Sunday, October 09, 2011

Vertigo A Head Spinner


When people ask me to name a classic film I have not seen, Vertigo is usually the film that immediately comes to mind. It was a film I simply procrastinated on seeing despite ample opportunities. About a month ago I finally decided to give Vertigo a spin. I was a little worried that the years of praise about the film might have raised my expectations higher than they should have been.

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.


  1. Yes, finally! Vertigo is in my Top 10 of All Time. Glad you enjoyed it.

  2. I know you've just seen it, so it needs to percolate in your mind for awhile, but here's a couple analyses that might give some insight.

  3. Awesome article. Vertigo is one of my most favorite films, but it had to grow on me over a couple of viewings. I had a similar experience with it the first time I saw it, where high expectations made me question the first half. A stunning movie and James Stewart plays obsession to the letter, something he had perfected while making a series of Westerns with Anthony Mann. One of the best scores of all time as well. Love this movie so much.

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  5. You'll want to listen to the lyrics on this one.

  6. @Corey - Not in my top ten yet but I would not be surprised to see it creep up there after a few more viewings.

    @Yojimbo – Thanks for the link, I will definitely give it a read.

    @Will - The score was great indeed. Really help to set the tone of the phone.

    @Movie Guy Steve – That song was awesome. I had no idea Harvey Danger had a song inspired by the film. I will have to add the track to my list of songs to download.

  7. Fantastic article Courtney. Thanks for sending in an article this week, unfortunately (if you head to the site) THE BEST IS YET TO COME will be taking a brake for a couple months, due to my new post.

    Check out when you have the time, always love to have you around.

    Keep up the good work.

  8. I don't dislike Vertigo, but there are many Hitchcock films I like better. I remember back when Scorcese was waging a one man campaign to get more recognition for this film and I decided to watch it. When they got to the tree ring scene I suddenly realized that I had seen the movie only a few years before. It had made so little an impression on me that I didn't even remember seeing it until a random scene triggered the memory.

    I still finished watching the movie and was left with a "That's it?" impression afterwards. The hype from Scorcese (and all of his fans who picked up the charge) likely made the movie impossible to live up to for me.

  9. @Duke – Thanks, Sam!

    @Chip Lary – The Scorsese fans can be a little crazy at times. I have gotten in many arguments with people who honestly believe that Scorsese has never made a bad movie. I believe he has made several...but I digress. I can see how your expectations could have been raised higher than they should have been. I had that same “That’s it?” feeling while watching the first couple of acts, but then the film really took off for me.

  10. @CS - "I have gotten in many arguments with people who honestly believe that Scorsese has never made a bad movie. I believe he has made several."

    I completely agree.


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