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Movie Review


Reviewed by: Brett Willis

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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Mature Teen to Adult
Romance, Psychological Thriller
2 hr. 8 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
Box art from “Vertigo”
Featuring: James Stewart, Kim Novak, Barbara Bel Geddes, Tom Helmore, Henry Jones
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Producer: Alfred Hitchcock
Distributor: Paramount

Initially dismissed by critics, later praised as one of Hitchcock’s best films, “Vertigo” has an eerie feel throughout (enhanced by special effects and by Berhard Herrmann’s score).

Police detective John “Scottie” Ferguson (James Stewart, “Rear Window”, 1954) suffers a traumatic experience while chasing a suspect across rooftops, resulting in acrophobia (fear of heights) and vertigo (dizziness/disorientation) whenever he looks down from a height. (A special lens technique conveys this sense of vertigo to the viewer.) He retires from the force, but later agrees to a private detective job for an old friend whose wife has been acting strangely. As he follows the woman, Madeleine Elster (Kim Novak), he gathers evidence that her husband’s theory (of possession by the spirit of a dead person who committed suicide) may be correct. Although he tails her so closely that he’d have been easily spotted in real life, somehow that seems consistent with the surreal atmosphere. He saves her life, and subsequently betrays his post by falling in love with her. That’s followed by repeated tragedy and a number of twists and new revelations about the major characters.

Content: There’s no profanity. There are some vague sexual references; and although it’s not implied that Scottie and Mrs. Elster actually have sex, they are “in love” with each other and are repeatedly shown hugging and kissing. There are a number of on-screen deaths related to falling from heights. Sorry to reveal a major plot point, but we eventually learn that the possession theory is incorrect and the film actually has no supernatural content. There’s no redeeming moral quality here; every major character has flaws. The casting of “everyman” Jimmy Stewart in this role implies to the audience that they might have done the same thing. What’s interesting—not just for Hitchcock fans, but for any movie viewer—is the way the film’s technique sucks us in. The story itself is mediocre, but the technical execution is excellent.

I don’t recommend the film at all for those whose sensibilities would be offended; but those who do intend to see it should choose a video made from the 1996 restored print which has greatly enhanced sound and special-effects colors.

Viewer Comments
Vertigo is Hitchcock’s masterpiece and my personal favorite. A very emotional film where Scottie’s love dies, then gets a second chance, as if she came back from the dead. Its images are deep, profound and beautiful. For example, Madeline’s clothes almost give her a ghostlike quality, enhance her mysteriousness. Notice that the camera always moves from exteriors to interiors, night scenes alternate with day scenes, red lights with green—providing a “vertigo” like effect on the viewer. Perhaps one of the finest movies ever made, I continually am moved by the film’s depth and imagery. Anyone interested in Hitchcock must experience this film. Ironically, I did not enjoy Vertigo the first time—perhaps because that Scottie was falling in love with a supposedly married Madeline. Upon my second viewing, I began to recognize that the film was indeed for the ages. I have since watched Vertigo at least a dozen times now. Each viewing has me rereading the many essays, books and reviews of Vertigo—and much has been written about this film. It is a classic study of masterpiece moviemaking and one to enjoy. My Ratings: [Better than Average / 5]
—Jay Sneddon, age 36
This is an amazing film! The ending will blow you away. See it… My Ratings: [Better than Average / 4½]
—Jeremy Cutlip, age 21
Awsome Film! Jimmy Stewart rules! My Ratings: [Better than Average / 5]
—Meynerd G. Crebbs, age 21
Has a very interesting plot and has some very good psychological twists. As a Christian, I found it not to be offensive, but if you’re disturbed by heights don’t watch it. My Ratings: [3½/3]
—Brad Lape, age 22
There’s a series of scenes where the James Stewart character attempts to remake the Kim Novak character into the image of the dead woman he was infatuated with. It is very creepy and disturbing when you think about it; might be offensive to some audience members. Hitchcock was a master of showing flaws even in characters with whom the audience was expected to identify with as the hero or heroine of the story. Tired of watching recent movie releases that require checking in one’s brain at the door? Check this one out. The story has many unexpected turns. My Ratings: [3½/4]
—Hillari Hunter, age 38