One of Alfred Hitchcock’s most famous films, Vertigo tells the story of a retired police detective, John “Scottie” Ferguson (James Stewart) who suffers from acrophobia. Scottie is hired to follow Madeleine Elster (Kim Novak), the wife of an old acquaintance, Gavin (Tom Helmore), who may be possessed. Despite his better judgment Scottie begins to fall for Madeleline. However, when Scottie’s vertigo prevents him from stopping Madeleine’s suicide his life is thrown into a tailspin. Soon Scottie is haunted by nightmares that may either hold the key to Madeliene’s death or drive him mad for good.
Often herald by many as being Hitchcock’s best film, I must admit that Vertigo did not immediately grab me the way I expected. The first hour felt a bit sluggish and I could not help but wonder if there was really any point to the film. My fears that my expectations would be greater than the film look to be coming true, fortunately this all began to change thanks to one iconic scene. The minute the bell tower scene occurred, the film really started to kick into gear.
It is clear that Hitchcock was meticulously setting the stage for what the film was truly about. He ensures that everything he touches on in the first half is revisited again in the latter part to show how the clues were there all along. The dream sequence in the film is fantastic. It perfectly shows the mental distress that Scottie is going through after Madeleine’s death. The scenes were Scottie is on the brink of descending into madness are exceptionally well done.
The performance by James Stewart is what keeps Vertigo fascinating even when it is simply setting up the pieces. Stewart and Novak sell the forbidden love angle perfectly. Although billed as a thriller, Vertigo is also a tragic love story. The love story is extremely effective when looking at how it impacts the film as a whole. While it still does not top Strangers on a Train as my favourite Hitchcock film, Vertigo definitely lived up to the hype and is easily one of Hitchcock’s best films.
Vertigo is part of our "The Must See List" series.