Vertigo (1958)

vertigo poster 1958 movie
9.5 Overall Score
Story: 9/10
Acting: 10/10
Visuals: 10/10

The perfect realization of Hitchcock's vision

Can't get past the crazy story at points where it is so off the wall that it is distracting

Movie Info

Movie Name:  Vertigo

Studio:  Paramount Pictures

Genre(s):  Mystery/Suspense/Drama

Release Date(s):  May 9, 1958

MPAA Rating:  Not Rated

vertigo rooftop chase scottie fall james stewart

Damn…I hate my job

John “Scottie” Ferguson (James Stewart) has an accident as a detective and discovers he suffers from acute acrophobia leading to vertigo.  Taking time off from his job, Scottie is contacted by a former friend Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore) to follow his wife who is worrying him with unusual behavior.  As Scottie follows Madeline Elster (Kim Novak), he sees that she might be suffering from memories of a past life as Carlotta Valdes…and the past is driving her crazy.  Unfortunately for Scottie, he’s also falling in love with Madeline and when tragedy strikes, Scottie the appearance of a girl named Judy Barton could push Scottie over the edge.

vertigo kim novak james stewart

Scottie…probably the worst tail in police history

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, Vertigo is a suspense mystery thriller.  The film is based on the 1954 novel D’entre les morts (The Living and the Dead) by Pierre Boileu and Pierre Ayraud (as Boileau-Narcejac).  Following The Wrong Man in 1956, the film was released to mixed reviews and a poor box office showing.  The movie became of one Hitchcock’s five “lost films” when it and Rope, The Trouble With Harry, Rear Window, and The Man Who Knew Too Much were taken out of circulation for thirty years until 1984 when Universal gained the rights to them.  Now, Vertigo is often listed as one of Hitchcock’s best films and frequently makes “Best Of” lists in multiple categories.  The film was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White or Color and Best Sound.  It was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry in 1989.

Vertigo is probably the culmination of all of Hitchcock’s work.  The movie features everything that made Hitchcock famous and is probably his best looking picture…and despite this, it isn’t my favorite Hitchcock film.

vertigo golden gate bridge kim novak

Jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge is cliche…jumping from under it is classier

The big problem I have with Vertigo is the story.  While it is twisting and crazy, it is also so extreme that I can’t take the film seriously.  The perfect set up and the effort that Gavin and Judy go through to force  Scottie to be their unknowing witness and use him just seem unnecessary when you could kill a person in so many easier ways…that don’t take the unnecessary risk of hinging on a person’s fear of heights that comes and goes.  The last part of the film with Scottie rediscovering “Madeline” also seems unrealistic because I don’t think that Judy would risk staying in San Francisco in plain sight if she was involved in a murder regardless of her finances or love.  Thematically it does flip the roles with Scottie unable to give up the past.

Hitchcock blamed some of the movie’s failure on Stewart’s age.  The character was meant to be a lot younger (he was about fifty and twice the age of both of his leading ladies who are supposed to be contemporaries), but Stewart still brings the charm.  I never though Kim Novak was a very good actress and is more the “Ginger” to Hitchcock’s “Mary-Ann” of Grace Kelly…she does have a real femme fatale quality to her in both the story and appearance.  I think Barbara Bel Geddes is probably my favorite supporting Hitchcock lady character as the His Girl Friday Midge.  Her plucky attitude really helps in a film that is more of a downer.

vertigo dream scottie james stewart

Pretty much how I wake up everyday…

The visuals of Vertigo are top notch and show that sense of experimentation that Hitchcock is famous for.  The movie introduced the “Vertigo Effect” which involves a quick counter zoom and since Vertigo’s release, it has been frequently used.  In addition to this, Hitchcock uses some almost psychedelic coloring and animated sequences.  The movie also features much more location shooting than Hitchcock’s other films and makes great use out of the beauty of San Francisco and the surrounding area.

Vertigo is a great film, but not perfect in my mind because it is so unrealistically surreal that I can’t help thinking about the plot instead of going with the flow.  It is a minor complaint but keeps it from being my favorite Hitchcock film (this is reserved for Rear Window).  I do think that it is potentially the most layered of Hitchcock’s works…though once again, the ending is abrupt.  Hitchcock followed Vertigo with North by Northwest in 1959.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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