Vertigo is one of the more complicated movies I have ever seen, and just trying to think about what exactly is happening was enough to make my head spin in opposite directions, and I mostly mean that as a compliment. It just shows what a competent movie director Alfred Hitchcock made. There are many things happening in the movie, so you will have to pay attention to keep up with what is going on. It took me two grasps to understand the basics of the plot. Kudos to Hitchcock in creating a movie that effectively employs plot twists and turns to keep the movie audience guessing.
So in a way. this thriller could be about Hitchcock himself and the way he handles women in his movies. Hitchcock is famous for his control over the production, especially when it comes to his movies. They all have the same qualities in his films, and thus end up looking foolish. Vertigo is one of his best films, because he spoofs himself in away. The men in the movie, especially the main character Scottie Ferguson, treats the women rather in a disrespectful, obsessive way. It shows how men can become obsessive over things they can’t have, especially the women.
As it is with many Hitchcock films, they are all technically impressive. A big part of the film is the term “vertigo” itself. By definition, vertigo is essentially being afraid of heights. Scottie’s backstory is explained in the beginning, and part of it shows why he was afraid of heights after going through a rooftop chase and almost falling off a roof. The way his vertigo explained was actually quite frightening. Seeing the shots from ground to sky as the camera moves away from the ground made his fear even more realistic.
So what is this film all about? Well, Scottie Ferguson (James Stewart) is a former detective who is retired because of his paranoia with heights. One day, a former colleague named Gavin (Tom Helmore) approaches Scottie with a request to follow his wife around, Madeleine (Kim Novak) because he fears she was possessed by a dead person. Scottie reluctantly agrees to do so. During his investigation, Scottie begins to fall in love with her. But due to a tragic accident, Madeleine dies. Soon thereafter, Scottie meets another woman named Judy (also played by Kim Novak), who uncannily looks similar to the deceased Madeleine. Scottie begins to grow obsessed with her and he eventually tries to groom her into a mirror image of Madeleine. Doing so helps begin what is a shocking climax perhaps resulting in a murder conspiracy.
This film is very much well-acted. James Stewart is one of Hollywood’s “Golden Age” stars and he delivers a magnificent performance. He made his fear of heights very believable and his growing obsession in the latter part of the film was incredible to watch, even though he was a treating a woman a way a man should never treat a woman-through compulsive obsession. He treated Judy like an object, and in a sense mirrors Hitchcock’s reality. Kim Novak delivered a convincing performance in her roles as Madeleine and Judy. She’s blond, icy, and often humiliated-very normal in a Hitchcock thriller. But without spoiling anything, Judy and Madeleine are two characters who are closely related and Novak was able to play both of the roles effectively.
Overall, Vertigo is a very strong Hitchcock thriller. It’s undeniably scary and creepy, with Hitchcock excels at making his films be. The beginning is very effectively scary, as we are introduced to Scottie’s vertigo. His obsession towards the women was also creepy, but at the same time, puts you to the edge of your seat making you wonder what will happen next. I won’t spoil anything, but the ending is a shocker and its something you won’t see coming thanks to the masterful direction of Hitchcock and wonderful, convincing performances from Stewart and Novak. The plot twists and turns when you least expect it, so be prepared to bring your mind to the film. You’ll need it.
My Grade: A-