Vertigo

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

After a rooftop chase, where his acrophobia and vertigo result in the death of a policeman, San Francisco detective John “Scottie” Ferguson retires. Scottie tries to conquer his fear, but his ex-fiancée Midge Wood suggests another severe emotional shock may be the only cure.

An acquaintance, Gavin Elster, asks Scottie to follow his wife, Madeleine, claiming she has been possessed. Scottie reluctantly agrees, and follows Madeleine: to a florist where she buys a bouquet of flowers; to the grave of Carlotta Valdes; to an art museum where she gazes at Portrait of Carlotta, which resembles her. Lastly, she enters the McKittrick Hotel, but when Scottie investigates, she is not there.

A local historian explains that Carlotta Valdes tragically committed suicide. Gavin reveals that Carlotta (who Gavin fears is possessing Madeleine) is Madeleine’s great-grandmother, although Madeleine has no knowledge of this, and does not remember where she has visited. Scottie tails Madeleine to Fort Point, and she leaps into San Francisco Bay. Scottie rescues her.

The next day Scottie follows Madeleine; they meet and spend the day together. They travel to Muir Woods and Cypress Point on 17-Mile Drive, where Madeleine runs down towards the ocean. Scottie grabs her and they embrace. Scottie identifies the setting of Madeleine’s nightmare as Mission San Juan Bautista. He drives her there and they express their love for each other. Madeleine suddenly runs into the church and up the bell tower. Scottie, halted on the steps by his vertigo, sees Madeleine plunge to her death.

The death is declared a suicide. Gavin does not fault Scottie, but Scottie breaks down, becomes clinically depressed and is in a sanatorium, almost catatonic. After release, Scottie frequents the places that Madeleine visited, often imagining that he sees her. One day, he notices a woman who reminds him of Madeleine, despite her vulgar appearance. Scottie follows her and she identifies herself as Judy Barton, from Salina, Kansas.

A flashback reveals that Judy was the person Scottie knew as “Madeleine Elster”; she was impersonating Gavin’s wife as part of a murder plot. Judy writes to Scottie explaining her involvement with Gavin’s murder of his wife. Gavin had deliberately taken advantage of Scottie’s acrophobia to substitute his wife’s freshly dead body in the apparent “suicide jump”. Judy rips up the letter and decides to continue the charade, because she loves Scottie.

They begin seeing each other, but Scottie remains obsessed with “Madeleine” and asks Judy to change her clothes and hair so that she once more resembles Madeleine. When Judy complies, hoping that they may finally find happiness together, he notices her wearing the necklace portrayed in the painting of Carlotta and realizes the truth, he insists on driving her to the Mission.

There, he tells her he must re-enact the event that led to his madness, admitting he now understands that “Madeleine” and Judy are the same. Scottie forces her up the bell tower and makes her admit her deceit. Scottie reaches the top, finally conquering his acrophobia. Judy confesses that Gavin paid her to impersonate a “possessed” Madeleine; Gavin faked the suicide by throwing the body of his wife from the bell tower.

Judy begs Scottie to forgive her, because she loves him. He embraces her, but a nun rises from the trapdoor like a ghost. Judy steps back and falls to her death. Scottie, bereft again, stands on the ledge while the horrified nun rings the mission bell.

REVIEW:

Friday, AMC was showing a Hitchcock marathon, but I missed their showing of Vertigo, if they showed it at all. It appears that I will be doing a Hitchcock project in the coming months, so I’m getting a jump on the research. It has been brought to my attention that this film has replaced Citizen Kane as the best film of all time on some lists, so I just had to watch (even though I have yet to see Citizen Kane).

What is this about?

One of Alfred Hitchcock’s darkest and most compelling suspense films tells the story of police detective Scottie Ferguson (James Stewart), who has a crippling fear of heights — and an all-consuming obsession with a married woman. When an old friend asks him to tail his wife (Kim Novak), Scottie is drawn into a vortex of deceit and murder. But that’s only the beginning as a mesmerizing score draws Scottie to the film’s haunting final shot.

What did I like?

Fear. As someone who suffers from acrophobia, I was able to relate to Stewart’s character. Well, at least before he lost his mind. This is the first use of the dolly cam, where the camera pulls in and out to create an impressive effect. That effect, by today’s standard, seems rather pedestrian, but I was still getting the shakes seeing what Stewart was freaking out about. I’m sure there are others that felt the same way, especially when this was released back in 1958.

Music. Bernard Herrmann once again provides a masterful score for a Hitchcock film. This is perhaps one of his more effective scores, right up there with Psycho. It is said that the score mirrors the spiral motifs used in the film and its posters. Music really sets the mood, and Herrmann really has his finger on the pulse of this concept.

Stewart. I have praised Jimmy Stewart in the past before for being one of the greatest actors of all time. Anyone that watches his performance in this film, especially after his descent into madness that takes place in the second half of the film. I was blown away in the way he was able to take a lovable detective character and show him losing his mind over the death of his beautiful female friend that he may or may not be responsible for her death.

What didn’t I like?

Possession. A plot point that I felt could have been handled different was the possession angle. This is something that could have been done more with the supernatural suspense angle and been a major plot point of the film, as opposed to the minor diversion it turned out to be. Hitchcock is no stranger to horror thrillers, so this could have become a reality, but alas, it didn’t.

Novak. Kim Novak was a nice bit of eye candy in her youth. However, as an actress she leaves a bit to be desired. As she is playing two, possibly three characters, one would imagine that should would be able to pull off a decent performance out of at least one of them, but that wasn’t the case. She just doesn’t have the talent for it, much like many of the blonde starlets of the time.

Vertigo. With all the twists, misdirections, and whatnot that happen in this picture, it is a wonder anyone can keep up with what is happening. I was not a fan of the film’s pacing, but I was also being distracted with business in the kitchen while I was watching. I may need to watch this again to really know for sure, but I was getting a bit of vertigo while watching this flick.

Vertigo is sure to show you how thrillers are meant to be made. Did I like it? Well, I didn’t love it, to be honest. The reputation that this film has is definitely earned, but this is not going to go down as my favorite films from Hitchcock. That doesn’t mean that this is a bad flick, just not one of my favorites. I do recommend this as a film you should see before you die, however, so check it out!

4 out of 5 stars

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One Response to “Vertigo”

  1. […] Along with parodying Psycho, Vertigo, and The Birds, this film makes reference to other works of Hitchcock’s. For instance, late […]

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