(Alfred Hitchcock, 1958)
More than anything else, this film is a document of a master filmmaker in crisis. At the peak of his powers, none of his perfectly realized entertainment devices seem to mean anything anymore. So the typically expert, breezily vernacular performances are awash in a sea of forlorn, solitary meandering; the 'mystery' of the narrative is constantly discredited as a meaningless diversion; and, in the world-historic masterstroke, the surrogate protagonist's pursuit of obsessive love is suddenly and permanently interrupted by the perspective of the distressed, used, abandoned love object, who just wants to be accepted for who she is. In Kim Novak's eyes, James Stewart's lonely quest for feminine perfection is as inhuman as the unattainable apparition she had presented as in the earlier scenes - the gap is never bridged, and the self-doubt is overwhelming as Hitchcock parallels Stewart's unspeakably solitary cruelty to his own life work of managing presentations and manipulating the vulnerabilities of needy, beautiful people. But while he's wracked with doubt, he's still the greatest filmmaker alive with ready access to the greatest film craftspeople alive, so that his soul-searching takes on an almost unbelievable wholeness of form and texture. Before our eyes, he's turning his demons into the template of high-art cinema that would sustain the medium for the rest of the century, but impressive as that is, it's not why this deserves to be called the greatest movie ever made. It deserves it because it calls into question the adequacy of its own greatness, because it knows that Kim Novak's soul is greater still.