Obsessed with Vertigo — 1 year ago
Vertigo is one of Alfred Hitchcock’s most popular and critically acclaimed films, though at the time of its release in 1958 it didn’t meet with the same success it would later grow to have. It stars James Stewart, popular Hollywood actor and Hitchcock veteran, alongside Kim Novak.
Newly-retired detective John ‘Scottie’ Ferguson (Stewart), who has a fear of heights, is hired by an old friend to follow his wife Madeleine (Novak), who is feared to be mentally unstable. When Scottie saves Madeleine after she apparently attempts suicide, the two grow closer, but is he able to save her from herself?
It’s hard to say much more about the film without giving the story away. I knew almost nothing about the storyline when I first watched it, and was shocked and surprised by the twists and turns. Many of the happenings in the film are extremely unexpected. Having said that, this certainly isn’t one of those films you watch once and never see again since you know the story. Vertigo is a film about obsession and madness, and there’s always something new to find in it.
The acting in the film is excellent. James Stewart is great as an ordinary man obsessed with a beautiful and mysterious woman. In particular the scenes towards the end of the film when he is trying to recreate his obsession are compelling to watch. Kim Novak is an actress I haven’t seen in anything else, but in the film she does a fantastic job as the beautiful, troubled but cold Madeleine; again, her performance stands out when you take into account the latter half of the film. I do find that sometimes actors in older films are rather exaggerated in their performances on occasion (compared to today’s acclaimed actors who are often more subtle), and Vertigo is no exception. However I may be alone in thinking this.
There aren’t many supporting actors in this film, and most of them only have a couple of scenes anyway. Barbara Bel Geddes (who later went on to have a significant role in Dallas) has the most prominent supporting role, as Scottie’s friend and ex-fiance who still holds a torch for him. It does annoy me that she has to wear a big pair of glasses – just in case anyone is under any illusion that she might be the leading lady. Would it kill somebody to put glasses on the female lead?! As a glasses and contact lens wearer this is one of my pet peeves, but to be perfectly honest it doesn’t detract from the film.
The musical score by Bernard Herrmann is also a highlight: the music relates to the action on screen, and is haunting and atmospheric without getting in the way. There is also some excellent use of classical music including Mozart.
The film is beautifully shot on location in San Francisco, with stunning views of the hills, famous buildings and landmarks. I’ve never been to America, but if I went I would have to go to San Francisco – this is a direct result of the film. The special effects are pretty impressive for the time – when Scottie is on the roof at the start of the film it’s fairly obvious there’s a backdrop, but later at the Mission the white tower – which is actually a painting – is very realistic and I had no idea it wasn’t real until I watched the documentary!
I’ve seen quite a few Hitchcock films and Vertigo is one of my favourites. It’s original, inventive and compelling, and continually mysterious. It’s a mark of how good the film is that even though the mystery is revealed just over halfway through, the film still remains gripping. In fact, in my opinion the second half is the most uncomfortable and unsettling with Scottie becoming ever more obsessed and controlling. A brilliant film that I’m sure I’ll watch again and again.