There are four movies that I saw
Between the ages of ten and fourteen that became
Parts of my life, for what that's worth:
The Man Who Knew Too Much, which I saw
When I was ten at the Mission Theatre
On Fifth Avenue, half a block north of the Orpheum.
Doris Day and Jimmy Stewart leave their stylish
London friends completely in the lurch
In their elegant hotel room, and set out in search
Of Ambrose Chapel, which turns out not to be a person,
But rather a church where their kidnapped son is being held.
There's a concert and a clash of cymbals and a shot;
A party at an embassy where she sings "Que Sera,"
While he sneaks up the stairs to find their son.
The suspense becomes unbearable, but it all ends well,
And with their death-defying labors done,
The three of them return at last to their hotel,
Where their friends have fallen fast asleep. Vertigo,
Which I'll come back to in a minute, came to the Orpheum
In 1958, followed a year later by North By Northwest,
Which is completely captivating—probably the best
Piece of entertainment ever filmed. Cary Grant
Is on the lam, wrongly suspected of an assassination
In a crowded lobby at the United Nations.
He sneaks aboard a train bound for Chicago,
And in the dining car falls in with Eva Marie Saint.
They seem to hit it off, engaging in some quaint
Old-fashioned bantering and flirtation
Before repairing to her sleeping car where,
Alas, she makes him sleep alone. He has a close call
With a crop duster in a tall corn field in downstate
Illinois, leaving him covered with dust, yet still impeccable,
And the movie culminates in a scene atop Mt. Rushmore,
Where after clambering around a presidential nostril
Or two he saves her life, and pulls her up into their nuptial bed,
An upper berth back on a train—although the famous phallic finish,
As the train goes roaring through a tunnel, went over my head.
I saw Psycho at the California Theatre on Fourth in 1960.
It starts out in a seedy hotel room in Phoenix—so much
Grimmer than the hotel room in The Man Who Knew Too Much—
Which foreshadows the seedy Bates Motel. Janet Leigh
Is also on the lam—flight seems to be a reoccurring theme—
And holes up there, and then decides to turn around.
Before she can she's gruesomely dispatched (we later learn)
By Anthony Perkins in the notorious shower scene,
Which tore me out of my seat. He's devoted to his mother,
Who shows up in another scene that made me jump,
As Martin Balsam, a private investigator in touch with Leigh's lover
John Gavin, heads up the stairs to the mother's bedroom
And she lunges out at him with her brutal knife. She appears again
At the movie's climax, when Leigh's sister, Vera Miles, finds her in the fruit cellar
And she slowly turns to her, the way a malignant figure in a dream,
With an averted face, starts to turn to you, and then you scream.
All of these movies were tremendously entertaining, sure,
And a lot of fun, but Vertigo was something else again—a pure
Fever dream, a fantasy fulfilled and then at once destroyed.
I saw it again last weekend at the Rosebud Cinema in Wauwatosa,
And it still retains its power to disturb. It's Jimmy Stewart once again,
A wealthy acrophobic retired policeman hired by a college friend,
Tom Helmore, to investigate his wife, supposedly possessed by the ghost
Of her great-grandmother, Carlotta Valdes, who killed herself
At twenty-six, his wife's own age. Kim Novak impersonates the wife
As part of a plot to murder her. Stewart falls in love with her
Of course, but driven forward by Carlotta's furious rage to end her life,
Novak leaps (?) from the bell tower of Mission San Juan Bautista,
Though it's the real wife who falls. Stewart is destroyed. And then his life
Starts to begin again. He meets a shop girl, Judy (it's Novak again),
And tries to resurrect the past, remaking her in the image of his dead love
Madeline, until, his fantasy complete, she stands before him in a gauzy haze
—And then Carlotta's necklace makes him see the truth. In a daze
He drives her to the mission where the "suicide" occurred,
And struggling against his vertigo he drags her up into the tower
Where—hysterical—she admits to everything. Suddenly a nun
Emerges from the shadows muttering "I heard voices."
Novak screams and plunges to her death. Stewart stands there stunned
And silent, looking down in disbelief at what he's done.
Court Green Issue 9 - Winter 2012
Issue 9 - Winter 2012
Copyright © 2012 by John Koethe
All rights reserved.
Reproduced by Poetry Daily with permission