Thursday, October 31, 2013


Based on the novel D’entre les morts by Boileau-Narcejec, Vertigo is the story of a retired yet acrophobic police detective who is asked by a man to tail his wife who is dealing with mood swings. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock and screenplay by Alec Coppel and Samuel A. Taylor, the film is an exploration into a man dealing with his fear of heights as well as the case that he’s investigating where he falls for the woman he’s tailing. Starring James Stewart, Kim Novak, and Barbara Bel Geddes. Vertigo is a magnificent film from Alfred Hitchcock.

The film is a simple story about a retired police detective who is asked by an old friend to tail his troubled wife. Yet, John Ferguson (James Stewart) is still dealing with the guilt over losing his partner during a chase as he also suffers from acrophobia and gets dizzy due to that fear. By taking this assignment for an old friend, he hopes to get some form of redemption yet he would end up falling for this woman in Madeleine Elster (Kim Novak) while trying to deal with her fascination towards this woman who had died nearly a century ago. Even as he helps her try to deal with the nightmares she has where things get more stranger as it goes on. It’s a film that is largely about fear where one man has a fear of heights while this woman is someone who fears that she might be the reincarnation of someone else as she is becoming suicidal.

The film’s screenplay by Alec Coppel and Samuel A. Taylor does take its time to explore the aspects of fear where Ferguson is a man just wracked with guilt over the loss of his partner during a roof chase. Though he finds comfort in his former fiancée Midge Wood (Barbara Bel Geddes), he reluctantly takes the assignment for Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore) as a favor to an old friend as the first act is about Ferguson coping with his fear and seeing Madeleine for the very first time where he would follow her around San Francisco. The second act is about Ferguson trying to figure out Madeleine’s fear and her mental state while he also deals with some jealousy from Midge who managed to see Madeleine walk out of his apartment one night after she had jumped on the San Francisco Bay. The film’s third act is definitely the most intriguing where it just doesn’t explore the idea of guilt and fear but also identity and obsession where Ferguson delves into the latter towards another woman where a lot of the mystery gets unveiled.

The direction of Alfred Hitchcock is truly mesmerizing in the way he creates these gorgeous images while making San Francisco and places nearby the city as characters in the film. Hitchcock makes great use in his framing devices in not just the way he presents the film with these lovely compositions but also create something that has this air of mystery and melancholia that is prevalent throughout the film. Notably as Hitchcock would take a simple shot and do something with it to add to the sense of drama and suspense in the film. The way he uses a two-shot on characters as well as close-ups are very entrancing with some soft lenses and the use of locations just adds to this romance that builds between John and Madeleine.

Hitchcock also creates some very dazzling sequences that plays into John’s fear such as the shots of him looking down from above where the zoom lenses play a key part into his fear along with some special photographic effects. There’s also this very strange yet surreal sequence that also plays into John’s fear as well as the ideas of what Madeleine was so afraid of. Most notably as it would play into this very strange third act that explores John’s obsession as he tries to deal with his fear of heights as well as see if he can find some redemption. Overall, Hitchcock creates a very spectacular and intoxicating film about fear, obsession, and identity.

Cinematographer Robert Burks does exquisite work with the film‘s very colorful and lush photography to play into the beauty of the locations in San Francisco as well as using the lights to play into that element of suspense and intrigue as it is definitely a major highlight of the film. Editor George Tomasini does brilliant work with the editing to play into the suspense with some rhythmic cuts and other stylish cuts to help maintain that air of intrigue as well as some slow yet methodical cuts in the film‘s drama. Art directors Henry Bumstead and Hal Pereira, along with set decorators Sam Comer and Frank R. McKelvy, do fantastic work with the set pieces from the look of John‘s apartment as well as some of the places he goes to like the museum and the other places Madeleine goes to.

Costume designer Edith Head does amazing work with the costumes from the suits that John wears to the dresses that Madeleine and Midge wears as it has that great sense of style. Hairstyle supervisor Nellie Manley and makeup artist Benny Lane do excellent work with the look of Madeleine in her blond hair to display this unique look that John would be obsessed about later in the film. Sound recorders Winston H. Leverett, Harold Lewis, and Jim Miller do superb work with the sound to create an atmosphere in some of the locations as well as play into the film‘s suspense and drama. The film’s music by Bernard Herrmann is truly phenomenal with its orchestral-based score that features heavy and broad themes to more somber, lush pieces driven by the strings to play into the romance and drama.

The casting by Bert McKay is incredible as the ensemble that includes some noteworthy small roles like Fred Graham as John’s partner in the film’s opening sequence, Konstantin Shayne as a historian John and Midge meet, and Ellen Corby as a hotel owner John asks about. Tom Helmore is excellent as John’s old friend Gavin Elster who asks John to follow his wife to see what she’s up to. Barbara Bel Geddes is wonderful as John’s former fiancée Midge who helps John with his case while dealing with her jealousy towards Madeleine. Kim Novak is radiant as Madeleine as this mysterious yet troubled woman who has a strange connection to a woman from the past as Novak also has this beauty that is just entrancing making her performance iconic. Finally, there’s James Stewart in a marvelous performance as John “Scottie” Ferguson as a man wracked with guilt and fear as he takes an assignment that would prove to be troubling. Stewart and Novak have amazing chemistry together in the way they play into each other’s fears as well as the romance they have for each other.

Vertigo is an outstanding film from Alfred Hitchcock that features remarkable performances from James Stewart and Kim Novak. Not only is the film one of Hitchcock’s most quintessential works but also a stylish yet engaging thriller that explores the world of fear, obsession, and identity. Particularly as it’s told with great style through its colorful cinematography and the enchanting score of Bernard Herrmann. In the end, Vertigo is a triumphant film from Alfred Hitchcock.

Alfred Hitchcock Films: (Number 13) - (The Pleasure Garden) - (The Blackguard) - (The Mountain Eagle) - (The Lodger) - (A Story of the London Fog) - (The Ring) - (Downhill) - (The Farmer’s Wife) - (Easy Virtue) - (Champagne) - (The Manxman) - (Blackmail) - (Juno and the Paycock) - (Murder!) - (The Skin Game) - (Mary) - (Lord Camber’s Ladies) - (Rich and Strange) - (Number Seventeen) - (Waltzes from Vienna) - (The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934 film)) - The 39 Steps - (Secret Agent) - (Sabotage) - (Young and Innocent) - The Lady Vanishes - (Jamaica Inn) - (Rebecca) - (Foreign Correspondent) - (Mr. & Mrs. Smith) - Suspicion - (Saboteur) - (Shadow of a Doubt) - Bon Voyage - Lifeboat - (Spellbound) - (Notorious) - (The Paradine Cage) - Rope - (Under Capricorn) - (Stage Fright) - Strangers on a Train - I Confess - Dial M for Murder - Rear Window - To Catch a Thief - (The Trouble with Harry) - The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956 film) - (The Wrong Man) - North by Northwest - Psycho - The Birds - Marnie - (Torn Curtain) - (Topaz) - (Frenzy) - (Family Plot)

© thevoid99 2013


ruth said...

Happy Halloween, Steven! Great review of one of Hitchcock movies on my must-see list. I've been meaning to do a Jimmy Stewart marathon, hopefully I'll get to it next year :D

thevoid99 said...

I'm going to watch another Hitchcock classic for tonight as I've got a lot of films that I plan to watch for next year. Here's a list of films I hope to watch for next year.