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January 16, 2006

Film Review: Vertigo

“Vertigo is the conflict between the fear of falling and the desire to fall.” ~ Salman Rushdie

Aggravated Acrophobia, Clinical Depression, and an Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder . . .

Vertigo (Paramount, 1958). Dir: Alfred Hitchcock; Screenplay: Alec Coppel and Samuel Taylor; Based on the French novel Sueurs Froides (d’Entre les Morts) [Between Deaths] by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac; Editor: George Tomasini; Music: Bernard Herrmann; Cast: James Stewart, Kim Novak, Barbara Bel Geddes, Tom Helmore, Henry Jones.

By the time Hitchcock began work on Vertigo, he had already completed nearly sixty motion-pictures. Several of them featured Indiana, Pennsylvania-born Jimmy Stewart who had appeared in over sixty films by 1958. After actor Cary Grant, Stewart was the most frequently featured leading man in Hitchcock’s filmography. In addition to Vertigo, Stewart starred in other highly-regarded Hitchcock films such as Rope (1948), Rear Window (1954) and The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956). Vertigo is cited by several film critics as one of the greater examples of American popular film. However, Hitchcock lost the 1958 Academy nomination for best director Vincente Minnelli for directing the musical, Gigi.

Warning: some feel that the plot summary alone will ruin the film’s sense of mystery for those who have yet to see it. Please skip to the next paragraph to avoid a spoiler. Aggravated acrophobia, clinical depression, and an obsessive-compulsive disorder: the psychological thriller Vertigo is like a psychiatrist’s casebook for neuroses. Stewart plays an ex-policeman named Scottie Ferguson who faces an early retirement after suffering a traumatic on-the-job accident that left him with a hideous fear of heights. Gavin, an old acquaintance, convinces Scottie that his wife, Madeleine, is both possessed and suicidal and employs him follow her in secret. Eventually, Scottie does catch Madeleine, played by Kim Novak, in the act of drowning herself in San Francisco Bay and subsequently performs a heroic, Hollywood rescue. The two soon fall in love but the romance ends tragically when Madeleine falls from a tower at an old Spanish mission in California. His anxiety prevented him from climbing the tower fast enough to save her. After witnessing her death, Scottie is afflicted with melancholia, a mental disorder for which he eventually recovers in a hospital. After his release, he meets, by accident, a dead-ringer for Madeline, named Judy, on the street. Scottie befriends Judy, and then becomes fanatical about compelling her to change everything about her external self (eg. fashion choices, hairstyle, and hair color) so that she can more closely resemble his lost beloved, Madeleine. The complex mystery concludes with a twisted, surprise ending that I won’t reveal in this blurb.

If you get a chance to see the restored version of this film on DVD, you won’t be disappointed with the quality. In addition to seeing the colors as they would have been seen in the original theatre release, the film’s foley track (sound effects) was completely redone from scratch in stereo. You may not have known that Hitchcock prepared a different ending (additional footage) that sort of “tied things up” for the European audience. This ending is available on the DVD as a bonus feature.

Vertigo, as a quintessential Hitchcock creation, was successfully spoofed in 1977 by slapstick director Mel Brooks in his psycho-comedy, High Anxiety. In addition to famous scenes from Psycho (1960), The Birds (1963) and several others, the story line closely follows the details of Spellbound (1948) and Vertigo with the protagonist portrayed by Brooks himself. Even the same shooting locations are used such as the mission tower and the public phone booth by the Golden Gate Bridge.

--Lee Hobbs

[Note: This article is also referenced here]

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Posted by lhobbs at January 16, 2006 12:09 AM

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