VERTIGO (1958) 

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James Stewart
Kim Novak
Barbara Bel Geddes
Tom Helmore
Raymond Bailey
Ellen Corby
Konstantin Shayne

Alfred Hitchcock



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Time: 129 mins.
Rating: PG
Genre: Suspense/Romance/Drama

Nominated for Academy Awards for Best Art Direction and Best Sound.

It took me awhile to actually sit through VERTIGO. The ads never really appealed to me. I had no idea what the film was supposed to be about except Jimmy Stewart's fear of heights. I recently had the chance to see the restored version and I have to say I was impressed. It takes a while to get going, but once Hitch gets his hooks in you there's no turning back. It has to be one of his most subtle films, leading you along one path only to have everything you believe to be true, suddenly destroyed. Stewart actually gets to play a character with a dark side, unlike most of the roles he played throughout his career. Hitchcock uses him well, making you believe that he's trustworthy and honest, a decent man, which makes his inevitable downfall all the more painful.

The film opens with a dramatic rooftop chase that introduces the audience to Scottie (Stewart), a police detective, and his darkest fear. He's paralyzed by heights. Even though everyone tells him the death of a cop during the chase wasn't his fault, Scottie retires from the force rather than taking a desk job so his "disability" doesn't endanger anyone else. Even though he's retired he decides to help an old school chum, Ulster, uncover the mystery of his wife Madelaine's daily disappearance. All he wants Scottie to do is follow her and tell him where she goes. He fears she might be mentally unstable and on the road to a complete breakdown, maybe even suicidal.

Scottie is unconvinced of the danger, but agrees to follow her at least for a couple of days. What he discovers, unnerves him, but once he starts unraveling the mystery of Madelaine's movements, he can't escape the tendrils of her beauty and helplessness. Mainly because he's fallen for her. However, even his love for her, can't stop her descent into madness or her tragic fate. His inability to save her from her demons – his infernal vertigo disables him in her time of need – causes him to lose the war against his own inner demons, which even time can't erase. In fact, he can't forget her and it's this overwhelming passion that places him on a path to ultimate destruction.

"Scottie, do you believe that someone out of the past – someone dead – can enter and take possession of a living being?"

I know my description of the film is somewhat vague, but I found not really knowing anything about the plot made the mystery more suspenseful and intriguing. Where is Madelaine going? Is she really mad? Is Scottie going to be able to save her in time? What does the future hold for him once she's gone? Can he ever be happy without her? It clearly becomes apparent that the answers to these questions are generally not answered in a very positive manner. This is a film about madness, betrayal and obsession, so don't expect a happy ending. In fact, this is one of Hitchcock's more brutal films. He doesn't pull any punches. The characters get what they pay for. This romance is doomed from the start, but not for the reasons you think.

The reason this film is considered a masterpiece is that everything fits together perfectly. From the acting to the cinematography to the musical score, Hitch has you right where he wants you from the get go. This is a train you won't be able to get off. The art direction is fantastic, so bright and vivid. It makes you think that this is an upbeat film, a Technicolor romance, but it couldn't be more dark and dangerous. The dichotomy is brilliant and the colors are fantastic. It's like something out of a dream. Kim Novak is stunning, mysterious and fragile as the doomed Madelaine. It's a shame her career petered out so early.

This is definitely one of Stewart's best performances. It's a shame there aren't any current actors with his diversity and talent working today. REAR WINDOW and NOTORIOUS are my favorite Hitchcock films, but VERTIGO is now tied with NORTH BY NORTHWEST for third place. If you're going to watch VERTIGO, and you should, please make sure you see the restored version. It'll be worth the trouble.

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