Vertigo (1958) Poster



Jump to: Director Cameo (1) | Director Trademark (2) | Spoilers (6)
The film was unavailable for decades because its rights (together with four other pictures of the same period) were bought back by Alfred Hitchcock and left as part of his legacy to his daughter. They've been known for long as the infamous "Five Lost Hitchcocks" amongst film buffs, and were re-released in theatres around 1984 after a 30-year absence. The others are The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), Rear Window (1954), Rope (1948), and The Trouble with Harry (1955).
Uncredited second-unit cameraman Irmin Roberts invented the famous "zoom out and track in" shot (now sometimes called "contra-zoom" or "trombone shot") to convey the sense of vertigo to the audience. The view down the mission stairwell cost $19,000 for just a couple of seconds of screen time.
There is a 25 year age difference between James Stewart and Kim Novak, who were 49 and 24 respectively when the film was shot in 1957.
The Empire Hotel where James Stewart eventually finds Kim Novak is (as of 2009) the Hotel Vertigo (formerly the York) located at 940 Sutter St. in the heart of San Francisco. Novak's character lived in Room 501, which still retains many of its aspects captured in the film.
Kim Novak has told interviewers that while in her "Judy" costumes, she did not wear a bra (bralessness was extremely unusual for a woman of that time). Novak has said that it was an element of the Judy costuming that helped her feel much more comfortable as Judy than as Madeline, whose costumes were much more severe and stiff.
Alfred Hitchcock was embittered at the critical and commercial failure of the film in 1958. He blamed this on James Stewart for "looking too old" to attract audiences any more. Hitchcock never worked with Stewart, previously one of his favorite collaborators, again.
In a later interview Alfred Hitchcock said he believed Kim Novak was miscast and the wrong actress for the part.
Kim Novak does not speak until more than a third into the movie.
Audrey Hepburn expressed an interest in playing the dual roles of Judy and Madeleine.
Alfred Hitchcock reportedly spent a week filming a brief scene where Madeleine stares at a portrait in the Palace of the Legion of Honor just to get the lighting right.
The zoom out/track in shots were done with miniatures laid on their sides, since it was impossible to do them vertically.
Bernard Herrmann's score is largely inspired by Richard Wagner's "Tristan und Isolde" which, like the film, is also about doomed love.
Scotty's apartment actually exists, and it boasts the improbably stunning view of Coit Tower through its living room window, which looms over Scotty and Madeleine in the apartment scenes. True aficionados can find it (near Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco) by positioning themselves in the same relation to the tower that is seen through the window.
Alfred Hitchcock had originally wanted to use his now-famous Vertigo zoom in Rebecca (1940), but due to lack of technology at that time he couldn't do it. The technique was inspired by a time when Hitchcock had fainted during a party.
When Kim Novak questioned Alfred Hitchcock about her motivation in a particular scene, the director is said to have answered, "Let's not probe too deeply into these matters, Kim. It's only a movie."
The flower shop, Podesta Baldocchi, has been in business in San Francisco since 1871.
In 2012, Vertigo replaced Citizen Kane (1941) in the Sight & Sound critics' poll as the greatest film of all time.
Midge's remarks about the "cantilevered" brassiere designed by an aircraft engineer are a reference to the story that Howard Hughes had an engineer invent a new type of underwired bra for Jane Russell.
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.
While Madeleine recovers in Scottie's apartment from her fall into the bay, he waits on his sofa. Seen on his coffee table is a copy of the 1950s pulp men's periodical "Swank", which much later would develop into an extreme hardcore pornographic magazine. At the time, it would have consisted of a mix of cheesecake pictures and action/adventure stories by contemporary writers.
Poorly received by U.S. critics on its release, this film is now hailed as Alfred Hitchcock's masterpiece.
The film is based upon the novel "D'Entre les Morts" (From Among the Dead) which was written specifically for Alfred Hitchcock by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac after they heard that he had tried to buy the rights to their previous novel "Celle qui n'était plus" (She Who Was No More), which had been filmed as Diabolique (1955).
The word "vertigo" is only spoken once in the movie, towards the beginning by Scottie to Midge. After that it is never uttered again.
Costume designer Edith Head and director Alfred Hitchcock worked together to give Madeleine's clothing an eerie appearance. Her trademark grey suit was chosen for its colour because they thought it seemed odd for a blonde woman to be wearing all grey. Also, they added the black scarf to her white coat because of the odd contrast.
San Juan Batista, the Spanish mission which features in key scenes in the movie doesn't actually have a bell tower - it was added with trick photography. The mission originally had a steeple but it was demolished following a fire.
Average Shot Length (ASL) = 6.7 seconds
The movie's poster was as #3 of "The 25 Best Movie Posters Ever" by Premiere.
The screenplay is credited to Alec Coppel and Samuel A. Taylor, but Coppel didn't write a word of the final draft. He is credited for contractual reasons only. Taylor read neither Coppel's script nor the original novel; he worked solely from Alfred Hitchcock's outline of the story.
Kim Novak hated wearing the important gray suit because it felt confining. However, she learned to make it work for her, as she saw it a symbol of Madeleine's character.
Alfred Hitchcock originally wanted Vera Miles to play Judy, but she became pregnant and was therefore unavailable.
Scottie's car is a white 1956 Desoto Firedome Sportsman Hardtop Coupe. Madeleine's is a green 1957 Jaguar Mk. VIII. Midge's is a gray 1956 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia Coupe.
Many critics attributed the film's failure to James Stewart, who was considered miscast as the romantic lead, partly due to his age.
Ransohoff's of San Francisco was a famous and trendy high-end boutique. It closed in 1976.
A theme song titled "Vertigo" by Livingston and Evans (Jay Livingston and Ray Evans) was recorded by Billy Eckstine, and was reportedly used for promotional purposes, but was not included in the film's final cut. Word has it that Alfred Hitchcock didn't feel it was appropriate.
Alfred Hitchcock had originally opted for another location for the famous staircase sequence, but associate producer Herbert Coleman's daughter (Judy Lanini) suggested the Mission at San Juan Bautista (the location that was eventually used) as a more suitable location for filming.
John Ferguson's apartment is located at the corner of Jones and Lombard, just one block west of the famed steep switchback block of Lombard Street.
The scene outside Elster's shipyard where Hitchcock makes his cameo appearance at approximately 11 minutes in, was actually the Paramount prop department gates.
The building exterior used for Madeleine's apartment building is located at 1000 Mason St., across the street from the Fairmont Hotel.
On-location filming lasted 16 days.
The original novel on which this movie is based by Boileau and Narcejac is called in french "D'entre Les Morts" (From Among The Dead). It is a play on Luke's Gospel Chapter 24 verse 5, spoken by the Man, or Gardener, after the Resurrection: "Who comes to seek the living amongst the dead?". This is said to, amongst others, Mary Magdalene whose name is nowadays used as Madeleine, the name of the protagonist in novel and film.
When this movie opened at San Francisco's legendary Castro Theater during its restored re-release in October of 1997 (only a few months after the death of star James Stewart), it did more business there than any other theater in the US that weekend.
Scottie wears suits of four separate colors in the film: blue, blue-gray, gray, and brown. This is a collection that would be considered typical for a professional bachelor of the era.
Ranked #1 on the American Film Institute's list of the 10 greatest films in the genre "Mystery" in June 2008.
James Stewart was nearly 15 years older than Barbara Bel Geddes, although their characters were supposed to be the same age.
Voted #2 in Total Film's 100 Greatest Movies Of All Time list (November 2005).
Was voted the 19th Greatest Film of all time by Entertainment Weekly.
John Ferren, the artist for the "Nightmare Sequence" design, also painted the pivotal "Portrait of Carlotta" that transfixes the main characters of the film. Production Designer Henry Bumstead did the joke one of Carlotta with Midge's head. Ferren also did a portrait of Vera Miles when she was to play the Kim Novak role.
In 2007, the American Film Institute ranked this as the #9 Greatest Movie of All Time.
Hitchcock hired Maxwell Anderson to write the first draft of the screenplay titled "Darkling I Listen" but it was rejected by Hitchcock.
In 2002, named by "Positif" (France) as one of the 50 best films of the last 50 years (critics' choice: #2, readers' choice: #4)
For the German market, the film was dubbed three times. For the original theatrical release in 1959 (by Paramount), for the re-release in 1984 (by Universal) and again in 1999 for the restoration (again by Universal). Only the 1999 version has been used on home video releases.
Both the interiors and exteriors of "Ernie's" restaurant were filmed on sets, although the restaurant was a San Francisco landmark which closed its doors in 1999.
Visa d'exploitation en France #21096

Director Cameo 

Alfred Hitchcock:  Wearing a gray suit walking past Gavin Elster's shipyard, carrying a musical instrument case.

Director Trademark 

Alfred Hitchcock:  [hair]  Carlotta and Madeline have spiral hairstyles, and Judy's hair colour is significant.
Alfred Hitchcock:  [bathroom]  Madeline emerges from the bathroom, ready for lovemaking.


The trivia items below may give away important plot points.

The only one of Alfred Hitchcock's films in which the killer is not punished. An ending in which Scottie and Midge hear news over the radio that Gavin Elster was caught was tacked on for European distribution.
The lighting changes when important events occur. For instance:
  • When Scotty first sees Madeleine in Ernie's restaurant, the light around her becomes unnaturally bright for a moment.

  • While Scotty is listening to the story of Madeleine's ancestor in the book shop, it gets very dark; once he exits the store, it brightens again.

  • When Scotty first sees Judy made up completely as Madeleine, she is lit by a blurred, ghostly green light (the reflected light from the neon sign outside the window).

Numerous uses of repetition and reflection throughout, including:
  • The mirror on the way out of Ernie's restaurant; Scotty sees Madeleine reflected in it right after he has seen her for the first time.

  • The numerous reflections and repetitions of Madeleine throughout, including at least two women whom Scotty mistakes for her.

  • The metaphorical or dream mirrors that Madeleine describes as lining the corridor of her life.

  • Midge paints herself into the portrait of Madeleine's ancestor, and, in one shot, sits next to the self-portrait, as if doubled.

  • After showing Scotty the portrait, Midge sees herself reflected in the glass of the window.

  • Judy as Madeleine's reflection.

  • Madeleine as repetition or reflection of her ancestor.

  • Scotty repeating his former life.

  • Judy falls from the tower to her death the same way Madeleine did

  • There is a motif of spirals in the film, as literal shapes in the opening credits, and as the more abstract shape of the movie's plot, as well as the shape of the pivotal tower staircase.

The words "power" and "freedom" are repeated three times in the movie. 1. At the beginning Madeleine's husband longs for the old San Francisco because there was more power and freedom. 2. At the Argosy bookstore, Pop Leibel explains that in Carlotta's time a man could just throw a woman away because he had more power and freedom. 3. During the climax of the movie, John suggests that after the murder was completed, Gavin left Judy because he had more power and freedom.
Alfred Hitchcock switched Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac's story from Paris to San Francisco and changed their ending, in which the enraged hero strangles the mystery woman upon discovering her trickery.
It was rumored - and even written in Alfred Hitchcock's script notes - that Kim Novak dubbed the last line of the film, which was delivered by the nun. However, she denied this in an interview.

See also

Goofs | Crazy Credits | Quotes | Alternate Versions | Connections | Soundtracks

Contribute to This Page