Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

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. ****.


Colin said...

Marvellous movie all round. It draws you in and kind of breaks your heart by the end. Every time I see it I still half hope Scotty and Judy will get a happy ending, but it always ends the same way.
One of those movies where it's actually true that it gets better with repeated viewings.

William said...

I couldn't agree with you more. You sort of know that Judy has to pay for her part in the murder -- even if she tried to stop it at the very end -- but you feel so damn sorry for Stewart. You have to wonder -- does he throw himself off after her, or just wind up back in the sanitarium. And what about poor Barbara Bel Geddes. yes, it's a sad movie on many levels. -- William

simoncolumb said...

I've only watched it once ... but I have a funny feeling the more you watch it, the better it gets. Like some very strange puzzle. But, from the-first-viewing perspective I have, reading your review makes me want to go back and visit it once again, which simply says how alluring the whole story is - falling deeply in love with someone, so much so, you try adn recreate the same person. The passion is truly unique and only James Stewart could deliver such an impeccable performance.

William said...

Yes, it's widely considered his best performance, certainly one of his best. I know the movie doesn't work for everyone, but when it does it's very compelling and powerful.

Thanks for your comments! And you've got an excellent movie blog yourself! Nice job!