Vertigo (1958) Poster



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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.
First ever film to use computer graphics (Intro sequence done by Saul Bass)
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).
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.
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 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.
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.
The zoom out/track in shots were done with miniatures laid on their sides, since it was impossible to do them vertically.
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.
In a later interview Alfred Hitchcock said he believed Kim Novak was miscast and the wrong actress for the part.
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."
Kim Novak does not speak until more than a third into the movie.
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.
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.
Poorly received by U.S. critics on its release, this film is now hailed as Alfred Hitchcock's masterpiece.
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.
Bernard Herrmann's score is largely inspired by Richard Wagner's "Tristan und Isolde" which, like the film, is also about doomed love.
Audrey Hepburn expressed an interest in playing the dual roles of Judy and Madeleine.
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.
After additional location shoots at the Big Basin Redwoods State Park and the Spanish mission San Juan Bautista, the cast and crew settled in at Paramount Studios soundstages for two months of filming. In the studio, Alfred Hitchcock was in his element and could exert absolute control though he had his share of creative challenges. One very striking sequence is the kissing scene that occurs when Scottie has finally made Judy over as Madeleine. As the couple kiss, the background slowly swirls, and we lose equilibrium as we see Judy's apartment become the livery stables of San Juan Bautista, setting for an earlier emotional scene between Scottie and Madeleine. The shot was achieved with rear projection of the background plates; the camera tracking slowly back, then forward; and with James Stewart and Kim Novak revolving on a circular platform. A key visual here that often is missed is that, as the camera circles, the scene switches to the stable at the Mission (where they first fell in love), then back to the hotel room.These simultaneous movements were difficult to coordinate, and to pull off without the actors getting dizzy - in one take Stewart fell and was slightly injured. Also, the green lighting in the hotel room earlier, before Judy emerges from the bathroom is an indicator of Scotty's obsession and, when she emerges, she appears enveloped in it, like a ghost, drifting toward him. The ghost of his dream has returned. Principal photography was completed three days after this shot, just before Christmas, 1957.
Hitchcock thus described the film to François Truffaut: "To put it plainly, the man wants to go to bed with a woman who is dead."
The flower shop, Podesta Baldocchi, has been in business in San Francisco since 1871.
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.
In Hitchcock's cameo he is seen carrying what has been called a musical instrument case, but there is no musical instrument shaped like that. It is a case for a very high quality costume mask of the Doctor of the Plague, much more appropriate for the Master.
In 2012, Vertigo replaced Citizen Kane (1941) in the Sight & Sound critics' poll for the greatest film of all time.
The movie's poster was as #3 of "The 25 Best Movie Posters Ever" by Premiere.
Scottie's apartment actually exists, and it boasts the improbably stunning view of Coit Tower through its living room window, which looms over Scottie 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.
This film is often credited (blamed) for creating or popularizing the misconception that vertigo means a fear of heights. For the record, the proper name for that condition is "Acrophobia", whereas vertigo is "a sensation of whirling and loss of balance, associated particularly with looking down from a great height" (Oxford Dictionary).
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 consisted of a mix of cheesecake pictures and action/adventure stories by contemporary writers.
The word "vertigo" is only spoken once in the movie, towards the beginning by Scottie to Midge. After that it is never uttered again.
Alfred Hitchcock originally wanted Vera Miles to play Judy, but she became pregnant and was therefore unavailable.
Even though another trivia reference says 2nd unit cameraman Irmin Roberts invented the "contra-zoom", the effect is oddly similar and nearly identical to a zoom and vertigo shot seen in the 1954 movie "Hobson's Choice" where a drunk Henry Hobson is seen falling down a shaft into the basement of Freddy Beenstocks shop. Vertigo was released some 4 years later and other special effects elements in the movie oddly mirror what was seen in "Hobson's Choice."
Kim Novak already had a reputation for being difficult, so perhaps it was not a surprise when she refused to show up for work one day. She was striking for more money from her home studio Columbia, who was paying her $1,250 a week even though they were receiving $250,000 for her loan-out for Vertigo and one more picture. The ploy worked and Novak got a raise.
James Stewart was nearly 15 years older than Barbara Bel Geddes, although their characters were supposed to be the same age.
Ransohoff's of San Francisco was a famous and trendy high-end boutique. It closed in 1976.
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.
Many critics attributed the film's failure to James Stewart, who was considered miscast as the romantic lead, partly due to his age.
John Ferguson's apartment is located at the corner of Jones and Lombard, just one block east of the famed steep switchback block of Lombard Street.
On-location filming lasted 16 days.
The scene outside Elster's shipyard where Hitchcock makes his cameo appearance at approximately 11 minutes in, was actually the Paramount prop department gates.
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.
The original source material for the film was the French novel "D'entre Les Morts" and the action was set in Paris. Alfred Hitchcock changed the setting to San Francisco, a city well known for its unique topography and hilly landscape, in order to add a further torment to Scottie's life and emphasize the debilitating nature of his vertigo.
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.
Scottie's car is a light grey 1956 Desoto Firedome Sportsman Hardtop Coupe. This added to the following of Madeleine's grey suit. To add further to the dizzying effects of following, Scotty passes an identical grey DeSoto on his right while following Madeleine.Madeleine's is a green 1957 Jaguar Mk. VIII. Midge's is a gray 1956 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia Coupe.
When Scotty is tailing Madeleine driving around the city, the driving route is geographically correct. This is unlike most movies where routes driven are not accurate and may jump from one part of a city to another - like "Bullitt". So, it is possible to drive the exact route that is shown in the movie.
Ranked #1 on the American Film Institute's list of the 10 greatest films in the genre "Mystery" in June 2008.
Alfred Hitchcock originally wanted to cast Lana Turner in the lead role, but she "wanted too much loot" and was dropped from consideration.
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.
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.
The name "Madeleine" refers, of course, to Mary Magdalene, or Mary of Migdala. "Migdal "is Hebrew for "tower." "Madeleine" is the only name of the four main characters from the original French novel that was retained in the film. "Judy" was "Renée" in the book. So it is fascinating that Hitchcock did not keep the name. After all, Renée = re-née = reborn.
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.
Average Shot Length (ASL) = 6.7 seconds
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.
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.
The McKittrick hotel exterior shots were filmed at the abandoned Portman Mansion at 1007 Gough Street in San Francisco. It was demolished in 1959.
Voted #2 in Total Film's 100 Greatest Movies Of All Time list (November 2005).
The building exterior used for Madeleine's apartment building is located at 1000 Mason St., across the street from the Fairmont Hotel.
Scotty's house is located at the corner or Lombard and Jones streets. The exterior remained unchanged until about 2013, when the owners did an extensive remodel. They wanted to add a front wall to screen out the noise from the schoolyard across the street.
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The postproduction period in early 1958 was consumed with retakes, editing, and the creation of special effects shots involving models and matte paintings, particularly of the all-important bell tower.
Saul Bass designed the titles/poster for both "Anatomy" and "Vertigo" in 1958/1959. The image of the body is very similar in both.
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In 2007, the American Film Institute ranked this as the #9 Greatest Movie of All Time.
Kim Novak was borrowed from Columbia for the production, in exchange for a payment of $250,000 by Paramount to Columbia and the agreement that James Stewart would co-star with her in Bell Book and Candle (1958).
The brand of shoe that Scottie forces Judy to buy in Ransahoff's is Delman.
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Included among the American Film Institute's 1998 list of the Top 100 Greatest American Movies.
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Originally in the book on which Vertigo is based (D'entre Les Morts by Boileau and Narcejac), it is revealed that Judy and Madeleine are the same person. Hitchcock decided to change this and reveal it just after the introduction of the character of Judy in order to create a sense of suspense in the film, rather than a surprise at the end.
Kim Novak didn't have to screen-test for the film.
Bernard Herrmann wasn't able to conduct his score for the film. Muir Mathieson conducted Herrmann's score for this film. Because of this, the music score in this film lacks Bernard Herrmann's "personal sound" which he applied in every score he conducted.
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The heavy metal band Faith No More used this film as the basis for their music video of "Last Cup of Sorrow".
As with most Alfred Hitchcock movies, the filming went relatively smoothly. The director avoided surprises, preferring to have every detail planned out in advance. Extensive storyboarding of most sequences assured that his trusted production staff would know what was expected of them.
The Scottie and Midge characters supposedly went to college together but in real life James Stewart was 14 years older than Barbara Bel Geddes.
Was voted the 19th Greatest Film of all time by Entertainment Weekly.
Joseph Cotten, Lee J. Cobb and Everett Sloane was also under consideration for the role of Gavin Elster.
The characters played by Kim Novak and Barbara Bel Geddes never meet.
Included among the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die", edited by Steven Schneider.
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.
The film is included on Roger Ebert's "Great Movies" list.
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Hitchcock hired Maxwell Anderson to write the first draft of the screenplay titled "Darkling I Listen" but it was rejected by Hitchcock.
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In 2002, named by "Positif" (France) as one of the 50 best films of the last 50 years (critics' choice: #2, readers' choice: #4)
In 1989, Vertigo (1958) was added to the National Film Registry by the United States Library of Congress.
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When re-released to theaters in 1984, it was rated PG. But on home video releases, after the end credits, it says rated PG-13 by the MPAA despite having the PG rating at the back of the DVD/VHS.
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Background plates and second unit work had been done in San Francisco during production delays.
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In her hotel room, Judy shows Scottie a photograph of her father. He is standing in front of a store, holding an upright pitchfork in his hand. The image recalls the famous painting "American Gothic". On the window behind him, one can see that this was his hardware store. However, the image is cropped such that the actual words one sees are "Barton's War."
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Visa d'exploitation en France #21096
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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.

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 Madeleine, whose costumes were much more severe and stiff.
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).
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 of Gavin Elster being sought by the police was filmed at the demands of the American Production Code Administration, but ended up not being used.
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.
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.
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.
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.

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