Vertigo (1958)

Year

Certificate

PG

Length

128 mins

Director

Rating

  4/54/54/54/54/5

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Hitchcock Hits the Heights

It's a brassiere! You know about those things, you're a big boy now - Midge

Kim Novak and James Stewart in Vertigo

In "Vertigo" James Stewart plays Detective John 'Scotty' Ferguson who having nearly fallen to his death whilst on a roof top chase develops a case of acrophobia which leads him to quit the force as he can no longer climb stairs. But he is contacted by an old friend Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore) who asks him to tail his wife Madeleine (Kim Novak) because he fears for her life after she starts behaving strangely, not remembering anything she does during the day. Reluctantly John agrees and after days of following Madeleine he falls for her and after they meet it seems his feelings are reciprocated. But when Madeleine plummets to her death from a church tower, John is unable to save her due to his fear of heights crippling him. Struck by Guilt John suffers a mental breakdown but one day he meets Judy Barton (Novak), who is the spitting image of Madeleine.

Watching Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo" for the first time 50 odd years after it was originally released it has to be said that at times it feels rather a strange movie, especially compared to modern thrillers. At times it feels a little laborious switching from mystery to thriller as well as taking in an unexpected love story. Plus with its rather strange hypnotic effects, dream sequences and a surprisingly vibrant palette it all comes across as being a bit experimental. But then "Vertigo" is a movie which demands more than one viewing because underneath all the obvious there is many subtle elements bubbling away that can only be appreciated when you sort of know what is happening and can take in everything.

Although it is a rather surprising blend of mystery, thriller and love story director and master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock weaves his magic and blends all those elements seamlessly that whilst varied work well together. But it is those underlying elements which you pick up on, on subsequent viewings which make it compelling with issues such as obsession, love and mental disorders all being tackled in often a blunt and brave manner. When Ferguson first encounters his vertigo it hits home the sense of confusion, dizziness and fear that comes with the issue.

Barbara Bel Geddes and James Stewart in Vertigo

Talking of which it must be noted the stylish techniques which Hitchcock employs, the quick zooming in whilst the camera tracks out, is a visual delight and often imitated, although often never reaching the standards of Hitchcock. Away from the camera trickery it is also the vibrant colour scheme and surreal sequences which all work together to highlight a point, although the surreal mental breakdown scene is both surprising and stunning the first time you encounter it.

In what was to be his final collaboration with Hitchcock James Stewart is as ever perfect in the lead role of Detective John 'Scotty' Ferguson delivering a convincing performance of a man who at first is intrigued by Madeleine, then obsessed and racked by guilt leading back to more obsessions. Funnily though it is documented that after "Vertigo" was critically slammed on its original release Hitchcock laid the blame on Stewart for being too old and never worked with him again. Shame as whilst it may have been critically slammed it is now often classed as one of Hitchcock's masterpieces which is in no doubt down to the convincing performance of Stewart.

As well as Stewart there is also Kim Novak who is not only a delight to watch but delivers that right amount of intrigue to her characters of Madeleine and Judy. But there is also a great contrast between her characters with Madeleine appearing distant and emotionless whilst Judy is more real and nervous. Plus there is the always lovely and homely Barbara Bel Geddes who plays John's friend Midge who actually delivers an interesting story undercurrent about what her true feelings are for John, which sadly is never fully developed.

What this all boils down to is that "Vertigo" is quite a brilliant movie, but one which if only watched once can be easily dismissed as being a bit experimental even weird. With Hitchcock weaving his magic over a story which takes in psychological disorders as well as being a mystery, thriller and love story it is a movie which demands your concentration. Plus with a wonderful performance from James Stewart it is certainly one of Hitchcock's master pieces.