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Vertigo
Year:
1958
Country:
USA
Genre:
Crime, Thriller, Mystery, Romance, Film-Noir
IMDB rating:
8.4
Director:
Alfred Hitchcock
James Stewart as John 'Scottie' Ferguson
Kim Novak as Madeleine Elster
Barbara Bel Geddes as Midge Wood
Tom Helmore as Gavin Elster
Henry Jones as Coroner
Raymond Bailey as Scottie's Doctor
Ellen Corby as Manager of McKittrick Hotel
Konstantin Shayne as Pop Leibel
Storyline: John "Scottie" Ferguson is a retired San Francisco police detective who suffers from acrophobia and Madeleine is the lady who leads him to high places. A wealthy shipbuilder who is an acquaintance from college days approaches Scottie and asks him to follow his beautiful wife, Madeleine. He fears she is going insane, maybe even contemplating suicide, he believes she is possessed by a dead ancestor. Scottie is skeptical, but agrees after he sees the beautiful Madeleine.
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Reviews
You're not lost. Mother's here.
John "Scottie" Ferguson is a San Francisco cop who decides to quit the service after his acrophobia results in him being unable to save the life of a colleague. Whilst taking it easy he gets a call from an old school friend, Gavin Elster, asking him if he wouldn't mind doing a little bit of detective work for him. The job is simply to tail his wife because she's obsessed with an ancestress who committed suicide, and the wife, Madeline, is showing signs of herself being suicidal. Ferguson tails her diligently and as the tail progresses, Ferguson himself starts to become ever obsessed about the demur blonde Madeline. As the story twists and turns, Ferguson's obsession will have far reaching consequences for both parties...

Vertigo is Alfred Hitchcock's most discussed, dissected and critically reappraised film, based on a novel by Pierre Boileau called D'Entre Les Morts, (also writer of Diabolique), Vertigo was not well liked on its release and unable to be viewed for some time due to copyright, the film was restored from a destroyed negative into a glorious 70mm print, and now in all its glory it can be seen as one of the greatest films to have ever been made. What is most striking about Vertigo, outside of Hitchcock baring his innermost that is, is that its plot on the surface is simplicity personified, but delving deeper, and repeat viewings are a necessity, its apparent that Vertigo is a chilling force of cinema, taking great delight in gnawing away at your perceptions, perhaps even your own capabilities as a human being.

Very much a film of two great halves, Vertigo first seems intent on being an almost ghost story like mystery. Once the prologue has introduced us to Ferguson's fear of heights, we then enter an almost dream like sequence of events as Ferguson tails the troubled Madeline, the suggestion of reincarnation bleakly leading to death hangs heavy as Hitchcock pulls his atmospheric strings. Then the film shifts into dark territory as obsessions and nods to Dante's Inferno and feverish dreams take control, Hitchcock, as we have come to learn over the years, lays out his soul for us the audience to partake in, the uneasy traits sitting side by side with fascination of the story. All of which is leading us to a spine tingling finale that is as hauntingly memorable as it is shocking, the end to our own dizzying journey that Alfred and his team have taken us on.

Technically the film is magnificent, the opening credits from Saul Bass brilliantly prep us for what is about to unfold, while Bernard Herrmann's score is as good as anything he ever did, unnerving one minute, swirlingly romantic the next, a truly incredible score. Hitchcock himself is firing from the top draw, introducing us to the brilliant zoom-forward-track-back camera technique to induce the feeling of Vertigo itself, with that merely a component of two hours of gorgeous texture lined with disturbing little peccadilloes. The two leads are arguably doing their respective career best work, James Stewart as Scottie Ferguson goes real deep to play it out with an edgy believability that decries his aw-shucks trademark of years since past. Kim Novak as Madeline is perhaps the quintessential Hitchcock blonde, perfect with the duality aspects of the role and playing off Stewart's ever creepy descent with seamlessly adroit skill. It however should be noted that Hitchcock and his loyal subjects had to work hard to get Novak right for the role, but the result proves that Novak had ability that sadly wasn't harnessed on too many other occasions.

Vertigo is a film that I myself wasn't too taken with on my first viewing, it's only during revisits that the piece has come to grab me by the soul and refuse to let go, it not only holds up on revisits, it also gets better with each subsequent viewing, it is simply a film that demands to be seen as many times as possible. Not only one of the greatest American films ever made, one of the greatest films ever made...period, so invest your soul in it, just the way that Hitchcock himself so clearly did. 10/10
2009-07-19
A Standard Rave
Starting in 1958, Alfred Hitchcock directed a remarkable sequence of films in a row, each of them a classic; Vertigo (1958), North by Northwest (1959), Psycho (1960) and The Birds (1963). Never has a director made four such genuinely great movies in such a short space of time, either before or since.

The pick of this high standard bunch is undoubtedly Vertigo. From the opening titles, with their circling spiral imagery, to the dramatic final scene this is a movie that takes you to a different time and place. Specifically, to a San Francisco of the past; full of deserted parks, discrete rooming houses, oddly menacing art galleries and florists where the customers enter and exit through the back door. Through this landscape wanders Jimmy Stewart, towering in the lead roll as a former detective recently retired after a bungled arrest leaves him with chronic vertigo. Plot machinations lead him to the alluring Kim Novak (one of Hitchcock's famous "blondes"), the young wife of a friend who has started behaving rather oddly.

"To reveal more," as Leonard Maltin wrote, "would be unthinkable."

While the performances of Novak and Stewart are memorable, the movie is really set apart by the intelligent script and the stylistic touches provided by the director. Hitchcock is in his very best form creating hypnotic scenes and a general sense of unease and dread in even the most banal of situations. He is aided in this by the wonderful score of Bernard Herrman. A particular favourite of mine is the extended (largely silent) segment where Stewart follows Novak for the first time. Nothing much happens, but the atmosphere of these scenes is enough to keep you on the edge of your seat!

One of the all-time greats. They definitely don't make them like this anymore.
2002-07-10
Unforgettable and fascinating film about a retired police falling in love with a strange woman
Classic and haunting suspense by the master himself , Hitchcock , dealing with tragic events when an ex-cop keeps an eye on a gorgeous woman . Genuinely great movie focuses a San Francisco ex-detective (James Stewart) suffering from acrophobia , fear the heights , as he is contracted to shadow an old chum(Tom Helmore)'s wife . He investigates the rare activities of an old friend's spouse, all the while becoming dangerously obsessed with her . He finds himself eventually falling in love with her (Kim Novak) , then , tragic drama and fateful events stark .

The first part of this extraordinary production results to be slow-moving ; however , the rest takes off at fast speed . Hitch plays on the senses and keeps the suspense and action in feverish pitch . All the elements for a suspenseful evening are in place and things move at an intelligent pace . The story is typical Hitch fare , an issue of fake identity and treason that embroils a man in suicide and murder . Hitch had one of most charming actors of all Hollywood as James Stewart stars a detective who has acrophobia , he also played ¨Man who knew too much¨ and ¨Rear window¨. Furthermore , a marvelous Kim Novak at her best . Good secondary role from Barbara Bed Geddes as eternal girlfriend and Henry Jones as judge . As usual , Hitch's cameo as man walking . Samuel Taylor screen-written from the interesting novel ¨From among the dead¨ by Pierre Boileau . Colorful cinematography in dreamlike style by Robert Burks , Hitch's ordinary . Very good sets and production design by Henry Bumstead and Hal Pereira . Riveting and thrilling musical score by Bernard Herrmann who composed various masterpieces for Hitch as ¨North by Northwest¨, ¨Psycho¨ , ¨Wrong guilty¨ and ¨The trouble with Harry¨

Vertigo is one of Hitch's most stylish and discussed films and will keep you riveted and excited until the edge-of-your-seat . Indispensable seeing this quintessential Hitch movie , demanding numerous viewings .
2012-02-02
Not a masterpiece
Vertigo divides audiences more than any other Hitchcock film.

For one critic it is "one of the four or five most profound and beautiful films the cinema has yet given us." A poll of 150 international critics has three times voted it the second greatest movie ever made (after Citizen Kane). However, many viewers find it a crashing bore.

I have sympathy for both camps.

Vertigo is the film in which Hitchcock comes closest to dealing directly with his own personal demons. The surface story makes no sense by itself and only works if you respond to the powerful undercurrents in its subtext. But Hitchcock still has to get the surface story right. It must fully embody the subtext and engage with its audience. For many people, it doesn't quite do either.

The prologue leaves Scottie hanging over an abyss. By not showing his rescue, Hitchcock effectively leaves him hanging there for the rest of the movie and his vertigo becomes a metaphor for his spiritual condition; he is poised between a longing for life and a longing for death. In rejecting the (real) life-affirming Midge and in his infatuation with the (illusory) death-obsessed Madeleine, he makes his fateful choice.

However, the prologue also supports a literal interpretation of his vertigo and the next scene doesn't really establish that Scottie's problems go deeper than his understandable fear of heights. We learn that he and Midge were once lovers but there is no follow through that explains why he broke off the relationship or why he becomes besotted with what we later learn is just a fantasy women.

The next scene, with Elster, is even more unfortunate and its defects reverberate throughout the movie. Elster could have been depicted as a sort of Mephistopheles, who sees Scottie's weakness and tempts him to his doom. In fact, he is thinly-sketched and is just a device for kicking off the story.

More crucially, he tells Scottie too much about Madeleine's obsession with Carlotta. This virtually forces Scottie into being the level-headed sceptic and makes his subsequent neurotic behaviour even more arbitrary and difficult to believe. It also undermines the ten-minute wordless sequence of Scottie trailing Madeleine around San Francisco.

If Elster has simply asked Scottie to investigate his wife's aimless wandering, we would have started out expecting something mundane (like an affair) only to be drawn into the much more intriguing mystery of her identification with Carlotta and her apparent sleepwalk towards suicide. As it is, the sequence merely confirms what Elster has already told us and often tries the patience of the audience. For many, the picture never recovers.

Moreover, because Scottie's character is under-developed (and Stewart's performance is unable to realise what the story implies) the rest of the movie can be viewed as the tale of an ordinary man who becomes infatuated with an attractive, troubled, woman whose life he has saved. The shadow of Carlotta then becomes an incidental detail and we get only a weak sense that Scottie's love is an unhealthy obsession. His eventual break-down is then under-motivated and seems imposed on the picture rather than being integral to its structure (a feeling reinforced by Hitchcock's decision to present it in an abstract, symbolic way).

I don't view Vertigo in this way, but I can sympathise with those that do.

With Scottie's breakdown, the picture reaches a second turning point. When Midge walks down the hospital corridor and the screen fades to black, it feels as if the movie is over. Of course it isn't and what happens next is crucial. Nothing up to that point makes any sense without it. But a second structural flaw immediately emerges. We are three-quarters of the way through the movie but only half-way through the story. Just when Vertigo needs time to re-engage our interest after the false ending it suddenly accelerates.

We get a montage that establishes Scottie's continuing obsession with Madeleine, then he spots Judy, follows her home and we are immediately plunged into a flashback that 'explains' the plot. This meeting needed much better preparation and the subsequent relationship needed more time to develop.

By revealing the plot twist so early, Hitchcock is inviting us to see how self-defeating Scottie's neurotic behaviour really is: in recreating Madeleine he is inevitably destroying his own illusions. But he rushes through this process. We have no time to get to know the real Judy before we are confronted with Scottie's bizarre plan to transform her. Then, at the very moment the transformation is complete, Scottie immediately spots the deception so the picture gallops to its climax and then slams to a halt.

As a good professional, Hitchcock was wary about letting any of his pictures run over two hours, but if he wanted to impose this discipline on himself, then he should have been more ruthless in pruning the first half of the story. In fact, he should have just accepted that this story couldn't be told effectively in two hours and have let it run on longer.

We rightly admire Hitchcock's movies for their great set pieces, but tend to overlook their fragile story sense and relatively weak dramatic structure. Mostly, that didn't matter, but in an ambitious picture like Vertigo it is a fatal flaw.

There is much more to Vertigo than its detractors acknowledge, but it is far from being the near-perfect masterpiece that its most fervent admirers would have us believe.
2008-06-18
Keep rewatching it
There are some films that you somehow don´t like and that you watch every time they are on TV. For me Vertigo is a prime example. It is easy to see what is fascinating: the music by Herrmann the face of Jim Stewart the great sub plot with the down-to-earth friend Mitch played brilliantly by Barbara Bel-Geddes. (When I first saw it as an adult at the beginning of the eighties dozens of people started whispering "Miss Ellie" when she had her first scene.) Why did she end the engagement when she obviously still loves him? The thought of recreating your lost loved one. But at the same time the film is overlong (which is an euphemism for boring). You seem to see Stewart behind a wheel all the time. The plot seems to be too constructed. There is no hint of why in the world Judy should go through everything. Why not confess to John? So she started to love him only later? Why in the world should someone push a puppet down the staple? (Well, that was the troubling thought I had when I first saw the film as a kid. There should be a law against kids watching great movies. They have fun enough being kids and it spoils the films for them when they watch them later.) Anyway I will watch it again and find out what makes this one ultimately a masterpiece or what it is that makes one think it might be one.
1999-07-22
No towering achievement
Alfred Hitchcock has a reputation as one of the outstanding film-makers of his era; but to a modern viewer, 'Vertigo' disappoints. The plotting is as torturous as any modern thriller, but the 1950 production values continually let it down: one grows tired of out-of-doors scenes transparently shot in the studio (and even the scenes actually shot on location are curiously devoid of passers-by), there's a very clumsy (though admittedly innovative) dream sequence, even the fact that the two leads are unable to even kiss each other properly starts to grate after a while. This might suggest that Hitchcock's only failing with this movie was over-ambition, but unfortunately, it isn't so: for he also fails to get decent performances from his leading actors, stiff-as-a-board Jimmy Stweart and icy Kim Novak (a typical Hitchcock blonde) generate absolutely no on-screen chemistry. And both have complex roles to play: one of them undergoes a kind of nervous breakdown, while the other simulates the same thing; but neither can play their roles with sufficient depth to make this story work as psychological melodrama. There is one interesting female character - played by Barbara Bel Geddes - but she is mysteriously written out half way though for no good reason. Compare the performances in this movie to those being put in by the likes of Marlon Brando or Orson Welles at the same period in time, and one has to pass harsh judgement. There are still a few interesting details: it's amazing how little dialogue Hitchcock dares get away with, and the very bleak ending is surprising for a mainstream film. But it's impossible to invest any emotional feeling in the story; and that's surprising, given Hitchcock's towering legend.
2006-03-23
My favorite movie of alltime!
I have seen ALOT of movies in my life, but none have moved me the way Vertigo has...It's simply brilliant...the more times one views it, the more one picks up from it...a true masterpiece from the master himself...When I think Vertigo, I think the colors red and green...when I think Vertigo I think obsession with love, and the film itself...This movie is so deep that you could write a thesis on it and keep adding to it from time to time...Hitchcock really gave his all in this picture...it's about the ultimate love...wanting to achieve the ultimate love, and, as happens in life, never having love turn out to be the way we want it to be...all star performances by Stewart, Novak and Bel Geddes make this visually stunning masterpiece a true film classic...Newly restored, the DVD version simply blows you out of the water....I have seen the movie about 20 times now, and everytime I love it more...Vertigo is the ultimate cult film for me, as I keep going back to it more and more...considering it's dark storyline, it must be a glut for punishment, but Hitch only keeps me wanting more....10 stars...only because I can't give it 100 stars!
1999-08-25
Desperate love story with murder on the wing
Vertigo (1958)

This movie isn't quite about what it seems to be about at first, and we shift from an odd detective case to a case of falling in love, to a case of just falling, and then the movie goes through one of the most convincing psychological twists in cinema. That is, the second portion of the movie is a brilliant inquiry into the mind of the retired detective played by Jimmy Stewart, and into obsession, and eventually to revelation. While the crime is solved eventually, it's really a small point. This is a love story, and a complicated one but also a passionate one. The ending will leave you gasping.

There are celebrated aspects to note: the psychedelic insert in the middle as a dream, the zoom/pull effects of vertigo, even the classic femme fatale/plain girl contrast (the latter a brilliant Barbara Bel Geddes). And there are some less known touches, like the green neon lighting used on the interior of the room at the Empire Hotel, or the generally clear vivid brilliant Technicolor palette. There are bit parts and famous sets (the Golden Gate Bridge and the San Bautista Mission, which didn't actually have a bell tower like this one (that was added through cinema trickery).

There is also an amazing use of subjective effects--the light falling improbably, or a haze covering the scene for no reason except the main character's mind. Much of this stuff pushes Hitchcock into true art film territory, and yet he keeps it a mainstream commercial flick that is accessible and popular.

Most of all there is subtle deception between characters and between the movie and the viewer. Hitchcock has never preferred the sudden surprise, leaving the viewer in ruins (or just in shock). Instead, he tells you what's going on--in this case, we learn of the murderous truth halfway through the film, so that we aren't wasting energy solving the crime but are instead trying to get into the characters' heads. It is the psychology, and the conflict of desire and doubt, that drive the movie. It's not slow, by the way, it's lyrical.

Some people might object to the falseness of many of the key scenes, but that's the nature of films that are not purely naturalistic. And the nature of nearly all of Hitchcock movies after 1940. Absorb the style as brush strokes--they don't get in the way of verisimilitude once you agree the truth is not the point. Drama and beauty and originality are. All of those are here full force.
2009-07-25
Johnny-O
An example of how much information can be withheld from the audience as the movie progresses and the irony (in literary terms) of letting them know MORE than the protagonist as the story reaches a certain turning point.

I saw a clever tool being used when Kim Novak writes the letter of apology and there is a voice over, speaking NOT to the audience but to the person she is writing too in the process letting the audience know too, some information of the plot we didn't have a clue about early on.

The dolly/zoom effect is used extnsively in this film and has been used by many imitators and inspired. Namely Spielberg in JAWS, when Roy Scheider gets up from his reclined position.

What we get in the end, since we already know everything is NOT surprise but rather, anticipation and a lot of suspense. And finally we get the payoff of those earlier scenes in the film that lasted about an hour or so of the movie - when Scottie finally explodes in the end releasing the hurt of his betrayal.

And there is one final twist in the movie, that despite Scottie's character arc of having possibly conquered his acrophobia - displays the irony and recurring area of the plot. It's like poetry, where it rhymes and some stanzas are repeated. And that's cohesion in the world of storytelling to me. You'll see what I mean when you see the film.

As usual, Hitchcock has shot the film beautifully with excellent styling and Bernard Hermann's music accentuates the hypnotic thrill and dread; something that contributes even more to the suspense of the movie.

A great movie. Highly recommended, if you are a film student. Especially if you are a screenwriter.

VERTIGO. Grade A+
2005-04-11
Let there be color!
Since there are already so many real good comments on this film I want to focus on only one aspect.

Vertigo is a great example for what color films really can look like! Not only do I want to praise the quality of the Technicolor dye transfer prints but also more the way Hitchcock used color to create moods. Many directors used light to create moods in black and white movies but only very few ever got so far as to use the much greater palette of colors for the same purpose. One wonders why. Some directors decide for an overall color look, which is often done in the lab, but not on the set.

Vertigo is full of scenes where the colors have been saturated or changed to create a special feeling. Hitchcock even went so far as to openly dye some frames is bright unnatural colors. He played around with colors in all his color films but never as much as in this one. Think for example on James Stewart's nightmare in the middle of the film. There are frames dyed purple and green; the cemetery scenes are red, inserted to the rhythm of the music with normal frames. Kim Novak is often bathed in colored light like in the famous hotel room scene, where she appears like a ghost with all the green light around her.

The shading is also important. In the scene in the bookshop we hear a dark and sad story while at the same time the light dimes down to simulate dusk. In the scene where Judy remembers the real events in the bell tower it starts with an outdoor scene, which we have already seen but it is now much darker than the first time. In the sequence where Stewart follows Novak to the cemetery everything feels unnatural since every scene glows through the use of a filter that creates a blur.

The non-color of Kim Novak's dress as Madeleine is also a very important aspect in the film. She has to color her hair to become Madeleine again at the end of the picture.

The way color is used in this film gives it this dreamlike quality that allows endless interpretations. A true masterpiece!
2005-01-26
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