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, he believes she is possessed by a dead ancestor. Scottie is skeptical, but agrees after he sees the beautiful Madeleine.Written by
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. See more »
Both times the main characters drive to the old mission, the wide shots show them driving on the right side of the road. However, all shots inside the car show them driving on the left side of the road. This is because the US 101 - where filming took place - near San Juan Bautista is split, with two lanes in each direction, by a grove of Eucalyptus trees. The film shows only one of the road's directions, giving the appearance that Scottie and Madeleine are driving on the wrong side of the road. See more »
John "Scottie" Ferguson (Jimmy Stewart, never better) is a retired detective with a severe fear of heights after a botched chase to capture a criminal. Due to his newly acquired acrophobia, he retires and wanders around the beautiful streets of San Francisco. Out of the blue, an old college friend Gavin Elster asks him to follow his wife Madeleine, as he believes that Madeleine may be possessed by the spirit of her great-grandmother, drifting in and out of reality and into trance-like states of mind. So Scottie agrees to follow the mysterious blonde (Kim Novak) as Hitchock guides us throughout San Francisco and into his strange and dark mind. Little by little, Scottie begins to become infatuated with Madeleine, and after he saves her from suicide (she jumped into San Francisco Bay) and decides to help her, he falls madly in love with her. In finding pieces of the puzzle to Madeleine's mystery, their journey takes them to the San Juan Bautista where Madeleine meets her end by tumbling off the bell tower, presumably by suicide. Scottie tried to save his love but his fear of heights stopped him. For the next year Scottie falls into a deep depression, feeling guilty for his impotency to save his love. His depression is halted when he sees Judy Barton (Novak again). Judy isn't like Madeleine--she's plain, in touch with reality and even vulgar when compared. But her face looks so much like Madeleine. Scottie begins to court Judy first for herself but eventually he tries to mold her into the beauty he lost prematurely, unaware that Judy has a big secret up her sleeve.
When it was first released, Vertigo didn't get good reviews and it didn't make money at the box office. People didn't understand the bizarre dream sequences that were so ahead of their time, they didn't feel sympathy for the characters (at the end, even Scottie is unlikable), and the BIG TWIST is given away in the middle of the movie instead of at the end, a la Psycho. Even I had my complaints about that last one, yet after a second viewing I realized that this movie wasn't even about what really happened to what really happened to Madeleine; it's about men's psychological--and sexual--desire for the perfect woman, even if she's out of touch with reality. This movie is considered Hitchcock's most personal film, as he could be domineering with his actresses, trying to mold them into his own dream. After the "failure" of Vertigo, Hitchcock never worked with Jimmy Stewart again, unfairly blaming him for not being able to draw a crowd on account of his age. Luckily for everyone, Vertigo has gotten better with age and is no longer forgotten. In the late 80s Vertigo started popping up on Top 10 Films of All Time lists, and today it's considered Hitchock's best film, and most definitely one of the best ever made.
The biggest reason for Vertigo's late success is because it is Hitchcock's most analyzed film and because it works on a psychological level; The film points out that men would rather have an unavailable, beautiful woman who is out of touch with reality than a woman who understands her surroundings and is utterly available. This is pointed out twice, once with Midge, an ex-fiancée and good friend of Scottie and later with Judy, who tries to make Scottie love her for who she is and not because she reminds Scottie of Madeleine. The first hour is drawn out very slowly, and while it's not as fast-paced as other Hitchcock's films, he uses it wisely. He starts by first gaining--later testing--our sympathy for Scottie; when he's hanging for his dear life in the opening scene, we pray for him (even though we know that there would be no movie if Jimmy Stewart dies in the first 3 minutes). When he's chasing Madeleine up the bell tower, we hope that he can get there in time and kiss his lover. And when the romance turns dark in the second outing to the bell tower, you feel just as caught in the middle as Scottie does in that moment. Hitchcock blurred the lines between victim and villain, and he earns our creative respect for him.
The key element to why Vertigo works so well in the end is because of the actors. It's practically impossible to think of anyone other than James Stewart, who embodied the everyman, and for that reason is so convincing in testing our sympathies. It's all in the minimalistic ways he does it, with the slightest crinkle in the forehead or the movement in the eyes doing evoking more emotion than most actors do screaming and crying. This is his best performance next to Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. And Kim Novak is ravishing and haunting both as Madeleine and Judy, utterly convincing in both roles. With my respects to Grace Kelly, Novak just may be the most mysterious and convincing Hitchcock blonde to grace the screen. Their chemistry together, despite their age difference is explosive and natural.
Buy--don't rent--this DVD and you'll find yourself falling for every detail of this brilliant film.
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