Vertigo (1958) Film Review A+

DIRECTOR: Alfred Hitchcock
Produced by Alfred Hitchcock
Screenplay by: Alec Coppel and Samuel Taylor based on the 1954 novel “D’entre les morts” (“The Living and the Dead”) by Boileau-Narcejac (Pierre Boileau and Pierre Ayraud also known as Thomas Narcejac)
Cinematography: Robert Burks
Edited by: George Tomasini
Original Score: Bernard Herrmann
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Starring: James Stewart, Kim Novack, Barbara Bel Geddes, Ellen Corby, Tom Helmore and Henry Jones
BOTTOM LINE: San Francisco detective Scottie Ferguson (James Stewart), who has a fear of heights (vertigo), follows Madeleine Elster (Kim Novack) around the streets and environs of San Francisco because Madeleine’s husband Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore) is convinced that she is possessed by the spirit of a dead nineteenth-century courtesan named Carlotta Valdes whose picture hangs in the Palace of the Legion of Honor. Among the places that Madeleine drives and Scottie follows are:
  • The Palace of the Legion of Honor
  • Fort Point
  • Muir Woods
  • Mission Dolores
  • Coit Tower (in the distance)
  • The Palace of Fine Arts
  • Mission San Juan Batista
  • The McKittrick Hotel in the Western Addition (Carlotta’s room)
  • The Vertigo Hotel (Judy’s Apartment)
  • Lombard Street (Scottie’s Apartment)
  • Brocklebank Apartments (Madeleine’s Residence) 1000 Mason Street.
When Madeleine dies (or is murdered) when falling from the tower in Mission San Juan Batista, Scottie, after being reprimanded for carelessness by a judge (Henry Jones) at her inquest, Scottie enters a deep depression. He is nursed back to health by his friend and ex-lover Midge (Barbara Bel Geddes), who treats him with a vaguely maternal attitude as if there is something about Scottie that she is privy to, but we are not. Then, one day, Scottie sees Judy on the street. She looks vaguely like Madeleine, but Scottie will not be satisfied until he molds her into Madeleine’s exact image.
Voted by “Sight and Sound” as the greatest film of all time, “Vertigo” is Hitchcock’s masterpiece. Anchored by an astonishing performance by James Stewart as Scotty Ferguson, a private detective and ex-cop who suffers from vertigo (fear of heights) after a coworker fell to his death, it also boasts Kim Novak’s (taking over from the pregnant Vera Miles, much to Hitchcock’s chagrin) spectacular turn in the dual role of Judy/Madeleine, the obscure object of Scotty’s obsession. The film boasts Bernard Herrmann’s greatest and most haunting movie score. Kudos to Barbara Bel Geddes in the difficult and endlessly fascinating role of Midge, Scotty’s confidant. She knows him better than anyone and obviously cares for him deeply, but always with a strangely maternal tone. It’s as if there had been something more between them in the past. A love poem to Hitchcock’s favorite city, San Francisco, the movie is gorgeously photographed by Robert Burks, Hitchcock’s cameraman, from “Strangers on a Train” in 1951 to “Marnie” in 1964. Novak was also lovely in the movie “Bell, Book, and Candle,” which came out the same year. Together with Roman Polanski’s “Chinatown” (1974), “Vertigo” is my all-time favorite movie.

Hitchcock’s cameo: 0:11:22. In a grey suit, Hitchcock walks across the street with a trumpet case.

STREAMING: The Criterion Collection, Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV+ and YouTube

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