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Vertigo has all the makings of a masterpiece except one: a compelling story. The twist is blatantly obvious twenty minutes into the film, and the romance of the film falls completely flat, so to speak. Ultimately, for all of Hitchcock's vibrant colors, striking camera angles, and the thrilling dream sequence, we simply do not care whether the characters live or die. Overall, a very disappointing film, but worth watching nevertheless for fans of Hitchcock's work. Vertigo is a remarkable instance of the whole being less than the sum of its parts.
I first saw this film in the mid-'80's and again recently. The words which come immediately to mind to describe it are "tedious" and "pointless", words one does not normally associate with Hitchcock. "Overrated" does not even come close. Perhaps someone will produce a restored version of Vertigo , with an extra hour or two of San Francisco street scenes. Vertigo is already more like a travelogue than a narrative.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The score, the post-transformation kiss, the ending. I've seen Vertigo
six times now and it still thrills me.
James Stewart is just plain brilliant as Scotty. He starts off as a light-hearted, good natured guy and becomes very manipulative, very single-minded, very scary, very un-Stewart-like. And yet, even as he's leading the woman he thought he was in love with up the stairs in an emotionally manic frenzy, Scotty's still a completely sympathetic character. He's manhandling Judy, screaming at her, and at that moment you can really *feel* that his heart has been ripped from chest. You don't want Judy to come to harm, but you can't begrudge Scotty his rage either. Whatever happens, you know there can be no happy ending. And as Scotty stands in the bell tower looking down at his lover's corpse for the second time, you and he are utterly crushed. Now *that's* cinema.
In a year when there has been some odd films , films that are not easy to explain ( Shutter Island , Black Swan , Inception etc..) , i thought i was on safe ground watching a good old fashioned Alfred Hitchcock thriller but little did i know this is just as unexplainable as any of those films i have named . Vertigo is sometimes called " Hitchcock's masterpiece" but i don't see it. This is a long ponderous movie that makes very little sense and treats the viewer with contempt. Jimmy Stewart is watchable but his character is not very believable and the relationship with Kim Novak is confusing and annoying. I much prefer Rear Window or Psycho to this movie and to be perfectly honest i couldn't wait for it to finish.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I have been a die-hard fan of "Vertigo" for over 10 years, having seen
it over again and again, but up until now I could not put into words
about how I felt about the film until now. And so here I go, pulling
you the reader of this review into a story of obsessive love and
As the film opens, we see Detective "Scottie" Ferguson (James Stewart), in pursuit of a criminal with a fellow officer. As he tries to jump across a roof, he slips and falls, hanging on for dear life. The fellow officer, in an attempt to help him, falls to his death. It seems that he has acrophobia, which causes his vertigo and forces him to retire from the force, feeling guilt about the officer's death. Sometime later, while visiting with his former girlfriend Midge (Barbara Bel Geddes), Scottie tells her about Galvin Elster (Tom Helmore), a former college friend that needs his help. It seems that Elster's wife Madeleine (Kim Novak)is acting a bit strange: she goes into trances and disappears for hours without being able to account to her whereabouts. Scottie at first doesn't want anything to do with this. One look at Madeleine however changes his mind. From the moment he lays his eyes on her, he's hooked.
While tailing her, he finds that she is obsessed with an ancestor of hers: an ancestor that went mad and killed herself. Scottie manages to save her from such an attempt (She tries to drown herself in the San Francisco Bay). He starts to fall for her HARD.
During an attempt to help her at the San Juan Batista Mission, Madeleine runs from Scottie and up the tower. Scottie, unable to continue up the tower because of his acrophobia, can only watch in horror as Madeleine falls to her death. The death of the woman that he had fallen in love with is more than he can bear and it drives him to a nervous breakdown.
Sometime later, Scottie, still haunted by Madeleine (And visiting some of her haunts)sees Judy Barton (Novak again), who looks remarkably like Madeleine. Scottie soon becomes obsessed with turning Judy into Madeleine (Even having her sit by the fire the way Madeleine did). Scottie is so desperate to reclaim the love he had for Madeleine that he is oblivious to the deceptions that have been surrounding him: He is truly falling in love with an illusion.
All the parts of the film work wonderfully, from Saul Bass' opening titles to Bernard Herrmann's incredibly haunting music. But it is Stewart and Novak that bring the film it's life. When Scottie looks at Judy emerge out of the bathroom as his lost Madeleine, the green light makes her look as if she is truly a ghost, returning from the dead to once again love Scottie.
If you have never seen this film, then you are missing one of Alfred Hitchcock's classic films. This is truly a classic film and a must have in your collection. You will absolutely fall in love with the film.
I'm not sure I'd say this is Hitchcock's finest film (personally there
are so many masterpieces he made - Psycho, Rear Window, Shadow of a
Doubt, Strangers on a Train, The 39 Steps, The Lady Vanishes, The Man
Who Knew Too Much, etc. that it's hard to choose) but it is definitely
ONE of his finest films.
A twisting thriller that opens with a bang and follows the physical and psychological journey of an ex-cop (James Stewart) who has a fear of heights and an obsession with a mysterious woman (Kim Novak) that leads to a chilling finale.
As a filmmaker I find this extremely inspiring and along with the work of Scorsese, Kubrick, Cameron, et al, this is one of the films that EVERY filmmaker points to at one time or another. Hitchcock practically reinvented cinema techniques with this. Some of them (such as the lens effects) are outdated and could be altered more drastically nowadays but that is irrelevant - it still holds up despite its dated quality and that's what matters. The film is rooted in story and the style comes afterwards.
A brilliant motion picture that captures the essence of cinema and why I love to go to the movies.
My father took me to see Vertigo and I instantly LOVED this classic. It
influenced me to settle in San Francisco, as it is indisputably the
ultimate San Francisco movie, with Bullitt a very respectable second. I
have personally visited almost every real location depicted in the
movie, and I love to give my out of town visitors the Vertigo tour of
the places that still exist. Vertigo is a great tour of some of the
many beautiful spots in and around SF.
I love Alfred Hitchcock films and though Rear Window is my favorite, I think Vertigo is his best and perhaps most personal. From the opening titles and wonderful Bernard Hermann music soundtrack to the haunting conclusion, Vertigo is a visually lush and grandly entertaining example of masterful storytelling. I cannot articulate enough how great this film is and do it justice in 1000 words. The viewer is drawn in voyeuristically with the Jimmy Stewart character as he feels the tension of escalating obsession and the just-out-of-reach frustration with an unobtainable illusion. The use of music is one of the best ever in film as it reflects the inward emotion perfectly. You can hear what Jimmy Stewart is feeling. First there is curiosity, then rising tension, rising hope, and then release and resolution. Vertigo has one of my favorite film shots in it too (possibly the first time it was ever used), the zoom-in-while-backward- tracking shot, later seen in films like Jaws. Oh! And Vertigo has one of the greatest on-screen kisses of all time too, so very passionate (and I think shot on a turntable). The way Alfred Hitchcock was able to imply such sexuality in Vertigo without showing even nudity, I think, made the situations even more sexually charged, as what one imagines is far better.
This is a film that earns a rare but well deserved 10/10 in my book.
While pursuing a criminal on the roofs of the buildings in San
Francisco, Detective John "Scottie" Ferguson (James Stewart) has a
severe trauma when his partner falls off the roof trying to save him.
He suffers from acrofobia and is retired from the police force, since
his fear of heights provokes vertigo on him. He is contacted by the
former mate from college Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore), who runs the
shipyard of his wife Madeleine Elster (Kim Novak), and Gavin asks him
to follow his wife. Gavin explains that she has an odd behavior and
seems to be possessed by the spirit of Carlotta Valdes, having blanks
of memory every now and then and presenting suicidal tendencies. The
skeptical Scottie follows the beautiful blonde on the next morning: she
buys some flowers and is drawn to places from the past related to
Carlotta Valdes, visiting her grave in an ancient cemetery; staring her
portrait for a long time in a museum; and finally moving to the Hotel
McKittrick where Carlotta lived. In the end of the day, Scottie reports
his findings to Gavin. When Madeleine jumps in the water of San
Francisco Bay, Scottie rescues her and brings her home. He has a crush
on her and they fall in love for each other. When they go together to a
mission outside San Francisco, Madeleine runs to the bell tower of the
church and the disabled Scottie is unable to reach her; she jumps off
the tower, committing suicide. There is a trial and the traumatized
Scottie is interned with a breakdown. When he is discharged from the
hospital, he meets the brunet seller Judy Barton by chance and her
resemblance with Madeleine is amazing. Scottie approaches to Judy and
expect to have a second chance in love until he sees a souvenir of a
"Vertigo" is a masterpiece of obsession of Alfred Hitchcock. The timeless complex story is perfect and full of suspense and psychological and sexual tensions. Kim Novak is extremely sexy and has an extraordinary performance in her double role and James Stewart is awesome as usual performing a charismatic character that becomes obsessed when he sees Judy. Barbara Bel Geddes performs an important support character that helps to develop James Stewart's character. The open conclusion is also excellent and the music score is also spectacular and gives a suspenseful touch of class to this film. This time, the cameo of Alfred Hitchcock is walking in front of the entrance of the shipyard carrying what seems to be a musical instrument. My vote is ten.
Title (Brazil): "Um Corpo que Cai" ("A Body that Falls")
Just saw the "restored" version of "Vertigo" on video. Had never seen
the movie before. First half was exceedingly dull as Jimmy the sleuth
followed Kim on her aimless journeys. The pace and excitement picked up
steam when Kim seemingly threw herself out of the missionary bell
tower. But as the mystery unfolded, the plot and especially the ending
scene where Kim falls again become so far fetched as to leave the
viewer feeling like they had just experienced two HUGELY wasted hours.
And Jimmy falling in love with Kim shortly after meeting her is both
unethical and unbelievable. Afterall, he was hired by HER husband to
follow her. And then he wastes no time making out with her and becoming
obsessed with her after only a few short days. Totally UNREAL,
especially for Jimmy who, as a star, is traditionally a thoroughly
The restoration effort turned out a beautiful product, full of color and clarity, and the movie serves as a wonderful historic insight into 1958 San Francisco, but other than that, this movie has to be one of Alfred's worst. Entertainment value is ZERO.
OK...After reading some glowing reviews from other commentors, I just had to add a few more criticisms.
Firstly, the scene where Jimmy falls off the step stool into Barb's arms is so MELODRAMATIC, namely Jimmy's facial expression, that it was laughable. Alfred should have seen how UNREAL and overdone Jimmy's expression was and changed it. I didn't buy it for a second.
Secondly, though I like Jimmy Stewart, I found him unlikeable in this part. I cannot get past his UNETHICAL, UNPROFESSIONAL involvement with his friend's wife whom he has been PAID to follow. It's INEXCUSEABLE! And I'm a liberal minded person.
Thirdly, Jimmy looked at least 25 years older than Kim. I find older men lusting after the young and beautiful to be both unsavory and undignified.
Fourthly, Jimmy, though he's certainly old enough to be wise and experienced, was playing a stupid character who makes a lot of stupid mistakes. Kim, on the other hand, is practically a lifeless prop and a mere backdrop for Jimmy's inherent stupidity.
Final assessment - There are no likable characters in this movie. The real Kim comes across as pathetic in her need to feel love at any cost and Jimmy is downright unlikeable. He's just dumb. Thus, no real sympathy is created for either character.
My question becomes: HOW did any respectable and professional movie reviewer such as Ebert miss all this????
Jimmy Stewart transcends his form of Rear Window here, and needs to.
Vertigo is an elusive love story and the character of Scotty shuttles
more actively, yet more subtly between the gravitation of his desire
for Kim Novak's Madeleine and the peaceful stasis of his retirement.
The chief conspirator in the mystery and power of the film is the
music. Bernard Hermann's score is a paradigm of the filmscore rendered
in post-Tristan hoch-romanticism, rich in both power AND nuance. Where
the simplest passages of expositional action would require a low
profile underscore the music has an agenda already looking ahead to the
power and vertiginous confusion of the film's intent. Watch the flower
shop sequence again; it's got it all, visual dialogue, cunning use of
foreshortened shots and mirrors and overwhelming colour both visually
and sonically. And in a relatively minor sequence.
So Hitchcock is employing all his favourite devices and to great effect. Symbolism is no passenger either. The symbol that is impossible to miss throughout is that of colour. A 1996 analytic essay (by Jim Emerson, available online) outlines these in great detail, from the greens of passion and reds of warning to the subsiduary colours for guilt (blue/grey) and peace or comfort (yellow/beige). I was reminded of British colourist Howard Hodgkin's canvas Lovers (1992), an Apollonian/Dionysian tsunami of red and green as iridescent as the Technicolour tints and filters used in the film.
So the film is about the doppelganger tension inside a character - the wrenching of his alternates. Should Scotty abandon his rocking chair and sunset retirement in search of not only Madeleine but whatever it is that makes him pursue her (a sort of meta-lust)? When he does, which we all want him to do, will he be able to bring it back around and make sense of it all for us? Well, just when we think he has, Hitchcock blows the cosy moral cadence apart again. The film is as daring in its ending as in its conception and execution and is surely a touchstone of great cinema - great art - as a result. 9/10
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