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Crime, Thriller, Mystery, Romance, Film-Noir
IMDB rating:
Alfred Hitchcock
James Stewart as John 'Scottie' Ferguson
Kim Novak as Madeleine Elster
Barbara Bel Geddes as Midge Wood
Tom Helmore as Gavin Elster
Henry Jones as Coroner
Raymond Bailey as Scottie's Doctor
Ellen Corby as Manager of McKittrick Hotel
Konstantin Shayne as Pop Leibel
Storyline: John "Scottie" Ferguson is a retired San Francisco police detective who suffers from acrophobia and Madeleine is the lady who leads him to high places. A wealthy shipbuilder who is an acquaintance from college days approaches Scottie and asks him to follow his beautiful wife, Madeleine. He fears she is going insane, maybe even contemplating suicide, he believes she is possessed by a dead ancestor. Scottie is skeptical, but agrees after he sees the beautiful Madeleine.
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Among the very best.
In Boileau-Narcejac's French novel "D'Entre les Morts"= from among the Dead"),the revelation only comes in the last pages,but Hitchcock lets the cat out of the bag long before the end. Boileau-Narcejac's novel is a pure detective story,but the Master wanted more:the movie already outdistances the book in a first part visually wonderful,with memorable scenes,wrapped in mystery ,such as the one with the sequoia,symbol of immortality or the one down by the sea,to rival with the best romantic movies of all time.In the second part,Hitchcock explains in the Truffaut's book,we know but Scottie( James Stewart) does not .And he tries to recreate a dead woman,to transform Judy into Madeleine.This folie à deux ends where the first tragedy occurred ,which gives the movie a strength that the book had not.Read it and you'll realize how its end ,speaking in terms of cinema,had to be modified for the screen.That's Hitchcock's genius.

When Boileau/Narcejac learned that Hitchcock wanted to transfer "Celle Qui N'Etait PLus " (=les Diaboliques" )to the screen,they immediately wrote "D'Entre les Morts " on the same pattern for Hitchcock to direct.
Obsession with mystery
The basic plot: An ex-police officer with fear of heights is assigned by a friend of his to keep an eye on his seemingly off-the-edge of sanity wife , but he soon becomes enamored with Madeliene and when she commits suicide ,he finds another girl with a passing resemblance to her who he has clothed, dressed , and done ultra-specifically like Madeliene, but then he learns her secret......

The praise: Incredibly dreamy and cool, actually an allegory of the human love of the difficult and mysterious, the strange and the icy(Madeliene), over the plain and familiar( Midge, his ex-fiancee ), and the natural urge to explore and obsess with the strange,scary and beautiful in the human sex urges. Oh,yeah and James Stewart and Kim Novak are truly great in their respective roles. Jimmy Stewart is near-perfect as the mild-mannered soul with kernels of obsession both sexual and for a single mysterious woman , with a phobic fear of heights, known as Scotty. Kim Novak is perhaps perfect, drawing on wells of truly deep emotion and currents of beauty untold. Oh yeah, there is a great swooning Bernard Herrman score. It is the most stylish movie , elegantly photographed and designed with a truly elegant beauty that is both modern,old, and religious.There also is great suspense along the way , thrills,chills and mood. Perfect Hitchcock. Must-see.

The flaws: The ending is too uncharacteristic and pat of the rest of the film.

"I know, I know. I have acrophobia, which gives me vertigo, and I get dizzy." (Scottie to Midge)
Although it was only modestly successful in theaters, time has been kind to VERTIGO and now many believe this is Hitchcock's masterpiece. Time was NOT kind to the original prints of the film, and in the mid-1990s Universal Studios put up one million dollars for a two-year restoration of the film. This is covered completely in a fairly fascinating 29-minute extra on the DVD, originally broadcast as an A&E special. The entire original film-making process is covered, the movie was first called "From Among The Dead", and includes current interviews with many principals, including Novak and Bel Geddes, plus the techniques used for the restoration. This special edition DVD should be a must-own for any fan of the film VERTIGO. The sound and picture are just fabulous for a film made in 1957.

My review, following, contains certain SPOILERS which are necessary for my summary. Please read no further if you have not seen the film. Watch the film first, you will not be disappointed.

The film starts with cops chasing a crook on SF rooftops, Scottie (James Stewart, 49) misses one roof, is hanging high from a gutter, cop returns to offer assistance, but instead falls to his death. This traumatic experience triggers the vertigo in Scottie, makes him unsuited for police work, he quits, and Midge (Barbara Bel Geddes) tells him only another emotional shock will bring him out of it. Midge, an artist, not so secretly wants Scottie, but while they are good friends, he just doesn't love her.

Old college friend, wealthy shipbuilding magnate, hires Scottie to follow his wife who had been acting strangely. He meets Madaleine (Kim Novak, 24) and follows her to find that she visits the grave of Carlotta, who died at 25 in 1857, also visits the portrait of Carlotta at the art museum, has "visions" of being in a Spanish mission, all indications are that the dead Carlotta is taking over Madaleine's mind. While following her, saving her from a jump into SF Bay, and keeping her from jumping into the Pacific, Scottie is falling in love with her, the first time he has had such feelings.

Scottie feels he needs to take Madeleine to the old mission 100 miles south of SF to free her of this possession, but instead she climbs up the mission bell tower, Scottie is unable to follow quickly enough, his vertigo holding him back, he hears a scream, sees what looks like Madeleine's body falling to the red tile roof below, dead. A quick inquest ruled it a suicide, the friend gets out of shipbuilding, travels, while Scottie tries to get over his great loss, his first ever love, includes a stay in a mental hospital.

Not too long after, Scottie sees a woman remarkably similar to Madeleine walking to her residence, a hotel, he follows her, knocks on the door, she is dressed differently, has different color hair, a different personality, speaks differently, and says she is Judy, from Kansas, has lived there 3 years, even shows Scottie her ID to prove it. But Scottie has not gotten over Madeleine, is obsessed with recreating her, asks Judy to dress like her, get her hair colored, all the while Judy just wishes Scottie would like her for who she is, not because she looks like someone else. But she gets completely back to the Madeleine look, same clothes, same hair color.

By now we have seen through Judy's flashback what is really going on. The wealthy husband had hired Judy to impersonate his wife, Madeleine, and had set up the incident at the mission so that he could shove the already dead wife off, Scottie would be the manipulated witness that she had climbed the stairs and jumped off, and after being paid off, Judy could resume her life. To her detriment, he also gave her the heirloom, Carlotta's necklace, and her wearing that is what got Scottie suspicious of the whole scheme. He catches on, brings Judy back to the mission, they climb to the bell, a nun approaches to see what is going on, Judy panics and falls to her death on the roof. Scottie no longer was in love with her, feeling lied to and manipulated, he has no emotion, but goes to the edge of the ledge and looks down, his vertigo gone. The emotional shock that Midge spoke of has cured him.

The story is a tragedy of two lives that only through misfortune become intertwined, Scottie's and Judy's. He is not young, now retired, and had never found true love. In Madeliene he thinks he found it, only to be shocked then disillusioned when the full truth came out. When Judy died, he was back where the film started. Maybe Midge was the one after all. Judy was very flawed, enough to participate in a murder plot and feel no apparent guilt over it. All she wanted was to be loved by Scottie, but a relationship built on fraud has no chance, especially since Scottie was an honest man.

James Stewart is known for his ability to play an "everyman" character, and is superb as Scottie. Kim Novak is a bigger mystery. She was not the first choice for the role, received it virtually by default, but after watching the movie it is hard to imagine anyone else playing the dual roles of Madeleine and Judy, she pulls it off so well. A big bonus is her commentary on the making-of extra, seeing her after all these years. She was only 24 when Vertigo was filmed, but she looked 40, a glamorous and beautiful 40. Actresses today who are 24 often still play teenagers. How things have changed in the movies!
Favorite Hitchcock and likely one of the most challenging, harrowing great films ever
Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo is probably his most discussed film, and I believe that since it is so controversial- and yet living up to such hype by having a level of mystery, daring and true human interest that is open to interpretation- it gets better with every passing year. It deserves more credit than it gets (like most of Hitchcock's films) and though it is well credited with it's intrigue, I think that Psycho (not that it is a bad film) gets more credit than this film should get. There are at least a few reasons for this, arguably of course. One, the acting is spectacular including James Stewart in one of his very best turns as the weary, emotionally perplexed and obsessed cop with a slight fear of heights and a 'thing' for a certain 'dead' woman. Hitchcock's leading lady here Kim Novak, is equally interesting and ambiguous as the leading lady (or ladies).

Two, the atmosphere Hicthcock invokes in this film is just right for the psychological tailspin that Stewart gets into, with the usage of lighting, real San Fransisco locations, and particularly the color green all to perfect, eerie effect. And three, there's Bernard Herrmann's score, on par with the Psycho score though maybe even better as a straight piece of classical music in the guise of tense, haunting movie music. It's also the kind of picture that is a MUST if you've already seen it, or even if not, and it comes around town on the big screen as all the images and dark scenes come into great view. Not one of the more outright 'fun' Hitchcock films, with the few chuckles plain comic relief, and maybe his best serious work. A++
Hitchcock's most haunting film
Vertigo is directed by Alfred Hitchcock, is based on the novel by Pierre Boulle, has a beautiful score by Bernard Herrmann and stars James Stewart, Kim Novak and Barbara Bel Geddes.

A haunting and suspenseful story that is one of Hitchcock's best if not his all time best film.Vertigo surprisingly didn't do very well on it's initial release and wasn't well liked.However over time it's become a massive success both with critics and audiences and is a truly stunning piece of work.

Detective Scottie Ferguson(James Stewart)is hired to follow an old friends wife Madeleine(Kim Novak). She is apparently being possessed by the spirit of a dead ancestor who killed herself. As he begins to do some research into Madeleine's past and sees more of her, he is caught up in a very weird situation.

The film becomes quite creepy in a disturbing way as he becomes obsessed with Madeleine and later with a woman who looks like Madeleine called Judy(Kim Novak in a stunning duel performance.)

Part ghost story and part love story this is one of Hitchcocks greatest films, a combination of genres and featuring a great cast and lots of suspense and tension. James Stewart gives one of his best performances and is excellent as the emotionally tortured Scottie. Vertigo also features some gorgeous location footage of the city of San Fransisco.This is a must see film.
Quite disappointing
If you put aside the romance between Stewart and Novak, little credible because of how fast it develops, the plot is rather interesting despite the usual conveniences. The script holds up well until Judy's twist that annihilates the good work done so far with the flashback and the letter unsubtly brought up. Then, the last 30 minutes are a burden, the story struggling to get a second wind, until a ruined final outcome, far too abrupt.

It's a shame because the potential was there but the end result lacks consistency, homogeneity, and the movie doesn't seem fully accomplished, at least not enough to rank it as one of the director's best nor as an all-time great.

As always with Hitchcock, the direction and mise-en-scène are good. Special mention to the beautiful score by Bernard Herrmann that emphasizes perfectly the intriguing atmosphere of Vertigo.
Best Score - Bernard Herrmann
Arguably the best film that Hitchcock made, as well as the best score that Herrmann ever wrote. From 'The Man who Knew Too Much', Hitchcock struck gold through his collaboration with Herrmann. The film is half told through the score, half told through Robert Burks's cinematography. The relationship between Scottie Ferguson and Madeleine/Judy is arguably the greatest love story ever told, superseding even 'Romeo and Juliet'.
Desperate love story with murder on the wing
Vertigo (1958)

This movie isn't quite about what it seems to be about at first, and we shift from an odd detective case to a case of falling in love, to a case of just falling, and then the movie goes through one of the most convincing psychological twists in cinema. That is, the second portion of the movie is a brilliant inquiry into the mind of the retired detective played by Jimmy Stewart, and into obsession, and eventually to revelation. While the crime is solved eventually, it's really a small point. This is a love story, and a complicated one but also a passionate one. The ending will leave you gasping.

There are celebrated aspects to note: the psychedelic insert in the middle as a dream, the zoom/pull effects of vertigo, even the classic femme fatale/plain girl contrast (the latter a brilliant Barbara Bel Geddes). And there are some less known touches, like the green neon lighting used on the interior of the room at the Empire Hotel, or the generally clear vivid brilliant Technicolor palette. There are bit parts and famous sets (the Golden Gate Bridge and the San Bautista Mission, which didn't actually have a bell tower like this one (that was added through cinema trickery).

There is also an amazing use of subjective effects--the light falling improbably, or a haze covering the scene for no reason except the main character's mind. Much of this stuff pushes Hitchcock into true art film territory, and yet he keeps it a mainstream commercial flick that is accessible and popular.

Most of all there is subtle deception between characters and between the movie and the viewer. Hitchcock has never preferred the sudden surprise, leaving the viewer in ruins (or just in shock). Instead, he tells you what's going on--in this case, we learn of the murderous truth halfway through the film, so that we aren't wasting energy solving the crime but are instead trying to get into the characters' heads. It is the psychology, and the conflict of desire and doubt, that drive the movie. It's not slow, by the way, it's lyrical.

Some people might object to the falseness of many of the key scenes, but that's the nature of films that are not purely naturalistic. And the nature of nearly all of Hitchcock movies after 1940. Absorb the style as brush strokes--they don't get in the way of verisimilitude once you agree the truth is not the point. Drama and beauty and originality are. All of those are here full force.
Hitchcock at his most revealing best!
One of Hitchcock's three best movies (North by Northwest and Rear Window are my other two favorites) which I can watch over and over again.

The external reviews for Vertigo will give you more insight into this movie than I can but for me, when I first saw this movie in the late '50s (I was very young), it planted the seeds that drove me to move to the bay area from the east. My obsessions were cultivated later.

The setting, San Francisco at its prime, with its hills and sharp light contrasts because of the surrounding waters add to the ever changing but hypnotic backdrop of this color film. Even Bernard Herrmann's music score emphasis the mood swings of its characters to pull the viewer into its vortex.

Vertigo is a dizzying production of dark and light, ups and downs. It is the story of one man's obsessions for controlling his surroundings and desires to a point where his life is spinning out of control. Or is it? It has been written that Hitchcock in real life was controlling and manipulative ("All actors should be treated like cattle") and why all the blonde, austere, frigid women? So, plot, acting, direction, photography and music are all mingled to give the viewer a wonderful, mesmerizing, voyeuristic look into obsessive behavior. More relative today, almost 50 years later!
THIS is a masterpiece?
Vertigo is considered one of the greatest films ever made and celebrated as Hitchcock's masterpiece. Perhaps it is. But I found myself bored as I watched it even though I had to admire the artistic intent. There are so many holes in the film it could qualify as cheesy. However, try telling that to those who love it. I think they love it as much for its flaws as for its perfections.

Perfections: the feel of the San Francisco Bay area, the sense of historical California, the great beauty of the ocean framed by Monterey cypresses, the redwoods, the Golden Gate Bridge as seen from below and off to the side, the Bautista Mission, the fifties interior decor, Madeleine's costumes, the angle of Scottie's fedora, the acting by the three stars, James Stewart, Kim Novak, and Barbara Bel Geddes. The musical score by Bernard Herrmann is also celebrated, but I found it a bit overbearing at times, and of course Hitchcock loved using music to direct our sensitivities, and one can tire of that.

Flaws: Scottie hanging from the drainpipe railing, watching the cop trying to save him fly over to land several stories down, dead. What is not explained is how the cop was expected to pull him up with nothing to hold onto or how Scottie managed to survive. Apparently he fell but only broke his back because in the next scene he is in surgical corset unable to scratch certain itches.

The ersatz psychology. It was the fifties and psychoanalytic psychology was all the rage. One of the bestsellers of the day was The Fifty-Minute Hour: A Collection of True Psychoanalytic Tales by Robert Lindner in which a shrink relates tales told by his patients. Hitchcock loved this sort of thing (cf., Spellbound (1945) with Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman). Audiences also loved it. But the psychology is strictly bananas.

Driving on the wrong side of the road (about which Hitchcock is reported to have said when it was pointed out to him, "You drive your way. I'll drive mine.") The plot. Oh, the plot. Never but never has there been a more elaborate and unlikely murder-your-rich-wife scheme. Judy Barton is hired, persuaded or, gee, maybe hypnotized into playing Gavin Elster's wife who is to commit suicide by jumping off the bell tower at the mission. First Gavin (Tom Helmore) has to establish that she's crazy and suicidal. This is done by having her drive dreamily around the Frisco Bay area looking for the haunts of her great grandmother who committed suicide. The key is to get Scottie to believe it so he can testify that she was suicidal. For this to work, (1) Madeleine has to fool a police detective--one might say mesmerize him, which she does, (2) Get him to the bell tower at the right time where he is afraid to go to the top--that works, but you have to buy the psychology, (3) Time it so that Madeleine appears to jump off, but in reality you throw the dead body of your wife off after having broken her neck (body kept warm perhaps in your car with the heater on?), (4) Hide with Madeleine at the top of the tower until the coast is clear (whenever that might be).

Although Kim Novak's performance is interesting it is unlikely that she could fool ex-detective Scottie into believing she was somebody else. When she reappears as Judy Barton in the brown hair and the different makeup, it really makes the audience do a double take before realizing that she and Madeleine are the same. But Scottie's take seems to be that she (and some other women at first glance) look like Madeleine--after all, he just got out of the nut house. It is only when he sees the necklace that he comes to his senses.

Another thing aficionados love about this movie is the way Hitchcock was able to subtly strip his stars of their glamour and make them look more or less human. James Stewart never played a part anything like this before. All the funny faces he has to make, perplexed while driving, terrified on the way up the bell tower, insane and terrified in the dream sequence, etc. It is said that Hitchcock blamed the lack of popular success of this movie (when it was belatedly released, not now) on Stewart looking too old, and therefore Hitchcock never worked with him again. But I think Stewart, after seeing the way he looked in this movie--so unheroic, so lost as a real human being--decided he was never going to let Hitchcock do THAT to him again, and that's probably why they never worked together again.

Kim Novak's curvy body and flopping you-know-whats are revealed in outfits that Grace Kelly would never wear. And poor Barbara Bel Geddes with those most unattractive glasses! How she pines for Scottie. One of the best scenes occurs when she shows Scottie her self portrait as the mysterious Carlotta with the glasses on (!) followed by her "Stupid, stupid, stupid!" self-flagellation after Scottie, who was offended at the grotesque sight, walks out.

But why is Scottie always hanging out at her place? And how they talk the plot in the beginning so that we might know that they were once a couple! But Hitchcock never worried about anything but the effect his movie might have on the audience. Improbabilities, clumsy plot devices, etc., were secondary. And you know what, he was right, as P.T. Barnum was right. Hitchcock never overestimated the sophistication of his audience.

Somebody said that the real entertainment in watching this movie is in watching it again after you know the story. I think they're right. It's definitely a film buff's movie.

(Note: Over 500 of my movie reviews are now available in my book "Cut to the Chaise Lounge or I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote!" Get it at Amazon!)
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