Today is National Alfred Hitchcock Day so on the day when we celebrate the work of one of America’s greatest film directors, I thought it only fitting that I pay tribute to my favorite moment from my favorite Hitchcock film. Yeah, the shower scene from Psycho is awesome, as are moments like Cary Grant’s escape from the attacking crop-dusting plane in North by Northwest or the long tracking shot into the key in Ingrid Bergman’s hand in Notorious, but nothing beats Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak’s kiss in the hotel room from 1958′s Vertigo.
In the film, due to his crippling fear of heights, Stewart’s Scottie Ferguson is unable to save the love of his life Madeline (Novak) when she falls to her death from a bell tower. But later, Scottie meets Judy (also played by Novak) who bears a striking resemblance to the deceased Madeline. So Scottie does the only thing one can do in a Hitchcock film—he gives Judy an extreme makeover until she looks exactly like his dead love; culminating in the scene you are about to see below.
I know as a writer, I should have no business calling Vertigo my favorite Hitchcock film because if you really study it, it has its fair share of script problems and plot holes large enough to drive a truck through. Yet, it gets me every time on a purely emotional level. There’s something lyrical and haunting about the movie—it’s both extremely romantic and extremely creepy at the same time. In many ways, it was Hitchcock’s most personal work—Jimmy Stewart serving as a stand-in for the director and given full reign to act out some of Hitchcock’s obsessions from his love-hate relationship with cool blond women to necrophilia.
And nothing embodies the tone and spirit of the film better than the following scene where Scottie sees Judy fully made-over as the dead Madeline for the first time. It’s quintessential Hitchcock—sparse dialogue, using visual montage to tell the story, the wonderful music of composer Bernard Herrman and the director’s classic innovations—in this case, a camera that twirls 360 degrees around the kissing couple that seems to bend time and space as Scottie is transported back to the stable where he first kissed Madeline. One of our cinematic master’s finest moments: