Thursday, June 11, 2009
VERTIGO (1958). Director: Alfred Hitchcock.
"Scottie" Ferguson (James Stewart) has to leave the police force because his fear of heights kicks in at an inopportune moment, resulting in a colleague's death. He is hired by an old friend to tail the friend's wife, Madeleine (Kim Novak), who is apparently under the spell of an ancestor named Carlotta Valdez who committed suicide. Scotty saves Madeleine from one possible disaster, but he is unable to save her from another -- and then months later he sees another woman, Judy Barton (also Kim Novak), who looks just like Madeleine. Scottie is irresistibly drawn to this woman -- and pulled right along into another, even worse, nightmare.
One could quibble that there is a far-fetched element to Vertigo [and it's a good thing he never looked at the obits, photos and all] but if you're in tune with this wonderful, dream-like movie it really doesn't matter. James Stewart gives one of his best performances, and while Novak may not be on his level she has some very strong moments, especially as the tormented Judy. Barbara Bel Geddes gives another sensitive performance as the lady friend of Scottie's who's hopelessly in love with him -- the moment when she slowly walks down the hall after seeing an unaware Scottie in the sanitarium stays with one. Scottie, an essentially decent man who loves not wisely but too well, as the saying goes, is a very sympathetic -- indeed, pathetic -- figure, and the uncompromising but inevitable, deeply moving denouement certainly packs a wallop. There are small moments in the movie that may not work as well as intended, but that's quibbling. This is a certified masterpiece. And the contributions by cinematographer Robert Burks and composer Bernard Herrmann can not be underestimated.
Verdict: Arguably Hitchcock's greatest achivement. ****.