VERTIGO, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, written by Alec Coppel and Samuel Taylor, 124 minutes, rated PG. Tonight only, Pickering Square, Downtown Bangor.
If you’ re going to call your film series “The Perils of Peroxide,” it had better include Alfred Hitchcock’ s 1958 movie “Vertigo,” which is precisely what the River City Cinema Society is showing tonight at sundown in Downtown Bangor’ s Pickering Square.
Out of all of the films in the lineup, this is the one not to miss — it arguably is Hitchcock’ s masterpiece, a movie that’ s so twisted and twisty, I’ ll need to dance delicately around the plot wound within Alec Coppel and Samuel Taylor’ s script.
In the film, James Stewart is Scottie Ferguson, a San Francisco police detective forced into retirement after developing vertigo when he witnessed a colleague fall to his death during a rooftop chase.
After a brief convalescence, Scottie is hired by Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore) to investigate his wife, Madeleine (Kim Novak, sorely underrated in what is a terrific performance), whom Gavin believes to be suicidal and possessed by a dead relative. Scottie takes the job and soon is following Madeleine around a city whose hills are so steep, they alone can induce vertigo.
Madeleine’ s beauty — pale, ghostly, yet nevertheless luminous — is compelling, and Scottie finds himself drawn to it and to her in ways he doesn’ t fully understand. And yet when Madeleine jumps into San Francisco Bay in an effort to kill herself, the audience knows the reason he risks his life by jumping in to save her.
Somehow, he has fallen in love with her, which is why Scottie begins his long spiral into depression and madness when Madeleine abruptly leaves his life. No one, not even his former fiancee, Midge (Barbara Bel Geddes, marvelous in her best role), can help him — until he meets Judy, a woman who bears a striking resemblance to Madeleine.
As Scottie, Stewart’ s fall into madness is as moving as it is measured. Those who have known real love will understand his need to recover Madeleine. But it’ s heartbreaking to watch. In one scene, Hitchcock bathes Scottie and Judy in an institutional-green fog reminiscent of the green light in “The Great Gatsby,” suggesting that both are insane — Scottie for believing the unbelievable (it won’ t be revealed here) Judy for going along with Scottie’ s demands.
Young audiences unfamiliar with Stewart and Hitchcock should make an effort to catch the film so they can see what their older relatives and friends already know: James Stewart was a genius, and Hitchcock, among our best directors, knew it. In “Vertigo,” Hitchcock deliberately played Stewart against type, choosing not to portray him as the gentleman many remember him to be, but as a complicated man who becomes increasingly sexually aggressive as his longing for Madeleine increases. The humanness for which Stewart was known is here, but there are deeper, more disturbing levels of it rarely seen elsewhere.
On DVD and Blu-ray disc
The flashy drama “21” is just out on DVD and Blu-ray, but don’ t pop your buttons just yet. The film is based on the real-life MIT students who worked to take Las Vegas for millions, and let’ s just say that this is such a deeply fictionalized account of that time, all involved should have known when to fold them (in this case, before production began).
In the film, Kevin Spacey is the sleazy math professor behind the scam, Laurence Fishburne is the casino henchman on to Spacey and his students, and Jim Sturgess is at the center of the story as Ben Campbell, who needs the cash to go to medical school — and who sells his soul in order to do so. While Sturgess is good here and Spacey chews on the script as if it were a piece of meat (actually, it’ s hamburger), there are no surprises, only a story that’ s about as interesting as the plot it offers — counting cards.
Those seeking real-life drama — at least of the political sort — should consider two Biography Channel documentaries, “John McCain” and “Barack Obama,” each of which tells a reasonably balanced tale of the candidates they’ re covering. The information doesn’ t go beyond what most don’ t already know about these presidential hopefuls, but for those who haven’ t been paying attention, expect a good overview.
Rounding out the week are two brassy cartoon collections from Warner — Steven Spielberg’ s “Freakazoid: Complete First Season,” which is suitable for Web-minded tweens, and “Tiny Toons Adventures: Season One, Vol. 1,” which is suitable for parents who like the idea of tiring out their own tots. The collection is energetic, frenetic and exhausting. It’ s also fun.
Finally, high on the list is the quirky Canadian television series “Terminal City,” in which Maria Del Mar’ s Katie finds herself in the unlikely situation of turning a breast cancer diagnosis into reality television fame. If that sounds like a stretch, consider today’ s reality television programming, in which anything is possible, and you’ ll get the idea of the dark, sometimes caustic wit that’ s offered here. Del Mar is particularly good in the role, which won her Canada’ s equivalent of the Emmy.
WeekinRewind.com is the site for Bangor Daily News film critic Christopher Smith’ s blog, video podcasts, iTunes portal and archive of hundreds of movie reviews. Smith’ s reviews appear Mondays, Fridays and weekends in Lifestyle, as well as on bangordailynews.com. He may be reached at Christopher@weekinrewind.com.