A boat has been destroyed, criminals are dead, and the key to this mystery lies with the only survivor and his twisted, convoluted story beginning with five career crooks in a seemingly random police lineup.
John "Scottie" Ferguson is a retired San Francisco police detective who suffers from acrophobia and Madeleine is the lady who leads him to high places. A wealthy shipbuilder who is an acquaintance from college days approaches Scottie and asks him to follow his beautiful wife, Madeleine. He fears she is going insane, maybe even contemplating suicide, because she believes she is possessed by a dead ancestor. Scottie is skeptical, but agrees after he sees the beautiful Madeleine. Written by
When Alfred Hitchcock's wife, Alma Reville, saw the film, she said that she liked it, except for one shot where Kim Novak walks towards the San Francisco Bay, which she felt made Novak look too large on the screen. For years afterward, when discussing this film, Hitchcock would insist that Alma hated this film. See more »
When Scottie and Madeleine are talking on the beach, there is a tree between them. Madeleine puts her left arm around the tree, but then, without her having moved, she has her back to the tree. See more »
"I know, I know. I have acrophobia, which gives me vertigo, and I get dizzy." (Scottie to Midge)
Although it was only modestly successful in theaters, time has been kind to VERTIGO and now many believe this is Hitchcock's masterpiece. Time was NOT kind to the original prints of the film, and in the mid-1990s Universal Studios put up one million dollars for a two-year restoration of the film. This is covered completely in a fairly fascinating 29-minute extra on the DVD, originally broadcast as an A&E special. The entire original film-making process is covered, the movie was first called "From Among The Dead", and includes current interviews with many principals, including Novak and Bel Geddes, plus the techniques used for the restoration. This special edition DVD should be a must-own for any fan of the film VERTIGO. The sound and picture are just fabulous for a film made in 1957.
My review, following, contains certain SPOILERS which are necessary for my summary. Please read no further if you have not seen the film. Watch the film first, you will not be disappointed.
The film starts with cops chasing a crook on SF rooftops, Scottie (James Stewart, 49) misses one roof, is hanging high from a gutter, cop returns to offer assistance, but instead falls to his death. This traumatic experience triggers the vertigo in Scottie, makes him unsuited for police work, he quits, and Midge (Barbara Bel Geddes) tells him only another emotional shock will bring him out of it. Midge, an artist, not so secretly wants Scottie, but while they are good friends, he just doesn't love her.
Old college friend, wealthy shipbuilding magnate, hires Scottie to follow his wife who had been acting strangely. He meets Madaleine (Kim Novak, 24) and follows her to find that she visits the grave of Carlotta, who died at 25 in 1857, also visits the portrait of Carlotta at the art museum, has "visions" of being in a Spanish mission, all indications are that the dead Carlotta is taking over Madaleine's mind. While following her, saving her from a jump into SF Bay, and keeping her from jumping into the Pacific, Scottie is falling in love with her, the first time he has had such feelings.
Scottie feels he needs to take Madeleine to the old mission 100 miles south of SF to free her of this possession, but instead she climbs up the mission bell tower, Scottie is unable to follow quickly enough, his vertigo holding him back, he hears a scream, sees what looks like Madeleine's body falling to the red tile roof below, dead. A quick inquest ruled it a suicide, the friend gets out of shipbuilding, travels, while Scottie tries to get over his great loss, his first ever love, includes a stay in a mental hospital.
Not too long after, Scottie sees a woman remarkably similar to Madeleine walking to her residence, a hotel, he follows her, knocks on the door, she is dressed differently, has different color hair, a different personality, speaks differently, and says she is Judy, from Kansas, has lived there 3 years, even shows Scottie her ID to prove it. But Scottie has not gotten over Madeleine, is obsessed with recreating her, asks Judy to dress like her, get her hair colored, all the while Judy just wishes Scottie would like her for who she is, not because she looks like someone else. But she gets completely back to the Madeleine look, same clothes, same hair color.
By now we have seen through Judy's flashback what is really going on. The wealthy husband had hired Judy to impersonate his wife, Madeleine, and had set up the incident at the mission so that he could shove the already dead wife off, Scottie would be the manipulated witness that she had climbed the stairs and jumped off, and after being paid off, Judy could resume her life. To her detriment, he also gave her the heirloom, Carlotta's necklace, and her wearing that is what got Scottie suspicious of the whole scheme. He catches on, brings Judy back to the mission, they climb to the bell, a nun approaches to see what is going on, Judy panics and falls to her death on the roof. Scottie no longer was in love with her, feeling lied to and manipulated, he has no emotion, but goes to the edge of the ledge and looks down, his vertigo gone. The emotional shock that Midge spoke of has cured him.
The story is a tragedy of two lives that only through misfortune become intertwined, Scottie's and Judy's. He is not young, now retired, and had never found true love. In Madeliene he thinks he found it, only to be shocked then disillusioned when the full truth came out. When Judy died, he was back where the film started. Maybe Midge was the one after all. Judy was very flawed, enough to participate in a murder plot and feel no apparent guilt over it. All she wanted was to be loved by Scottie, but a relationship built on fraud has no chance, especially since Scottie was an honest man.
James Stewart is known for his ability to play an "everyman" character, and is superb as Scottie. Kim Novak is a bigger mystery. She was not the first choice for the role, received it virtually by default, but after watching the movie it is hard to imagine anyone else playing the dual roles of Madeleine and Judy, she pulls it off so well. A big bonus is her commentary on the making-of extra, seeing her after all these years. She was only 24 when Vertigo was filmed, but she looked 40, a glamorous and beautiful 40. Actresses today who are 24 often still play teenagers. How things have changed in the movies!
70 of 109 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?