Wednesday, 15 August 2012


"Scottie, do you believe that someone out of the past - someone dead - can enter and take possession of a living being?"

A Detective, John ‘Scottie’ Ferguson (James Stewart) is chasing down a criminal over the rooftops of San Francisco when he falls and is left hanging on a gutter. When a cop comes to his aid he falls, leaving the Detective racked with guilt and a new found fear of heights which brings on vertigo. After retiring from the police force he receives a call out of the blue from an old college friend (Tom Helmore) who asks Scottie to follow his wife who isn’t herself. Scottie follows the young woman, named Madeleine (Kim Novak) as she drives to strange places then claims to forget ever being there. There appears to be some sort of paranormal explanation to the proceedings as Madeleine keeps returning to the significant places in the life of a long dead relative of hers. Tragedy strikes at an old church which leaves Scottie facing questions about his own sanity. Slowly he must try to bring together the pieces of a puzzle which appears to be come from a box a few pieces short.

I recently read that Sight and Sound voted Vertigo as the greatest film ever. It was a combination of this fact and my recent discovery of Alfred Hitchcock’s films which drew me to this movie. Having now seen it I strongly disagree with Sight and Sound’s placing of Vertigo at number one but still believe it is a good, but not great film.

Vertigo was not what I expected it to be. I’m not sure what my expectations were exactly as I didn’t know the plot beforehand and only really knew about the ‘Vertigo Shot’ or Dolly Zoom. I suppose I just expected a film about a man with a fear of heights which seems a bit silly now I think about it. The paranormal aspect of the film surprised me somewhat and at times it left me feeling confused. I also found the opening hour to be a little dull in comparison to the small amount of Hitchcock’s cannon I have seen. The plot was a little intriguing and I did want to find out what was wrong with Kim Novak’s character but to be honest I was more interested in the relationship between James Stewart and Barbara Bel Geddes’ Midge Wood. I was hoping this dynamic would be explored in greater detail but ended up being pushed to the side in favour of the central plot.

The second half really livened up and I liked that the twist was revealed around two-thirds in. Even though the audience understood what was actually going on fairly early, there was still plenty of scope for surprise and reveals. I also enjoyed the direction that James Stewart’s character took following the twist. He plays both sides of his character extremely well and has an incredible voice which I can’t stop mimicking. Kim Novak is also excellent. One slight problem I had with their love affair was their obvious age difference. Although Stewart was a handsome and charming man, he was exactly double Novak’s age at the time of shooting and it really shows. They just didn’t quite click for me.

As I previously mentioned my only real knowledge of the film prior to today, other than that it was considered a classic, was the famous Dolly Zoom. The shot is used multiple times to great effect and really gets across Stewart’s acrophobia. A scene I really loved was the nightmare sequence. This was absolutely incredible! The use of colour, animation, sporadic minimalism and sound worked magically to create an eerie and jagged tenseness. It’s truly a superb scene. The score is something else that jumps out as being memorable. Composed by Bernard Herrmann, the man behind the likes of North by Northwest and Psycho’s iconic score, the music works perfectly in tangent with the visuals.

Overall there’s a lot to like about Vertigo and it’s definitely a film I’m glad I’ve seen but as for being the best film ever? It isn’t even the best film I’ve seen in the last month.     



  1. Nice review, This was a movie I have never heard of before until Universal released a THX remastered version of this. It is a story about obsession on how far are we willing to go for it. James Stewart's character can't move on from Kim Novack's Character. She consumes his waking life every day. SO much that he wants to turn another woman into looking like her. The age difference didn't bother me as much. I couldn't tell a difference in the age. The one between him and Midge I admit could have been wrapped up better, but the scene after she paints the picture basically seals what their relationship is and allways will be.

  2. I definitely liked it more than you, but I do not think it's the number 1 film ever. Hell, North by Northwest is the best Hitchcock film tome. Still I like this quite a bit and I think it is one that rewards multiple viewings.

  3. Agreed on the confusion, it was nothing like what I was expecting when I watched it for the first time a few years ago. Agree with 100YoM too, North by Northwest is the pinnacle of Hitch for me.

  4. North by Northwest and Rear Window are both in my queue and I'm looking forward to them both.