This week in VERTIGO: THE MAKING OF A HITCHCOCK CLASSIC

All of the location work for Vertigo was completed in the first two weeks of October in 1957. To celebrate the publication of the recent Kinde Special Edition of VERTIGO: THE MAKING OF A HITCHCOCK CLASSIC, I will be marking the Vertigo calendar dates with where the production was in 1958.

From the book:

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McKittrick today.

October second was spent at the now-demolished McKittrick Hotel. The only scene to require more than the few Hitchcock standard takes was the dialogue between Scottie and the hotel manager-played by Ellen Corby (who became well known as the grandmother on The Waltons in the 1970s) which required five.

Part of Thursday, October third, was spent in the alley behind Podesta’s (only in the film-in life, the alley was at Maiden Lane, not far away) and outside Scottie’s apartment (900 Lombard Street, on the block beneath the most crooked street in the United States). Thursday also marked the first night shoot for the film-the scene where Midge drives up to Scottie’s apartment and sees Madeleine leaving. The first take of the day was at 9:00 A.M. in the alley; the last at 10:45 P.M. outside the apartment-which means that most of the crew were involved from 7:00 A.M. until nearly midnight.

And the next day was not very restful. Three different locations: the exterior of Gump’s, Fort Point, and Judy’s hotel. The Gump’s sequence was simple-the first take rolled at 10:00 A.M., and they were on their way to Fort Point by 11:30.

Herbert Coleman remembers that the scenes outside Gump’s and Ransohoffs were shot with a hidden camera, so as not to attract onlookers. Yet in the film, both scenes appear to be shot from the sidewalk-not from inside a van, as Coleman recalls-and there is no indication in Peggy Robertson’s notes that any special measures were taken.
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Fort Point, the scene of Madeleine’s suicide attempt, is one of the stunning locations most often associated with Vertigo. Located beneath the Golden Gate Bridge, it is one of the most dramatic locations in San Francisco from which to view the bridge, the bay, and the city. On October fourth, Stewart and Novak were filmed arriving at the location. Madeleine would then drop petals from her Podesta flower arrangement in the bay and then suddenly jump in. For the brief jumping shot, Novak was replaced by a double, who actually jumped onto a stretched parachute. This is the scene for which some have claimed that Novak was tormented by Hitchcock’s demands for endless takes; Novak would eventually spend time in a tank on a Paramount soundstage, but on this day the double endured only four takes-with the third and fourth printed for use in the finished film.   Fort Point was not without its complications. Unlike in the soundstage set used for the rescue scene, there are no steps to help in climbing out of the water; the double had to jump four times off the sheer edge and onto the parachute. Regardless of the weather, the waves are always high and the drop is dramatic. Jumping from the side onto anything would not have been easy.

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At 5:25, the crew packed up for a night shot of Judy entering the Empire Hotel. The Empire, located in the 900 block of Sutter, was chosen for its seediness and for its memorable green neon sign. Hitchcock wanted the green neon light to spill through Judy’s window for two key scenes. The interiors would be duplicated back at Paramount, but the hotel would be used for several exterior shots of Judy arriving, and one shot of Judy opening her shades. You can still visit what was once the Empire Hotel. Gone are its seedy, rundown quality-and, unfortunately, the large neon sign. In fact, the only indication that the building at 980 Sutter was once the Empire Hotel is the name Empire stamped in concrete above the hotel’s bar, the Plush Room. Now called the York Hotel, the recently renovated building is decidedly more upscale than in the 1950s: Judy would have to shell out five to six hundred dollars a week for her room today.
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Inside, though, a surprise: Though there have been substantial changes throughout the building-many of them designed to bring the building back to its pre-1950s splendor-a visitor to what is now room 501 will immediately recognize the room Hitchcock and art director Henry Bumstead re-created at Paramount. Still present is the armchair sitting in front of the bay window; the bathroom is still by the entrance, and the closet is now a built-in bureau. Though it never appeared on film, the room is hauntingly familiar-permanent evidence of Hitchcock’s amazing concern for authenticity. After all, few directors would have felt compelled to stick to the reality of the hotel room; only a handful of people in the world would know that he had made changes to the interior. But that handful mattered to Hitchcock. He told Truffaut that realism, even in the smallest details, was important to him-a sentiment borne out in a visit to the York Hotel.

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Empire Hotel then York now Vertigo Hotel

It took about an hour to set up at the Empire; then, after only a few takes, another long day was wrapped at 7:45-bringing the total screen time filmed to just over twelve minutes in five days’ work. Five days would be the end of a studio week (six-day weeks had ended earlier in the decade), but Hitchcock had begun Vertigo on location, which allowed weekend work to save money. And so they pressed on.
Saturday’s lineup included three locations: the San Mateo cemetery for a simple shot of Scottie looking at Madeleine’s grave; some additional exterior work at the Brocklebank Apartments; and an early-evening shot of Judy at the Empire Hotel. The evening shoot finished a little after six.

The early finish compensated for the 4:00 A.M. call at Union Square on Sunday. The scene in which Scottie walks the empty San Francisco streets is one of the more memorable moments in the film. The empty predawn Union Square is shot from a high angle, as Scottie crosses Stockton and walks east on Geary. The first take rolled at 5:00 A.M., and only three were required. They were ready to move to the flower shop, Podesta Baldocchi-only a few blocks away on Grant-by 5:30.

As in the case of the room at the Empire Hotel, the interior settings in a film are often reproduced in a studio, giving the filmmaker complete control over the environment. But art director Henry Bumstead honed in on a striking visual detail in the actual Podesta that he knew would add vivid verisimilitude to the scene-the shop’s striking Italian tile floor-and recommended shooting the interior scene on location. (The back entrance into the flower shop was rereated later on a soundstage.

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Podesta today

Florists at Podesta recall having to change flowers several times because the hot studio lights were wilting them. What is amazing is how the crew managed to fit into such a small location. Vertigo was filmed in the 1950s Vista Vision color process, and the camera and tripod for such a production are enormous, requiring a minimum of two or three people to operate them. At least three, and possibly four or five, lights would have been needed. On this Sunday, Burks and South were manning the camera; standing about would have been another half dozen or so of the crew members to help set up and break down the equipment; Hitchcock himself and script supervisor Peggy Robertson would have to have sat close enough to the camera to see the action-all of this in a tiny florist shop
Podesta Baldocchi had occupied that space for nearly forty years-the previous tenant had been Tiffany’s-but in the years since the production of Vertigo, they have moved from the small shop at 224 Grant to new quarters on Fourth and Bryant. The site used for the filming has become a fashionable clothing shop, its striking tile flooring covered with wood. October seventh and eighth were spent do exterior work at a number of locations Golden Gate Park, the McKittrick Hotel, Fort Point, and the Empire Hotel. The running total of completed film time was now at seventeen minutes, forty-seven seconds. The most extensive location work on these two days was done on the eighth, at the Palace of the Legion of Honor in Lincoln Park.

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