“A former police detective juggles wrestling with his personal demons and becoming obsessed with a hauntingly beautiful woman.”
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Writers: Alec Coppel, Samuel A. Taylor, Peirre Boileau, Thomas Narcejac, Maxwell Anderson
Staring: James Stewart, Kim Novak, Barbara Bel Geddes, Tom Helmore
Streaming: Amazon Prime
Release Date: May 22, 1958
Vertigo is the story of a retired San Francisco detective John Ferguson (James Stewart) and his entanglements while trying to help out his friend, Galvin Elster (Tom Helmore). Galvin hires Ferguson, known as Scottie to friends, to follow his wife, Madeleine Elster (Kim Novak). Galvin thinks that Madeleine is possessed by someone not herself and therefore his wife is a danger to herself without knowing it. Thus the web is laid out, and Scottie is the one who gets caught in something he can’t quite figure out. Vertigo weaves through drama and romance that, maybe unknowingly, places the audience in uncomfortable shoes.
In terms of the Alfred Hitchcock pantheon of films, many consider Vertigo one of his best. This starts a stretch where Hitchcock made Vertigo, followed by North By Northwest (1959), Psycho (1960) and The Birds (1963). Vertigo was ranked 61st on AFI’s Top 100 films list (granted I know this is outdated), and it is ranked #92 all-time on Rotten Tomatoes.
I am here to say that that I respectfully disagree with all the acclaim. While Vertigo is by no means a bad movie, it is not up to par with other HItchcock classics.
- Dial M For Murder (1954): B+
- Rear Window (1954): A-
- Vertigo (1956): B-
- North By Northwest (1959): B+
- Psycho (1960): A
- The Birds (1963): C
I have by no means seen every single movie Hitchcock movie has made, but of the one’s I have had the pleasure of viewing, Vertigo is the most disappointing of the bunch.
Visually, Vertigo is great. Can’t hate on it for that. The trombone shot, the one most infamous for creating the Veritgo effect, is a really excellent visual. The drives that Scottie and Madeleine take in the outskirts of San Francisco are beautiful. A truly remarkable shot is when Madeleine is on the roof of the chapel and Scottie stumbles out of the church after not being able to climb the stairs. A remarkable usage of scale.
The part of Vertigo that fell short of the mark is the story itself, and in particular the final act of the movie. There is a plot twist that Madeleine Elster, or the one Scottie thought he was tailing, was actually Judy Barton. Barton is a near dead look alike to Madeleine, and her similar physique caught the edge of Gavin Elster for one simple reason; it gave him a way to kill his actual wife.
The twist may have been revolutionary for 1958, but is a bit plain to see in today’s time time. When Elster is incredibly forgiving to Scottie in a court sequence, the sense of uneasiness allows the audience to make assumptions that not everything is as it seems. The expansionary telling of the deception comes from Judy when Scottie follows her home and..barges into her apartment to ask her a bunch of questions and eventually onto a date? Yes, I know that Judy loved Scottie before the murder of Madeleine and disappearance from each other’s lives, but the whole third act is tainted by ickiness.
There is such an extreme pivot in the demeanor of Scottie come the last third, and the change is not becoming of the character. Scottie becomes obsessive in trying to recreate a long lost love. His dominance over Judy is unbecoming; there is no pity in it at all. Judy is dragged from place to place all with the end goal of being transformed into the women she pretended to be.
I may be looking at this through too much of a “woke” lens, but it was impossible to not watch Vertigo and cringe a little. It doesn’t help that James Stewart is well older than Kim Novak. There is 24 years of difference between them! Seems like I wasn’t the only one to think that!
According to IMDB:
Sir Alfred Hitchcock was embittered at the critical and commercial failure of this movie in 1958. He blamed this on James Stewart for “looking too old” to attract audiences any more. Hitchcock never worked with Stewart, previously one of his favorite collaborators, again.
Vertigo was the last time James Stewart worked with Hitchcock: Rope (1948), Rear Window, The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956).
Vertigo is well made but moderate acting and a weird final act makes it a step below other Hitchcock movies I have seen. There is no denying the skills and chances taken in the movie, and those have to be taken into account. It was engaging too a point, but by the end you aren’t rooting for anyone in particular. Maybe that is the point, but if so, its pin point didn’t strike me.
STANKO RATING: B- (3.0/5 Stars)
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