Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 mystery thriller “Vertigo” has it all-fears, romance, lies, twists, obsession, and temptations. I’ve watched it for the first time, as part of its 60th Anniversary, and I was amazed at the directions it takes.
James Stewart plays John “Scottie” Ferguson, a retired San Francisco detective, who suffers from acrophobia, which gives him vertigo. He’s given up the force, after a police chase that resulted him in hanging off a building and the death of a police officer.
Then one day, an old friend of his, Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore), asks him to follow his wife Madeleine (Kim Novak), who may be in danger. While following her, Scottie learns about a dead woman by the name of Carlotta, who is Madeleine’s great grandmother, and it’s conceivable that she has taken possession of her.
Scottie and Madeleine finally meet, when she jumps in the San Francisco Bay, but she can’t remember where she’s been or who her great grandmother is. And in spite of all this and what is yet to come, they fall in love. But is she who she seems?
There’s also his ex-fiancee and friend Midge (Barbara Bel Geddes), who ponders about his behavior, in regards to his secret mission. She shows sympathy for his acrophobia.
“Vertigo,” based on the novel “The Living and the Dead,” is one of Alfred Hitchcock’s magic gems. Mainly because of the questions and obsessions that spark the main character’s ambitions, and places him in real danger.
Stewart has passion as a man suffering from acrophobia, and obsessing about the woman he needs to protect. Novak shines as the woman, who may or may not be what she seems, depending on the outcomes. And as small as their roles are, Helmore and Bel Geddes both keep Stewart in check.
It also has a profound choice of vision. The way the characters fall to their deaths, the way Novak sits in front her window with green neon lights, the nightmares Stewart has with his face changing colors, and the ways he looks down. You won’t forget these images, and neither will I.
It’s also chilling. Bernard Hermann’s score haunts you, and the editing and cinematography paints the mystery with such style and charisma. You’re kept at the edge of your seat.
And for those of you who have yet to see “Vertigo,” which is why I can’t say more about the story, you’ll be shocked.
Playing in Select Locations at 2pm and 7pm on 3/18 and 3/21