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So as you know, I stopped writing lengthy reviews on this site this year, keeping the blog as more of a film diary of sorts.  Lo and behold,...

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Hitchcock Month - Vertigo

Vertigo (1958)
Starring Jimmy Stewart, Kim Novak, Barbara Bel Geddes, and Tom Helmore
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

It has probably been over a decade since I last gave Vertigo a chance.  I remember thinking that I didn't understand in the slightest where the love for this film was, and I definitely fell into the camp that found it overrated.  Cut to ten years later, and I'm quite happy that I gave this film another look.  I don't know why (although I'm going to chalk it up to a more sophisticated film palette), but I found Vertigo quite an intriguing film that manages to have some great performances from its two leads and some intriguing direction from the Master of Suspense. 

Scotty Ferguson (James Stewart) is a policeman who, after witnessing a fellow officer plummet several stories to his death while trying to save Scotty himself, develops a severe case of agoraphobia (the fear of heights).  Scotty takes an early retirement and is soon hired as a private detective by a former college schoolmate of his, Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore).  Worried that there is something psychologically wrong with his wife, Elster wants Scotty to make sure she causes herself no harm.  While trailing the lovely Madeleine (Kim Novak) around San Francisco, Scotty begins to realize that Madeleine is slowly going insane as she seems to believe that her fate will end up similar to that of one of her ancestors who committed suicide.  I hesitate to reveal any more plot, so I'll stop here.  Needless to say, there's romance and thrills along the way, and as is the case in most Hitchcock films, people are not always as they outwardly seem.

I think what bothered me most before when watching Vertigo is that it perhaps seems a little pretentious.  To me, this is possibly the most "adult" film Hitchcock helmed -- it's suprisingly intelligent in its portrayal of its two main characters.  There's very little room for humor and everyone onscreen is tortured in their own ways.  No one's the least bit happy and perhaps that's why I always looked down on it.  I don't know what it says about me now since I like the film, but I guess I'm relating to these tortured souls on a better level.

Oddly enough, there's not a whole lot of story here, and the one fault of the film is that there are moments here or there where you kind of want to scream, "Get on with it already!"  Still, it's the pacing that really shows a master at work.  The deliberate pacing allows the audience to slowly see the paranoia building up in both Scotty and Madeleine.  By the end, we in the audience are certainly uncomfortable watching what is unfolding before our eyes and I'm not sure that would have been possible if the film didn't slowly build to that point.

There's some beautiful and clever camera work from Hitch and it's obvious that Hitch was in his Golden Era ('58's Vertigo, 59's North by Northwest, and '60's Psycho).  From the exciting police chase opening that starts Scotty on his downward spiral to a trippy Salvador Dali-esque dream sequence (a concept that works much better here than in Hitch's earlier Spellbound), Hitch knows how to create great moments in his films.  Everything across the board is top notch here from the exquisite lighting to the haunting score by Hitch's longtime collaborator Bernard Herrmann.

And I can't forget to discuss the two leads -- Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak.  I'd venture to say that this is one of Stewart's finest roles.  While I'd still say he's charming here (at least in the opening scenes), Stewart is really an incredibly damaged guy in Vertigo for reasons that I really don't want to reveal in case anyone hasn't seen the film.  Love can mess with a guy's mind and Stewart's mind is certainly messed with.  And Kim Novak is looked upon as the quintessential Hitchcock blonde because of this flick, and while she may be sexy and alluring, she's quite an actress, too.  Hers is a difficult role to play (once again, I'm staying vague to avoid spoilers) and I thought she tackled it quite well.  [Hitch, on the other hand, appeared to have a different opinion, saying in a later interview of Novak, "You think you're getting a lot, but you're not."]

If, like me, you haven't given Vertigo a chance in a while, I'd certainly pop in the dvd another time and test it out.  You may be pleasantly surprised.  I know I was.

The RyMickey Rating:  A-

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