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The Hitchcock Players: Barbara Bel Geddes, Vertigo | reviews, news & interviews

The Hitchcock Players: Barbara Bel Geddes, Vertigo

The Hitchcock Players: Barbara Bel Geddes, Vertigo

The one sane character in a film populated by the deluded

James Stewart flirts with Barbara Bel Geddes

Vertigo’s recent elevation to the top of Sight and Sound’s contentious Top 10 makes its minor shortcomings all the more glaring. But dodgy back projections, a plot full of holes and a truly terrible painted portrait ultimately don’t dim its brilliance. Barbara Bel Geddes, later to attain global fame in the late 1970s as Larry Hagman’s mother in Dallas, plays the supporting role of Midge, the former fiancée of James Stewart’s Scottie.

Vertigo’s recent elevation to the top of Sight and Sound’s contentious Top 10 makes its minor shortcomings all the more glaring. But dodgy back projections, a plot full of holes and a truly terrible painted portrait ultimately don’t dim its brilliance. Barbara Bel Geddes, later to attain global fame in the late 1970s as Larry Hagman’s mother in Dallas, plays the supporting role of Midge, the former fiancée of James Stewart’s Scottie. In a film notable for glacial pacing and stilted, spare dialogue, Midge’s warmth shines out. It’s as if she’s strayed in from a different film. She’s Vertigo’s only sane character. Midge talks naturally, walks swiftly and displays an earthy, vulnerable common sense.

Midge is still plainly in love with Scottie. She could be a typical Hitchcock blonde, save that she’s always very soberly, modestly dressed, a downbeat contrast to Kim Novak’s other-worldly Madeleine. More importantly, Midge wears defiantly unsexy glasses – serving to suggest that she alone observes Scottie’s growing madness with clarity. You want to see her remove them and shake her lustrous hair, so that Scottie will at last realise that the solution to all his problems is right under his nose. Midge is the Nancy Drew figure playing along with Scottie’s delusional obsession, dragging him into an antique bookshop in search of answers.

Midge’s scenes with Scottie provide the film’s few moments of light relief; Scottie cheekily inspecting the bra which she is sketching for an advertisement, and their wince-inducing dialogue. “You know there’s only one man for me”, she tells Scottie, after he reminds her of their past engagement with total lack of interest. Midge is the one who catches Scottie from his post-traumatic barstool stumble, clutching him tenderly like a child. She’s the only visitor when he’s hospitalised, bringing him a Mozart LP “to sweep away the cobwebs” in his addled brain. Hers is a beautiful, understated performance. Which makes the scene where she finally snaps, savagely defacing the cheeky painting of herself as Carlotta, all the more distressing.

Watch Barbara Bel Geddes in Vertigo

Comments

Yes all very valid comments on Midge; she grounds us the audience, as well as Scottie, making his obsession with Madeleine all the more believable and powerful.

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