on 2 August 2012
This film has, as of August 2012, been voted the best film of all time by the British Film Institute's Sight and Sound magazine in its 10 yearly poll where a panel of distributors, critics and academics vote. This is the first time in 50 years when this honours has not been bestowed on Citizen Kane.
James Stewart was one of those rare Hollywood stars who brought real magic to the screen. He was an everyman, he was often vulnerable and flawed. In the hands of a lesser man his character in that other Hitchcock classic Rear Window [DVD]could have been a real turn off for audiences.
I don't want to spoil this movie for anyone but Vertigo contains one of Hitchcock's rather naive, schoolboyish, plot devices. The very notion that policemen, even in the 1950's would be expected to recklessly pursue a suspect across the steep rooftops is rather absurd and as for the behaviour of the nun at the end...
Although Hitchcock has been blamed for the misconception that vertigo is the fear of heights this was not because of any misunderstanding on his part. In a key scene Scottie Ferguson (James Stewart) explains to Midge Woods (Barbara Bel Geddes) that he suffers for acrophobia (fear of heights) which results in vertigo (a type of dizziness, where there is a feeling of motion when trhe sufferer is standing still) It made sense to call the film after the sympyom as this tied in with the visual representation in a visual medium. Nevertheless verigo has become synonymous with acrophobia in the public imagination because of this film.
I saw this film in the fifties, when I was twelve. I was deeply impressed and I have never found any reason to change my mind. It was my first insight into the facts that adults have fears and vulnerabilities and they suffer. Kim Novak was subtly sexy and I could see why James Stewart's character fell for her. The film made me, for the first time, identify with adults and begin to understand their world. Stewart plays Scottie, a detective who has to resign from the police force because of his intense fear of heights, and he is asked to investigate the activities of the wife of an acquaintance. He becomes involved with her, but then she falls to her death in an apparent suicide. But is she really dead?
Stewart and Novak both turn in sensitive, accomplished performances. Like so many of Hitchcock's films, the theme is obsession. Although not everyone thought so at the time, this is a very good film and I regard it as one of the best films ever made.
Vertigo is an amazing, incredibly absorbing motion picture. This is vintage Hitchcock--complex, disturbing, and brilliantly shot. San Francisco has never looked more beautiful than it does in this movie, which features backdrops of the Golden Gate Bridge, a forest of giant sequoias, and other local landmarks. Jimmy Stewart, one of my personal favorites, delivers a dead-on performance, and Kim Novak is wonderful in her dual role (even though I kept wishing Grace Kelly were playing the role). Even some of the bit actors are stars in their own right--"Grandma Walton" plays a hotel manager and "Milburn Drysdale" from The Beverly Hillbillies plays a doctor. In a more important (and somewhat confusing) role, Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie from TV's Dallas) plays Scottie Ferguson's (Stewart's) long-time friend. The music is a perfect fit with the cascading emotions of the story, as Hitchcock understood just how important the musical score is to the overall presentation. The sense of vertigo is conveyed rather well by the camera action, and the psychedelic dream-like sequence was original and intriguingly uncanny. I cannot imagine why this film was not a ringing success with critics and fans alike when it was initially released because it is a model of incredible filmmaking.
I hesitate to even mention the plot because it is incredibly complex and should be experienced by the first-time viewer with no preconceptions and no prior knowledge of the twists and turns involved. It is a pleasure to watch a movie in which the viewer simply must participate on an intellectual level to grasp the evolution of the plot. I believe the plot is hard to figure out, which is a wonderful thing. My own initial suspicions were quite wrong, I am pleased to say, although I was a little disappointed that the character who earned my suspicions was sort of forgotten in the final stages of the action.
This movie is a masterpiece. It works on all levels, and while some may feel the first half of the film develops a little slowly, there is plenty of action and revelation to be found in the last half. It is a little over two hours long, so you should be sure to set aside enough time to watch the movie without any interruptions or breaks. And for goodness' sake, do not let anyone tell you what happens before you watch it.
on 16 October 2002
In the documentary, 'Obsessed With Vertigo', the restorers of the film say that they are envious of those who are able to watch the restored version of Vertigo without ever having watched the film at all before. Well, I am one of those people and I was awestruck by it.
Every aspect of the film is stunning: the directing, the acting, the sets, the music etc, but in my mind it is the cinematography which stands out. The clarity of colour and the lack of fog to create this dream-like vision of '50s San Franciso added a quality to this film that I can't really put into words. Some credit must go to those who have painstakingly restored this cinematic classic, because if it hadn't been for them I might not have been so struck and impressed with what I was watching.
But, having said that, I can't even comtemplate not being mesmerised by this film. As I said, everything about Vertigo is stunning. It is one of those rare things where everthing flows together seamlessly. Each separate bit of the movie has its own time to shine, its own time to stand up to be noticed. It is the kind of movie that knows where it is going, and is going to hook anyone and everyone into watching it as it slowly weaves and winds its way through towards the end. I love to watch these kind of movies, the kind that rope you in slowly, movies that at times move along at a snail's pace - not having to be concerned with the introduction of action sequences and things blowing up, movies that increase the tension little by little until the climactic crescendo at the end is finally reached. Sadly this is all too rare in modern cinema (The Shawshank Redemption is a fantastic exception), but from watching Vertigo and subsequently Rear Window, it is obvious that HItchcock was the supreme exponent of these kind of movies.
I love every minute of Vertigo, and I've never tired of watching it simce. The term 'a piece of art' has become over-used in recent years, but in order to find the words to descibe Vertigo I can find no better phrase. It is breathtaking and I urge you, as a person who is now 'obsessed with Vertigo', to watch it.
on 22 February 2001
The film is awesome, one of Hitchcock's best, mesmerisingly watchable and with great performances. However I was amazed by the quality of the DVD, the sound and print are spectacularly good (restored), and the extras almost unparallelled for a film of this age. Well worth the money.
on 17 July 2010
There are occasions when, in considering a film, one is tempted to ask: "What made this movie so outstanding and lifted it from the status of a fine picture into a classic?" Certainly "Vertigo" falls into that category, for it is one of Hitchock`s finest films, possibly the best he ever made. Although the plot is rather improbable, and the director could perhaps have cut down on the automobile searches, this does not matter, as the film is excellent in all other respects. The film benefits greatly from the faultless performances of the players; in particular, Kim Novak.
On seeing the film for the first time, one feels rather cheated by the solution being revealed at such an early stage. However, in retrospect, one realises that the decision is the correct one, for it actually makes the story more credible. For example: when Scotty (James Stewart) meets Judy in the hotel, after her initial display of fear,she agrees after four minutes (I have timed this!) to go on a date with him and later agreeing to give up her job. Incredible? not when you understand her true identity and the fact that she has fallen in love with him - remember when, as Madelaine she said: "It wasn`t meant to happen this way" before going into the bell-tower.
As Robin Wood wrote in his review, had the revelation scene been cut, we would have marvelled at Judy`s gradual resemblance to Madelaine, until with the brooch scene, would have come the realisation that she really was Madelaine after all. There would have been nothing wrong in that treatment, but it took great courage on Hitchcock`s part to let us see the other version.
There are hints in the early part of the film of what is to come; when we first see Madelaine, she is in profile, which is how we later see Judy. On each occasion both are dressed in green; a colour which dominates the film, for Judy lives in an hotel which, in the evening, is illuminated by a green neon sign. This seems to link the two women together. It is rather ironic that when Scotty is searching for Madelaine, the girl he finally espies (Judy) is unlike the other girl, being auburn instead of blonde, wearing heavy make-up instead of being discreet, and direct in her speech as Madelaine was subdued.
Without doubt, a classic.
Recently voted the top film of all time by Sight& Sound 2012 poll.The character Scottie Ferguson(Stewart),an ex-policeman,is haunted by a trauma,loses himself in a spiral,in order to bring a lost love back to life.a character attempts to live events twice in a loop.The hero attempts to recreate the image of a dead woman through another one who's alive.Gavin Estler tempts Scottie with a return to action,restoring his lost confidence.Once this route fails Elster intrigues him with the implausible story of Carlotta Valdes and the power it exerts over his wife Madeleine(Kim Novak).Hitchcock is at his Freudian zenith in exploring the terrain of the extraordinary.
This seduction manoeuvre captivates Scotty through the ghostly beauty of Madeleine,which convinces him to accept the fantastic tale and accept the mission to protect her.By following her in his car,the mix of contemplation, distance and growing curiosity,makes Scottie fall in love with an imaginary person he dreams of saving,not suspecting this is an actress, Judy, interpreting one of her many incarnations,a role.She disappears into a hotel and vanishes like a ghost,Scottie's hallucination?We are hooked.
His unconscious desires become a reality,when he saves her from drowning in San Franscisco Bay by the Golden Gate. He becomes responsible for her.They bond,exchange confidences,fears and dreams,while visiting different places. This phase is consummated with the unseen murder of Elster's wife,perceived by Scottie as a suicide he couldn't prevent.Scottie becomes a powerless spectator under the effects of the loss syndrome,revisiting the places he 1st followed Madeleine and those where they were together:giant sequoias,the solitary coast of swelling waves and winds, the Mission of San Juan Bautista.
Scottie bumps into Judy Barton,a carnal,vulgar shop assistant.She is an echo of his lost love.He becomes director, wardrobe designer and make-up artist attempting to transform her into Madeleine,the yearned-for image of his lost love.But Judy knows what Scottie and we don't.The key moment is the revelation of what really happened atop the bell tower of the Mission.This is structurally audacious:the death of the love interest half way through the film(remember Marion Crane in Psycho?).This alters everything we think we know:we shift from Scottie's viewpoint to Judy's,the victim.
Judy,trapped by the love for Scottie when she was experiencing his so intensely,gives herself away by indirect confession.In suspense,Scottie tries to regain control of the drama,his revenge is to force a confession out of Judy,he drags her to her death.This disappearance of Madeleine,leaves him suspended over the abyss,echoing the film's prologue chase over the roofs.We the viewers have been through a process of spiral ascents and falls, through ominous low and high angles as believers and sceptics,dupes,accomplices,meddlers and extras,witnesses and victims of 3 machinations:Elster's,Scottie's and above all and beyond,the masterly Hitchcock's.
This film has many treasured moments,getting drawn into a mystery,the yearning for an ideal love object,Judy's resistance to becoming Madeleine,the necrophiliac recreation of a dead woman,remoulding the woman as if you are undressing her,her re-emergence totally `naked' and ready for love,the greenlight of the ghostly image, then back down to reality in the locket.The rhythmic unfolding and pacing of the film,the effect of vertigo using the dolly zoom.The travel and dream sequences, the scenery and Herman's score to suggest the inner turmoil,together with the animal-like sensuality of Kim Novak and Stewart's angst-ridden performance make it an all-time great.
on 16 April 2014
A classic from the past. No need to force act, or shout or swear or be crude. A life style of the past but acting as it should be. A twist at the end, restrained acting, good storyline, well directed.
Vertigo is indisputably Hitchcock's most engrossing suspense film. It's also the most scenic. Apart from giving Kim Novak two roles to play, a double treat at any time, we are given extended tours of San Francisco and the Coast. For Hitchcock, all this outdoor scenery is something of a departure. Yet it's not simply advertising for what once was a beautiful city enhanced by a beautiful woman. The story needs all this touring about in revealing who this woman really is. And the travelling takes place in time as well as space.
All this intrigue and travel results from Detective John Ferguson [Stewart] falling from a roof during a chase. He suffers from acrophobia - fear of heights - which retires him from the police force. He's hired to follow Madeleine, a businessman's wife, on her roamings around the city. She's clocked up a lot of odometer, although claiming merely shopping. None of this requires Ferguson to ascend any heights. In fact, he drops from street level in rescuing Madeleine from an attempted terminal swim in San Francisco Bay.
Do they fall in love? Need you ask? Madeleine, in love or not, is still driven - apparently by the ghost of a 19th Century Spanish grandee's wife, Carlotta. Carlotta resided in the lovely museum town of San Juan Bautista, one of California's mission chain communities. Ferguson and Madeleine make the drive [although going the wrong way on the road]. Madeleine, seemingly possessed, jumps from the Mission campanile [which doesn't exist]. Ferguson, his vertigo restraining him, cannot follow her up the stairs to stop her. End of story?
Not quite. Novak has two roles in this film. Hitchcock, ever the master of intrigue, introduces Judy Barton into Ferguson's life. It is here that Hitchcock makes full use of Stewart's acting abilities. Stewart was always more than just a "middle American" and he shifts from puzzled love to ardent quest with fluid ease. Novak, too, transforms under Hitchcock's deft touch from a cool, aloof beauty to a frightened, subdued and wary girl caught up in bizarre circumstances. The resolution of all these changes can only be tragic.
Hitchcock's work was always superior. In this film, he outdid himself and gave his cast matchless opportunity to fill their roles. He used Stewart more than once, but the other films appear to be training sessions compared with this masterpiece. Hitchcock fills the story with subtle touches that make this film worthy of repeated viewing. Try it. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
on 8 September 2004
I know it's all to easy to label a film 'greatest' and maybe it's a pointless thing to do. But in all my days, I have never seen a film that is so complete as Vertigo is. It is Hitchcock's most personal film and I think it is the only one of his films that truly contains all the unique qualities he brought to the big screen. The plot is simple enough; Retired detective is hired by a supposed old school friend to follow his myserious wife. Detective falls in love with wife, she meets a tragic end that the detective cannot prevent owing to his vertigo. Well, that's only half the story! I won't spoil it for you! James Stewart and Kim Novak are brilliant in the film and together they create a love story that will both shock and amaze you. Hitchcock makes superb use of colour in the film (remember the green and red used in the restaurant!) and also is not afraid to use only music (and a brilliant score it is too!) at times, to drive the story on. When the film first came out in the late 50's, it died a death in the US. But in France, many considered it a masterpiece (Which is funny, because the story is based upon a book by a French author/s). After the original release, the film was shelved for almost 30 years until Hitch's daughter allowed it to be re released. This remastered version makes the film look better then ever! It's a film you can lose yourself in, a film that is like no other, a film that you will never forget. Every great artist is always remembered for his one truly great work, this is Alfred Hitchcock's. In all honesty, I do not have the words to really do the film its proper justice. If you have never seen this film before, I envy you. I would love to see it for the first time once again!