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Aug 01

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Vertigo ousts Kane, but which is the better screenplay?

After 50 years at the top of Sight & Sound‘s list of all-time greatest films, Citizen Kane has dropped to #2 behind Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. Just for fun I ask, which is the better screenplay?

When the WGA voted in 2005, they ranked Kane #4 on their list of 101 Greatest Screenplays, and Vertigo didn’t make the cut.

What do you think?

My favorite scene from Vertigo (read the entire script):

	EXT. THE REDWOODS - (DAY)

	Madeleine and Scottie near the massive trunk of a tree.  
	Beyond them, the small stream, bridged by a wide flattened 
	redwood log.

				MADELEINE
		How old?

				SCOTTIE
		Oh... some, two thousand years, or 
		more.

				MADELEINE
		The oldest living things?

	Scottie nods and watches her, wondering, as she looks about 
	thoughtfully.

				SCOTTIE
		You've never been here before.

	She shakes her head, lost in thought as she lets her gaze 
	wander among the trees.

				SCOTTIE
		What are you thinking?

				MADELEINE
			(Searching)
		Of all the people who have been 
		born... and have died... while the 
		trees went on living.

				SCOTTIE
			(Agreeing)
		Their true name is Sequoia 
		Sempervirens: always green, ever-
		living.

				MADELEINE
			(Flatly)
		I don't like them.

				SCOTTIE
		Why?

				MADELEINE
			(Simply)
		Knowing I have to die...

	She looks up at him with a shy, embarrassed smile. Then, 
	seeing the wandering look in his eyes, she brightens quickly.

				MADELEINE
		But I like the stream! It's a lovely 
		stream!

	She leaves him and moves quickly out onto the bridge and 
	loans on the railing to watch the water rippling below. And 
	then, as he approaches her, she turns and looks at him, wide-
	eyed.

				MADELEINE
		But it makes no sound! Listen!

	She listens intensely for a long moment, and looks at him 
	anxiously.

				MADELEINE
		Do you hear anything?

				SCOTTIE
			(Shaking his head)
		Only silence. It's always like this.

				MADELEINE
			(Wondering)
		And no birds sing.

				SCOTTIE
		No birds live here.

				MADELEINE
		No.

	She turns away with gentle, somber, self-contained wonder, 
	and they cross back to the path in silence, and wander on 
	along the path in silence. We watch them move away in the 
	distance, disappear behind a tree, then come into view again, 
	and now there comes into view the cross-section of a redwood 
	tree that is on exhibit, with certain of its rings marked to 
	show what it has lived through, and they approach it.

				SCOTTIE
		Would you like a drink of water?  

				MADELEINE
		No, thank you.

	Scottie moves to the small upright drinking fountain as 
	Madeleine approaches the tree section and stands before it 
	and studies it. Scottie gets a drink of water, then comes up 
	behind Madeleine and stands, and she is seemingly unaware of 
	his presence. Their backs are to the CAMERA.  INSERT OF RINGS 
	on the tree, marked with dates, beginning, near the center 
	with the date 909 A.D. and ending with 1930 - tree cut down.

	EXT. RED WOODS - (DAY) - CLOSE SHOT

	We see the two profiles: Madeleine staring at the tree, 
	Scottie staring at Madeleine. She raises one gloved hand and 
	almost idly begins to trace a finger up along the white line 
	that is marked: 1776 DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE. And as the 
	hand moves a little to the left, Madeleine begins to speak, 
	almost vacantly, oblivious of all but this piece of tree, 
	and herself.

				MADELEINE
		Somewhere in here I was born... and 
		here I died and it was only a moment 
		for you... you took no notice...

				SCOTTIE
			(Almost sharply)
		Madeleine!

	She turns her head to him, only now aware of his presence, 
	and stares at him without expression. Then slowly she turns 
	and walks away, and the CAMERA, PANNING HER SLIGHTLY, brings 
	the head and shoulders of Scottie into the foreground, and 
	he watches her, wondering anxiously, trying to put things 
	together in his mind. Madeleine walks on until she disappears 
	behind one of the distant redwoods.

	EXT. RED WOODS - (DAY) - MEDIUM SHOT

	Scottie moves over, watching her.

	EXT. RED WOODS - (DAY) - LONG SHOT

	The CAMERA MOVES OVER as though it is Scottie looking. It 
	MOVES far enough to reveal that Madeleine is no longer there.  
	She seems to have disappeared.

	EXT. RED WOODS - (DAY) - MEDIUM SHOT

	Scottie comes forward, the CAMERA PANNING him, to get a better 
	view of where Madeleine went.

	EXT. RED WOODS - (DAY) - SEMI-LONG SHOT

	The CAMERA in Scottie's position, moving around, shows that 
	there is no sign of Madeleine whatsoever.

	EXT. RED WOODS - (DAY) - MEDIUM SHOT

	The CAMERA DOLLIES Scottie down toward the trees.

	EXT. RED WOODS - (DAY) - SEMI-LONG SHOT

	CAMERA is now among the trees where Madeleine was last seen.  
	As it TRAVELS across them, it finally brings her into view.  
	She's leaning against a tree with her head bent back.

	EXT. RED WOODS - (DAY) - CLOSEUP

	Scottie comes to a stop as he sees her.

	EXT. RED WOODS - (DAY) - CLOSEUP

	Madeleine leaning against the tree. Her eyes are closed and 
	she is breathing heavily. In the background we see Scottie 
	approaching her. As he comes up to her, the CAMERA EASES 
	BACK and MOVES AROUND until it faces her and Scottie.

				SCOTTIE
			(Gently)
		Madeleine...

	She opens her eyes slowly, and looks at him, recognizing 
	him, and yet not quite, as though she were slightly 
	hypnotized.  Scottie speaks gently.

				SCOTTIE
		Where are you now?

				MADELEINE
			(Softly, distantly)
		Here with you.

				SCOTTIE
		Where?

				MADELEINE
		The tall trees...

				SCOTTIE
		Have you been here before?

				MADELEINE
		Yes...

				SCOTTIE
		When?

	She shakes her head.

				SCOTTIE
		Where were you born?

				MADELEINE
		Long ago...

				SCOTTIE
		Where?

	She shakes her head.

				SCOTTIE
		When?

	Her head continues to move back and forth, gently denying.  
	His voice is more positive, now, more urgently demanding.

				SCOTTIE
		Tell me.

	The head moves more rapidly, now, as though denying some 
	inner compulsion.

				SCOTTIE
		Madeleine! Tell me!

	The rapidly moving head stops short, and her eyes open wide, 
	and she cries out:

				MADELEINE
		No!... No!

				SCOTTIE
			(Low and urgent)
		Tell me what it is. Where do you go?  
		What takes you away?

				MADELEINE
		No, don't ask me!

	They are both speaking quickly, now, the words cascading 
	without pause.

				SCOTTIE
		When you jumped in the bay, you didn't 
		know where you were. You guessed but 
		you didn't know.

				MADELEINE
		I didn't jump, I fell! You told me I 
		fell!

				SCOTTIE
		Why did you jump?

				MADELEINE
		No!

				SCOTTIE
		What was it inside that told you to 
		jump?

	She is fighting it strongly, yet pathetically.

				MADELEINE
		No, I can't tell you!

				SCOTTIE
		What?!

				MADELEINE
			(Strongly)
		No! Please! Please, please, please, 
		please, don't ask me!

	And her head drops, and she sags, and Scottie stands quietly 
	watching her, knowing he can push it no further.

				MADELEINE
			(Softly, tired)
		Take me away from here?

				SCOTTIE
		Home?

				MADELEINE
		...somewhere in the light.

	He takes her arm. She looks up at him with a tired smile.

				MADELEINE
		And promise you won't ask me again.  
		Please promise me that.

	He looks down at her somberly, promising and refusing nothing. 
	They start walking, holding together, and the two figures 
	become small in the distance, moving away through the tall 
	trees.

And my favorite scene from Citizen Kane (read the entire script):

          INT. KANE'S OFFICE - NIGHT -

          The bottle is finished.  The door in the Sanctrum opens.  Reilly 
          and the others leave.

                                    REILLY
                               (as they go)
                        Goodnight, Mr. Kane.

          Kane stands in the door, waiting for Leland.  Leland gets up 
          and moves toward the office - goes in, sits down across from 
          Kane at the desk.  An uncomfortable pause.  Then Kane smiles 
          ingratiatingly.  Leland tries to cope with this.

                                    LELAND
                        First of all -
                               (he can't go on)

                                    KANE
                               (not cruelly - 
                               genuinely kind)
                        What's wrong, Brad?

                                    LELAND
                        I'm drunk.

                                    KANE
                        I'll get you some coffee.

          He rises and goes to the door.

                                    LELAND
                        First of all, I will not write a 
                        good review of a play because 
                        somebody paid a thousand dollars 
                        for an advertisement in the 
                        "Enquirer."

                                    KANE
                               (gently - opening 
                               the door)
                        That's just a little promotion 
                        scheme.  Nobody expects you -
                               (calling)
                        Mike, will you try and get Mr. 
                        Leland some coffee?

                                    MIKE'S VOICE
                        Sure thing, Mr. Kane.

          Kane turns back to Leland.  Leland doesn't look up at him.

                                    LELAND
                        Charlie, it's just no go.  We can't 
                        agree anymore.  I wish you'd let 
                        me go to Chicago.

                                    KANE
                        Why, Brad?

                                    LELAND
                        I want to be transferred to the 
                        new paper.  You've been saying 
                        yourself you wish you had somebody 
                        to -
                               (he is heartsick, 
                               inarticulate)
                        That's not what I wanted to talk 
                        about.

          Kane goes around behind the desk and sits down.

                                    KANE
                        I'll tell you what I'll do, Brad -
                        I'll get drunk, too - maybe that'll 
                        help.

                                    LELAND
                        No, that won't help.  Besides, you 
                        never get drunk.  I wanted to talk 
                        about you and Emily.

          Kane looks at Leland sharply before he speaks.

                                    KANE
                               (quietly)
                        All right.

                                    LELAND
                               (without looking at 
                               him)
                        She's going to leave you -

                                    KANE
                        I don't think so, Brad.  We've 
                        just had word that the President 
                        is out of danger.
                               (ruefully)
                        It seems I didn't kill him after 
                        all.

                                    LELAND
                               (takes his eye)
                        She was going to leave you anyway -

          Kane takes this in.

                                    LELAND
                        Emily's going south next week with 
                        the child.  As far as anybody's to 
                        know, it's a holiday.  When they 
                        get back -

                                    KANE
                               (sharply)
                        Brad, you are drunk.

                                    LELAND
                        Sure I am.  She wants full custody 
                        of the child no matter what happens.
                        If you won't agree to that, she'll 
                        apply for a divorce regardless of 
                        the President's wishes.  I can't 
                        tell her she's wrong, because she 
                        isn't wrong -

                                    KANE
                        Why is she leaving me?

                                    LELAND
                               (it's very hard for 
                               him to say all 
                               this)
                        She hasn't any friends left sine 
                        you started this oil business, and 
                        she never sees you.

                                    KANE
                        Do you think the "Enquirer" 
                        shouldn't have campaigned against 
                        the oil leases?

                                    LELAND
                               (hesitating)
                        You might have made the whole thing 
                        less personal!

          No answer from Kane.

                                    LELAND
                        It isn't just that the President 
                        was her uncle - everyone she knows, 
                        all the people she's been brought 
                        up with, everything she's ever 
                        been taught to believe is important -

          Still no answer from Kane.

                                    LELAND
                        There's no reason why this - this
                        savage personal note -

                                    KANE
                        The personal note is all there is 
                        to it.  It's all there ever is to 
                        it.  It's all there every is to 
                        anything!  Stupidity in our 
                        government, complacency and self-
                        satisfaction and unwillingness to 
                        believe that anything done by a 
                        certain class of people can be 
                        wrong - you can't fight those things 
                        impersonally.  They're not 
                        impersonal crimes against people.  
                        They're being done by actual persons - 
                        with actual names and positions 
                        and - the right of the American 
                        people to own their own country is 
                        not an academic issue, Brad, that 
                        you debate - and then the judges 
                        retire to return a verdict and the 
                        winners give a dinner for the 
                        losers.

                                    LELAND
                        You almost convince me.
                               (rising)
                        I'm just drunk enough to tell you 
                        the truth.  I have to be a little 
                        drunk for that because I'm a coward.  
                        You know that.  That's why you 
                        keep me around.
                               (smiles)
                        You only associate with your 
                        inferiors, Charlie.  I guess that's 
                        why you ran away from Emily.  
                        Because you can't stand the company 
                        of your equals.  You don't like to 
                        admit they exist - the other big 
                        people in your world are dead.
                        I told you that.

          Kane looks at Leland, but Leland can't be stopped now.  He 
          speaks very quietly - no poison in his voice - no personal 
          indignation - as though he were explaining the nature of a 
          disease.

                                    LELAND
                        You talk about the people of the 
                        United States as though they 
                        belonged to you.  When you find 
                        out they don't think they are, 
                        you'll lose interest.  You talk 
                        about giving them their rights as 
                        though you could make a present of 
                        liberty.  Remember the working 
                        man?  You used to defend him quite 
                        a good deal.  Well, he's turning 
                        into something called organized 
                        labor and you don't like that at 
                        all.  And listen, when your precious 
                        underprivileged really get together - 
                        that's going to add up to something 
                        bigger than - than your privilege 
                        and then I don't know what you'll 
                        do - sail away to a desert island, 
                        probably, and lord it over the 
                        monkeys.

                                    KANE
                        Are you finished?

                                    LELAND
                        Yes.
                               (looking down)
                        Now, will you let me go to Chicago?

                                    KANE
                               (with a little smile)
                        You're not going to like it in 
                        Chicago.  They wind comes howling 
                        in from the lake.  And there's
                        practically no opera season at all -
                        and the Lord only knows whether
                        they've ever heard of Lobster 
                        Newburg -

                                    LELAND
                        That's all right.
                               (he won't be charmed 
                               out of his duty)
                        What are you going to do about 
                        Emily?

                                    KANE
                               (his face hardning 
                               a little)
                        Nothing - if she dosen't love me -

          Leland has risen.  He speaks as he turns away, starting towards 
          the door.

                                    LELAND
                        You want love on your own terms,
                        don't you, Charlie -
                               (he stops - his 
                               back turned to 
                               Kane)
                        Love according to your own rules.
                        And if anything goes wrong and 
                        you're hurt - then the game stops, 
                        and you've got to be soothed and 
                        nursed, no matter what else is 
                        happening - and no matter who else 
                        is hurt!

                                    KANE
                        It's simpler than that, Brad.  A 
                        society girl can't stand the gaff, 
                        that's all.  Other things are 
                        important to her - social position, 
                        what they're saying on the front 
                        porches at Southampton, is it going 
                        to be embarrassing to meet somebody
                        or the other at dinner -

          Leland has turned, taking his eye again.  Now Kane stops and 
          smiles.

                                    KANE
                        She can leave me.  As a matter of 
                        fact, I've already left her.  Don't 
                        worry, Brad - I'll live.

                                    LELAND
                        I know you will.

                                    KANE
                               (with all his charm)
                        Hey, Brad!  I've been analyzed an 
                        awful lot tonight - let's have 
                        another brandy.

          Leland shakes his head.  Kane lifts his glass.

                                    KANE
                        To love on my terms.  Those are 
                        the only terms anybody knows ...  
                        his own.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.screenplayology.com/2012/08/01/vertigo-ousts-kane-but-which-is-the-better-screenplay/

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