed to have attended college together but he’s 14 years older than she and shows it. This was common in casting Stewart of course, no more so than The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.
Regardless of the age though, Stewart feels like the kind of actor who should have been typecast a bit in roles such as his many westerns or his populist man of the people films. I mean, just in those movies alone, he would have had a legendary career. With his look and his voice and his all-American persona, the level of range he shows is actually kind of remarkable. What’s more, it’s not as if he radically changed his persona for Hitchcock or Otto Preminger. He’s still the same aw-shucks guy. And yet in Vertigo or Rear Window or Anatomy of a Murder (I really just want to hear Stewart say “panties” on loop for 2 hours), he delivers masterful performances. He really was a wonderful and unique actor and I’m not sure that we quite recognize that.
As for whether Vertigo is the greatest movie ever or not, as it was proclaimed in the last Sight and Sound poll (which reminds me that the next one of those is next year), I don’t know. I’m not even sure what means. It’s a fantastic movie of course. I probably like Notorious better for my Hitchcocks and maybe North by Northwest too. But if you want to say that Vertigo is the greatest movie ever, I’m not really going to argue with you.