THIS WEEK in VERTIGO: THE MAKING OF A HITCHCOCK CLASSIC SPECIAL EDITION: Novak and Geddes

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For Kim Novak, on her first day of studio work for the production, it wasn’t an easy beginning. Not only did the apartment scene call for her first prolonged passages of dialogue; she had to begin the sequence lying naked in bed, and then finish it in only a robe. And, if Novak’s own account is to be believed, the day began with one of the most famously harrowing on-set experiences in Hitchcock lore. When she reported to her dressing room in the morning of the first day, she has said, there was a plucked chicken hanging from her mirror; when she turned around, she found Hitchcock, Stewart, and the crew gathered at her door to see her reaction. Herbert Coleman could not confirm the story, but he wasn’t inclined to deny anyone the right to add a little color to their memory of making the film.
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Otherwise, her account of the shoot seems almost willfully charitable. “A lot of people said Hitchcock was difficult to work with,” Novak has said, recalling those first few weeks. “But, partly because I knew nothing about technique, I loved working with him. You know, Harry Cohn didn’t like the Vertigo script, but he said, ‘It’s Alfred Hitchcock-you’d better do it.’ Hitchcock knew exactly what he wanted technically and helped me out with that, while allowing me to bring my own interpretation to the role.”
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There was an immediate closeness with Stewart. “Jimmy made me feel like I belonged. He had a wonderful way of making you feel that he’d never met anybody like you before. In the weeks ahead, he looked after me. He was like the boy next door, my father, and the brother I wished I had. He had a natural kindness and sensitivity. And that stutter. Perhaps I identified with it because I have always had a stutter of sorts, too. I was nervous at first with Hitchcock. I kept saying to Jimmy, ‘What do you think he wants me to do?’ Jimmy put a gentle arm on my shoulder and said, ‘There, there now, Kim. It will be fine. Now, if Hitch didn’t think that you were right for the part, he wouldn’t have signed you to do it in the first place. You must believe in yourself.”’   After this first week of studio work, Novak would not return until October thirtieth, when part of the bell tower sequence was filmed. Barbara Bel Geddes was on the lot during this time, filming her first scene with Stewart Scene 16.
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For all that’s been written and rumored about Kim Novak’s difficulty on the set, it’s interesting to note that the greatest number of takes occurred on the Bel Geddes scenes. Yet Bel Geddes and Hitchcock got along extremely well.   She came prepared and had few pretenses; when she asked Hitchcock what he wanted, all he said was, “Don’t act.”
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“He and Edith Head gave me clothes that looked very well on me—little sweaters that 1 love, with little collars and little simple skirts, and 1 felt very secure. It was just the way 1 felt Midge should look.”

The first day with Bel Geddes was long, beginning at 9:00 A.M. and ending close to 6:00 P.M. To bring the scene from Scottie’s “ouch” as he reaches for the falling cane to the line “I had to quit” took eight long takes, with only the last printed. This was trumped by the eleven takes required for a later moment in the scene, again with only one take printed. Bel Geddes returned after the weekend to continue the scene, this time averaging fewer takes; maybe she had taken Hitchcock’s advice and stopped acting.
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