This post is part of the Background to the series
Learning from Alfred Hitchcock — for writers, movie makers, and viewers
I think that Vertigo exemplifies all three of the kinds of structures I’ll eventually be discussing in this series of posts:
- 3-act structure,
- 2-act structure, and
- chapter structure.
To begin with, it has the 3-act structure I’ve talked about in Star Wars, Lets check over the criteria and definitions I gave.
There certainly is a protagonist: Scottie Ferguson (James Stewart).
According to Criterion 1, in the previous post, the first act should end when Scottie “makes a commitment that leads to the main action of the movie: Acts 2 and 3.”
He does this so many times that our only problem would be selecting the one that seems best. I have my own nomination, selected more because I have a gut feeling about it than because it fits any after-the-fact rationalizations.
After Madeleine (Kim Novak) jumps into San Francisco Bay and Scottie fishes her out and brings her to his apartment, they have what, for me, is one of the most unusual conversations ever filmed. I mean, here she wakes up nude in a strange man’s bed only to learn that she’s fallen into the bay and he’s rescued her. The two of them pretend they don’t know each other, yet they immediately begin speaking in a civilized, intimate tone — almost like colleagues, fellow conspirators in some plot they’re both eager to see succeed. He’s obviously in love with her, and perhaps she could be with him, but with no apparent effort he repeatedly, gracefully sidesteps the fact that their love might present a conflict of interest in his relationship with her husband, Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore), who’s in constant phone contact.
Some 7 1/2 minutes into that conversation, Madeleine says that it’s her first time jumping into the Bay. It’s the first time for Scottie, too. He offers her more coffee, reaches for her cup, and touches her hand instead. They have an instant of recognition — interrupted by the ringing of the phone.
Although Scottie has previously agreed to help Madeleine, and although he’s previously acted like he’s in love with her, I think this moment is the decisive one in which he first consciously knows that he loves her and that solving her problem and protecting her is the most important thing in his life. He commits — totally. Continue reading