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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
Falling In Love...Or Just Falling?
Alfred Hitchcock made a career movie with "Vertigo," one of several career movies of his, but maybe the most enduring. On the surface, it's a love story with a mystery, bright and shiny, maybe his most sumptuous feast of the senses. But it has a cold heart.

James Stewart is the key to the film. I think a lot of people misjudge the film by misjudging his character, police detective John "Scotty" Ferguson. They see him and see the guy who played amiable dipso Elwood P. Dowd in "Harvey" or noble Mr. Smith or George Bailey. The secret of Scotty is he's no nice guy, though. He's more than a bit of a heel, a hard and greedy man eminently deserving of the roasting he gets in Henry Jones' postmortem. Watch Stewart in Hitchcock's "Rope" or the unjustly overlooked "Carbine Williams," and you see the hardness Hitchcock was after, and got, from his lead here.

Scotty does a lot of mean things in "Vertigo," actions that feed his illness and lead to his doom. The character of Midge, subtly portrayed by Barbara Bel Geddes, is a key for understanding this. His casual stoking early on of Midge's flames of unreturned desire, especially when viewed in retrospect, burns through their happy banter and demonstrates how miserable a man he is, nowhere more brilliantly or ruthlessly than when he cuts her off from his life over a silly gag. Watch "Vertigo" more than once, and you may find yourself hating the guy as much as I do. But you still follow his path of doom with total sympathy; because of the elegant, enveloping way Hitchcock draws you into this world of passion, cut off from all bounds of propriety, even space and time.

If Scotty was played by anyone other than Stewart, it's hard to imagine "Vertigo" packing the punch it does. You wouldn't have enough tolerance for the character to stick with his story. In its own day, "Vertigo" was a bit of a misfire, probably because audiences felt alienation from the Stewart image they were accustomed to. Yet now viewed from a decent remove, you get more of what Hitchcock was after, and respond to it better.

Still, it's easy to understand people not liking "Vertigo" the first time they see it. At least that's true with me. I didn't like "Vertigo" the first time I saw it. Here's what helps you find the right handle. Fall in love with the wrong person. Become bitterly disappointed. See the one that you loved in the face of passersby, in odd places, and in your dreams. Then you begin to get it. Life is a series of hellos and goodbyes, as Billy Joel once sang, and trying to hold on too long is a recipe for self-inflicted pain.

Talking too much about "Vertigo" is not a good idea. There's too many obvious spoilers in recounting the plot of the film, in explaining why Kim Novak is so flat-out stupendous in her performance, and how you are left feeling by film's end. "Vertigo" is a uniquely personal film, not only for Hitchcock, but for a broad array of viewers who like me have latched onto its tragic story.

That's not to say it's perfect. There's a murder mystery wrapped up in "Vertigo," and all the pieces don't exactly fit when you think about them later. Hitchcock called it "icebox talk," something to leave the viewer pondering after the film was over, but maybe he left a few more loose ends than he should have this time around.

Still, what "Vertigo" is after is not making sense but magic, and it succeeds wonderfully, nowhere more so then when it bends the laws of reality. Take the moment when the bookstore owner tells the sad tale of Carlotta Valdez while the lights of the room around him dim in eerie, unnatural sympathy. Or the way the flowers in the shop Madeleine visits seem to glow in unearthly splendor as Ferguson, his eyes glowing strangely too, spies on his prey.

You may not like this film the first time you see it, but if you are left disturbed and uneasy from the experience, you owe it to yourself to see it again. "Vertigo" is a film that keeps on giving, with all the power and mystery of unrequited love, but unlike most forms of infatuation, this film has a way of returning the ardor with which it is held. Utterly timeless.
2004-10-18
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
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
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
Among the very best.
In Boileau-Narcejac's French novel "D'Entre les Morts"= from among the Dead"),the revelation only comes in the last pages,but Hitchcock lets the cat out of the bag long before the end. Boileau-Narcejac's novel is a pure detective story,but the Master wanted more:the movie already outdistances the book in a first part visually wonderful,with memorable scenes,wrapped in mystery ,such as the one with the sequoia,symbol of immortality or the one down by the sea,to rival with the best romantic movies of all time.In the second part,Hitchcock explains in the Truffaut's book,we know but Scottie( James Stewart) does not .And he tries to recreate a dead woman,to transform Judy into Madeleine.This folie à deux ends where the first tragedy occurred ,which gives the movie a strength that the book had not.Read it and you'll realize how its end ,speaking in terms of cinema,had to be modified for the screen.That's Hitchcock's genius.

When Boileau/Narcejac learned that Hitchcock wanted to transfer "Celle Qui N'Etait PLus " (=les Diaboliques" )to the screen,they immediately wrote "D'Entre les Morts " on the same pattern for Hitchcock to direct.
2001-08-12
Fine puzzler from Hitchcock.
The initial critical verdict of Vertigo was that it was not one of Alfred Hitchcock's better films. Time has turned it into his most analyzed and revisited movie and, in the eyes of many, his masterpiece. I still don't subscribe to the opinion that this is Hitchcock's greatest film (give me The Thirty Nine Steps, Foreign Correspondent or North By Northwest) but it is certainly a wonderfully absorbing mystery, and the original indifference that greeted the film from critics and audiences was totally unjust. It takes multiple viewings to fully appreciate what Hitchcock is up to in this movie - it is a sophisticated and multi-layered film that grows in stature the more times you view it.

San Francisco cop John "Scottie" Ferguson (James Stewart) has a hair-raising escapade on a rooftop while chasing a robber. Thereafter, he develops vertigo (a fear of heights) and retires from the force. Some while later Scottie is contacted by his old friend Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore) who wants to hire him for a little unofficial private detective work. Elster is worried by his wife's increasingly outlandish behaviour - she seems to go into a dreamy state of mind and wanders off for hours on end without any explanation as to where she has been. Scottie's job is to tail her and learn where she goes. The mystery thickens when Scotties starts following Madeline Elster (Kim Novak).... the more he learns about her and her wanderings, the more it seems that she is possessed by the spirit of her long-deceased ancestor Carlotta Valdes. Eventually Scottie saves Madeline when she tries to drown herself in San Francisco Bay, and soon after they fall in love. But just as Scottie begins to make headway into her psychological problems, she kills herself by leaping from a bell tower. Scottie is left in a state of mental shock but later, following his release from hospital, he bumps into a woman named Judy (Novak again) who is the exact double of Madeline....

Hitchcock generates a stunning air of mystery with Vertigo, coaxing brilliant performances from Stewart and Novak and using the location of San Francisco as almost a third leading "character" in his story. Stewart's obsession with Novak, and his descent into madness as he grieves over his inability to protect her, is brilliantly portrayed. As ever - in fact, more so than ever - Hitchcock keeps the audience off-balance with his disorientating camera work, ingenious plotting and atmospheric use of colour. Bernard Herrmann contributes a haunting score (his fourth for Hitchcock) that heightens the passion and suspense even further. The solution when it comes is extremely clever, and proves (as if proof is needed) that Hitchcock has a masterful touch when it comes to clever plot twists. The film's chief drawbacks, for me, are the excessively studied pacing in the first half, and the somewhat abrupt ending. On the whole, though, this is a superb film which is always a pleasure to come back to.
2007-08-07
Favorite Hitchcock and likely one of the most challenging, harrowing great films ever
Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo is probably his most discussed film, and I believe that since it is so controversial- and yet living up to such hype by having a level of mystery, daring and true human interest that is open to interpretation- it gets better with every passing year. It deserves more credit than it gets (like most of Hitchcock's films) and though it is well credited with it's intrigue, I think that Psycho (not that it is a bad film) gets more credit than this film should get. There are at least a few reasons for this, arguably of course. One, the acting is spectacular including James Stewart in one of his very best turns as the weary, emotionally perplexed and obsessed cop with a slight fear of heights and a 'thing' for a certain 'dead' woman. Hitchcock's leading lady here Kim Novak, is equally interesting and ambiguous as the leading lady (or ladies).

Two, the atmosphere Hicthcock invokes in this film is just right for the psychological tailspin that Stewart gets into, with the usage of lighting, real San Fransisco locations, and particularly the color green all to perfect, eerie effect. And three, there's Bernard Herrmann's score, on par with the Psycho score though maybe even better as a straight piece of classical music in the guise of tense, haunting movie music. It's also the kind of picture that is a MUST if you've already seen it, or even if not, and it comes around town on the big screen as all the images and dark scenes come into great view. Not one of the more outright 'fun' Hitchcock films, with the few chuckles plain comic relief, and maybe his best serious work. A++
2000-02-13
Hitchcock's once-overlooked masterpiece
John "Scottie" Ferguson (Jimmy Stewart, never better) is a retired detective with a severe fear of heights after a botched chase to capture a criminal. Due to his newly acquired acrophobia, he retires and wanders around the beautiful streets of San Francisco. Out of the blue, an old college friend Gavin Elster asks him to follow his wife Madeleine, as he believes that Madeleine may be possessed by the spirit of her great-grandmother, drifting in and out of reality and into trance-like states of mind. So Scottie agrees to follow the mysterious blonde (Kim Novak) as Hitchock guides us throughout San Francisco and into his strange and dark mind. Little by little, Scottie begins to become infatuated with Madeleine, and after he saves her from suicide (she jumped into San Francisco Bay) and decides to help her, he falls madly in love with her. In finding pieces of the puzzle to Madeleine's mystery, their journey takes them to the San Juan Bautista where Madeleine meets her end by tumbling off the bell tower, presumably by suicide. Scottie tried to save his love but his fear of heights stopped him. For the next year Scottie falls into a deep depression, feeling guilty for his impotency to save his love. His depression is halted when he sees Judy Barton (Novak again). Judy isn't like Madeleine--she's plain, in touch with reality and even vulgar when compared. But her face looks so much like Madeleine. Scottie begins to court Judy first for herself but eventually he tries to mold her into the beauty he lost prematurely, unaware that Judy has a big secret up her sleeve.

When it was first released, Vertigo didn't get good reviews and it didn't make money at the box office. People didn't understand the bizarre dream sequences that were so ahead of their time, they didn't feel sympathy for the characters (at the end, even Scottie is unlikable), and the BIG TWIST is given away in the middle of the movie instead of at the end, a la Psycho. Even I had my complaints about that last one, yet after a second viewing I realized that this movie wasn't even about what really happened to what really happened to Madeleine; it's about men's psychological--and sexual--desire for the perfect woman, even if she's out of touch with reality. This movie is considered Hitchcock's most personal film, as he could be domineering with his actresses, trying to mold them into his own dream. After the "failure" of Vertigo, Hitchcock never worked with Jimmy Stewart again, unfairly blaming him for not being able to draw a crowd on account of his age. Luckily for everyone, Vertigo has gotten better with age and is no longer forgotten. In the late 80s Vertigo started popping up on Top 10 Films of All Time lists, and today it's considered Hitchock's best film, and most definitely one of the best ever made.

The biggest reason for Vertigo's late success is because it is Hitchcock's most analyzed film and because it works on a psychological level; The film points out that men would rather have an unavailable, beautiful woman who is out of touch with reality than a woman who understands her surroundings and is utterly available. This is pointed out twice, once with Midge, an ex-fiancée and good friend of Scottie and later with Judy, who tries to make Scottie love her for who she is and not because she reminds Scottie of Madeleine. The first hour is drawn out very slowly, and while it's not as fast-paced as other Hitchcock's films, he uses it wisely. He starts by first gaining--later testing--our sympathy for Scottie; when he's hanging for his dear life in the opening scene, we pray for him (even though we know that there would be no movie if Jimmy Stewart dies in the first 3 minutes). When he's chasing Madeleine up the bell tower, we hope that he can get there in time and kiss his lover. And when the romance turns dark in the second outing to the bell tower, you feel just as caught in the middle as Scottie does in that moment. Hitchcock blurred the lines between victim and villain, and he earns our creative respect for him.

The key element to why Vertigo works so well in the end is because of the actors. It's practically impossible to think of anyone other than James Stewart, who embodied the everyman, and for that reason is so convincing in testing our sympathies. It's all in the minimalistic ways he does it, with the slightest crinkle in the forehead or the movement in the eyes doing evoking more emotion than most actors do screaming and crying. This is his best performance next to Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. And Kim Novak is ravishing and haunting both as Madeleine and Judy, utterly convincing in both roles. With my respects to Grace Kelly, Novak just may be the most mysterious and convincing Hitchcock blonde to grace the screen. Their chemistry together, despite their age difference is explosive and natural.

Buy--don't rent--this DVD and you'll find yourself falling for every detail of this brilliant film.
2006-12-21
Masterpiece or failure? I agree with the former
When Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo" opened in 1958, it had a cold reception by both critics and audience, and many even consider it a failure in his remarkable career. Even Hitchcock wondered about what went wrong and he blamed lead star James Stewart for the failure. What probably happened, was that this time, Hitchcock's usual walk on the dark side went a bit too far for the times.

"Vertigo", based on Pierre Boileau's novel "d'Entre Les Morts", is a dark tale of romance, obsessions and lies, all spiced up with the lead character's acrophobia. James Stewart is our protagonist, as Scottie, he plays a detective whose sudden retire from the police was caused by an accident involving his acrophobia, his fear of heights.

Hired by Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore), a mysterious old friend from school; he accepts the mission of following Elster's wife, Madeline (Kin Novak), who supposedly is possessed by the ancient spirit of one of her ancestors, and that eventually will take her life. As Scottie tries to protect Madeline, he falls in love with her, starting a forbidden romance that is doomed from the start. After Scottie fails to save Madeline's life due to the vertigo caused by his acrophobia, his obsession with her take him to commit unexpected actions.

Boileau's complex story of obsession may had been too much for the critics and the audience of its time; and watching James Stewart going from a regular guy to a man bordering insanity certainly didn't help the film. Nevertheless, time has proved that "Vertigo" was indeed a powerful film undeserving of the cold reception it had.

James Stewart gives probably his best performance ever, the sudden fall from grace that eventually take its toll on Scottie is perfectly portrayed by Stewart. Hitchcock was really wrong at blaming James for the failing, as it was the audience who was not ready to see their hero turned into a grotesque monster.

Kim Novak plays his role with grace, although certainly her character is not as demanding as Stewart's. The movie is all about Scottie and his failed romance leading to the destruction of his life. This complex persona makes him one of the best fictional characters ever written, let alone portrayed on film.

The technical aspects of the movie are superb too, Hitchcock creates a brilliant composition of colors and the visuals are beautiful. Bernard Herrman's score is subtle but fitting, although not as powerful as his famous work on "Psycho".

If a flaw is to be found, I would say that the script developed for the film was probably not the most friendly for the audience. This film is certainly not for everyone, as it's slow pace and heavy darkness in the subject may turn off people familiar with Hitchcock's lighter films as his usual dark humor is not present here The only film I can relate to "Vertigo" in terms of harsh "darkness" would be "The Wrong Man"; although the big difference is, that in that film, the trouble is caused by outside forces, while in "Vertigo", we get a glimpse to that dark part of our soul we do not dare to watch.

The first time I watched it, I was not sure about what had just happened in front of my eyes, not sure if it was good or bad. After a second watch I guess this is of the kind of films that grow on you. Some consider it a failure and others consider it a masterpiece; my opinion stands closer to the latter: I call it a great piece of cinema. 9/10.
2006-02-13
dream vs. reality
Warning contains Spoilers - Hitchcock beautifully explores the need for illusion in Vertigo. Scottie, played by James Stewart, is a man who drifts without direction, who can't make up his mind about anything. He is deeply dissatisfied with the real world. He seemingly has a choice between two women. Midge is open, practical, and unexciting – a representative of life as it is. Madeleine is exotic, mysterious, complex, a perfect fantasy figure. He falls in love with Madeleine and lets her lead him into her world of drama and illusion. She becomes, for the audience as well as for him, the wish fulfillment of the dream woman. Two-thirds of the way through the movie, having strongly tied us to this character, Hitchcock betrayals us – she dies suddenly and inexplicably, we are disappointed and confused. We are, surprisingly as disoriented as Scottie is. Soon after, Hitchcock explains what has happened, and we realize that we have been deceived, with Scottie, by a cheap trick. Neither audience nor hero wants to believe it. We both want her back. We prefer the illusion, false as it is, to the reality. Through Scottie we are made to see and feel the consequences of rejecting real people for a dream. Judy, a graceless, uninteresting girl, has been impersonating Madeleine all along. Still obsessed with Madeleine, Scottie forces Judy to recreate her role for him. At first she resists, wanting to be loved for herself, but then, like so many of us, she agrees to conform to his image of her. Otherwise she will lose him.
2005-10-28
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