Reviewed by: Brett Willis
|Featuring||James Stewart, Kim Novak, Barbara Bel Geddes, Tom Helmore, Henry Jones|
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.