Vertigo (1958) starring James Stewart & Kim Novak

Hitch was quite upset at he failure of the film when it was first released; he blamed this on James Stewart for “looking too old” (nearly 50 y.o.) to attract large audiences. Bernard Herrmann’s musical score was inspired by Wagner’s Tristan & Isolde which is also about doomed love. This film was the first to use computer graphics. The second-unit cameraman (most likely) invented the famous zoom/out and track/in shot to convey the sense of vertigo to the audience. 

Let’s not probe too deeply into these matters, Kim. It’s only a movie. -Director Alfred Hitchcock explained to actress Kim Novak (when she asked for more info on her character’s motivation during a scene)

John “Scottie” Ferguson (Stewart) is a middle-aged/retired/detective who suffers from acrophobia. He is a bachelor who is still good friends w/ his former fiance, Midge Wood (Barbara Bel Geddes), who works in fashion merchandising (being an artist). An old friend from college, Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore), calls Scottie to his office (in the San Francisco shipyards) and asks him to follow his wife, Madeleine (Kim Novak). Gavin explains her unusual behaviors and fears she is losing her mind, though he hasn’t discussed the matter w/ any medical professionals. Scottie is skeptical, BUT agrees after seeing the beautiful Madeleine. 

Stewart would NOT be one you would think of portraying a voyeur and a stalker, yet he pulls it off so well. As one viewer commented (see #TCMParty on Twitter): “Vertigo shows how versatile Jimmy Stewart could really be. That’s the sign of a great actor.” Another movie fan tweeted: “This is where Jimmy’s ‘nice guy’ persona becomes so effective. It’s esp. painful to see him reduced to this.” He enables viewers to sympathize w/ him, even as we cringe at his character’s actions and decisions. 

Hitchcock set his film in 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. Location shoots were done at the Big Basin Redwoods State Park and the Spanish mission at San Juan Bautista. Hitch spent a week filming a brief scene where Madeleine stares at a portrait just to get the lighting right. After Judy has been made over into Madeleine, she and Scottie kiss; the actors were on a revolving circular platform (a la Gone with the Wind). 

Vertigo is full of scenes where the colors have been saturated or changed to create a special feeling. Hitchcock even went so far as to openly dye some frames is bright unnatural colors. He played around with colors in all his color films, but never as much as in this one. -Excerpt from IMDB review

Much is done with color and light in this film; you will notice it (even upon first viewing). I noticed more tonight- my second time viewing it fully. An astute viewer noted: “Am noticing for the first time that each scene is pretty monotone – yellow, red, redder, green, blue.” The lighting changes when important events occur. Here are some examples: 1) When Scottie first sees Madeleine in the restaurant, the light around her becomes unnaturally bright. 2) While Scottie is listening to the story of Madeleine’s ancestor in the bookstore, it gets very dark; once he exits, it brightens again. 3) When Scottie first sees Judy made over as Madeleine, she is lit by a ghostly green light (the reflected light from the neon sign outside). On this point, a viewer tweeted: “Bathed in the color green… the ghost of Madeleine is wiping out Judy’s identity.”

There’s a dark sexiness to the film that lends the film an air of mature and serious art. Barbara Bel Geddes’ tragic Midge practically throws herself at Stewart’s Scottie Ferguson, while Novak’s “Madeleine Elster” seems rather matter of fact when she realized that Ferguson had completely undressed her after saving her from death. Later, as Judy Barton, her real identity, she shows a frank knowledge of pickups, sizing Ferguson up as a masher. Judy, it seems, has been around the block once or twice. Where earlier Hitchcock movies played coy with sex, here he tackles the subject head on, and it adds to the film’s mature atmosphere. -The Hitchcock Report blog

The words “power” and “freedom” are repeated three times in the movie: 1) In the beginning, Gavin longs for the old San Francisco b/c there was more power and freedom. 2) At the bookstore, the elderly history buff explains that, in Carlotta Valdes’ time, a man could just throw a woman away b/c he had more power and freedom. 3) During the climax, John suggests that after the murder was completed, Gavin left Judy b/c he had more power and freedom (w/ his wife’s fortune). 

[1] Vertigo is Alfred Hitchcock’s most discussed, dissected and critically reappraised film…

[2] This movie is so deep that you could write a thesis on it and keep adding to it from time to time… Hitchcock really gave his all in this picture… it’s about the ultimate love… wanting to achieve the ultimate love, and, as happens in life, never having love turn out to be the way we want it to be…

[3] If a flaw is to be found, I would say that the script developed for the film was probably not the most friendly for the audience. This film is certainly not for everyone, as it’s slow pace and heavy darkness in the subject may turn off people familiar with Hitchcock’s lighter films as his usual dark humor is not present here…

[4] Hitchcock is in his very best form creating hypnotic scenes and a general sense of unease and dread in even the most banal of situations. A particular favourite of mine is the extended (largely silent) segment where Stewart follows Novak for the first time. Nothing much happens, but the atmosphere of these scenes is enough to keep you on the edge of your seat!

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

 

 

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