director: alfred hitchcock (psycho, north by northwest)
starring: james stewart, kim novak, barbara bel geddes and tom helmore
REVIEWER: lyall carter
A former police detective juggles wrestling with his personal demons and becoming obsessed with a hauntingly beautiful woman.
While Psycho is seen as Hitchcock’s most definitive work there are a handful of other films that vie for that prestigious title with Vertigo being one of them. One of Hitchcock’s most disturbing psychological thrillers with superb turns from Stewart and Novak, Vertigo is a film that should be on everybody’s must watch list.
James Stewart plays ex-cop Scottie, invalided out of the police due to vertigo brought on by a traumatic and shaming calamity during a rooftop chase. He is hired by old schoolfriend Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore) for a strange job: to shadow his beautiful and enigmatic wife Madeline (Kim Novak) whose behaviour is worrying him. This bizarre situation unlocks lonely Scottie’s gallantry and romanticism and he falls passionately in love with this mysterious, troubled woman with her quiet, wondering voice and the manner of a sleepwalker. And later, when his vertigo prevents him from stopping another disaster, Scottie is to fall in love with another woman, Kansas-born Judy Barton, who has an eerie similarity to Madeline. With fanatical dedication, Scottie forces Judy to dress and sound like his lost love.
Vertigo is a rare film, even for Hitchcock, in that it delves deep into the delusions and breakdown of the mind of a good man. While other films of Hitchcock’s plumbs the depravity of human behaviour in his villains, Vertigo explores this from the viewpoint of the ‘hero’.
While some modern viewers may accuse Vertigo’s first half of being a tad slow, Hitchcock sets this pace deliberately to allow the intricate pieces of this mystery to all fall into place. The film’s score helps to set a mysterious sense to the proceedings, slowly drawing the audience in, with the help of flashing nightmare inducing light-filter changes, to set the audience on a collision course with the film’s shocking conclusion.
Key to Vertigo success is James Stewart’s performance. While the majority of the actors from that era were more grandiose in their portrayals and as a result giving a less than believable performance, Stewart was the complete opposite of that. He always would give a grounded, accessible performance - the definition of an everyman that would draw the audience in. As he is in nearly every frame of this film it’s in the wondrous subtlety of his performance that a lot of the success of Vertigo can be found.
One of Hitchcock’s most disturbing psychological thrillers with superb turns from Stewart and Novak, Vertigo is a film that should be on everybody’s must watch list.