Thursday, May 26, 2011

Five Reasons Why I Love: Vertigo (1958)

I recently re-watched the Alfred Hitchcock classic Vertigo for the first time in a couple of years. I'd forgotten how much I absolutely love this film! I decided to look up some comments by various reviewers from over the years and, while the majority reacted positively to the film, others blasted it as overrated and self-indulgent, which I felt to be a little harsh.

There always seems to be a great debate among movie fans: Which film was Hitchcock's masterpiece? Was it really Vertigo or was it Psycho, Rear Window or North By Northwest? Although I've always been partial to Shadow of a Doubt myself (I think it's his most underrated and overlooked film), but I believe that, after this recent re-watch, Vertigo was truly his masterpiece. All of his films are excellent in their own way, but I always end up coming back to this 1958 classic.

Five Reasons Why I Love Vertigo

1) The Film Noir Elements: Sure, it may not technically be classified as a film noir (although some have argued it can fit into the genre), but it plays out like a colourful homage to one. It has a whole lot of psychosis rolled into just one film. Mumbling, bumbling Detective John Ferguson (Jimmy Stewart) is an absolute mess and has this strong, overriding desire to "save" a seemingly unattainable woman (Kim Novak in the role of the femme fatale).

2) The Style: The aesthetically pleasing colour scheme is rich and vibrant -- and the focus on the bright greens and reds work really well in contrast to the dark, moody atmosphere of the film. Despite the sunny and cheerful colours, something sinister is always lurking beneath the surface.

3) The Supernatural Subplot: Before the second half of the film does a complete about-face in terms of plot, the first half plays like a creepy little supernatural thriller, complete with the ghostly possibility of the spiritual possession of Novak's character.

4) The Far-Fetched Plot: Some naysayers have criticized Vertigo by saying it has a meandering plot that ultimately serves no purpose. But, what some refer to as "slow-paced", I call a meticulous build-up of tension and suspense -- something that was Hitchcock's specialty. Yes, the plot may be improbable and far-fetched but, really, when was a film noir ever based in reality and gritty authenticity?

5) Jimmy Stewart & Alfred Hitchcock Together Again: The Master of Suspense and nice-guy Jimmy Stewart paired up a few times over the years, but never more successfully than in Vertigo. This is arguably Hitchcock's most nerve-wracking film. With its supernatural atmosphere and slow-burning tension, he envelopes you in the mystery. Stewart plays against the grain, as the neurotic, needy former detective suffering from an acute case of acrophobia. When the woman he desires turns out to be unattainable, he reveals his mental instability by moulding and shaping Novak's character to resemble the other. Stewart arguably did most of his finest work under the tutelage of Hitchcock.

Some Reviews I Read
-Penelope Houston's review from Sight & Sound, 1959.
-Mark Acherman's review from PopMatters, 2006.
-Roger Ebert's review from, 1996.


  1. Brent.

    Yep I absolutely love Vertigo myself. I put it in my top five greatest films ever made. I'm not sure whether Vertigo or Rear Window is the Hitch's best though. I love both but like you I keep coming back to Vertigo.
    I think you are right at how Hitchcock slowly built the tension in this. I think many modern film watchers are too used to todays rushed stlye to fit as much into a ninety minute film, whereas older films were longer and could build things much better tension wise.
    I've just seen Ryan's daughter and David Lean done the same thing over the space of 200 minutes.
    Hitchcock was a raging egotist so I can see why some think his films over blown and self indulgent. But for me that is part of his genius as a film maker. He put he his own pysche into his film and I like his style.

    I'm having problems with Blogger as are many others. I can't log in under my own name when commenting!! So I have to use anonymous. Absurd!!!

  2. Hey Brent.

    I used to say it was Rear Window ...but then I watch Vertigo again and I change my mind. I think I'm sticking with Vertigo from now on, though. Followed by Shadow of a Doubt (1943). Have you seen that one? Most directors have huge egos they like to indulge through their films. haha. I don't mind so long as the end product looks and feels as good as Vertigo. ;)

    Yeah, Blogger was down last week for more than 24 hours. There are still some technical problems, I think. For example, I can't see any of my Followers. You can usually see them on the top right-hand corner of my home page but they aren't there at the moment. :(

  3. Brent.

    No, I've lost my followers too...sob! I've even had trouble putting pictures in some posts. And I still am 'anonymous'!!!!!!
    I don't think I've seen Shadow of a Doubt. Still many holes in my what I have and haven't seen. I agree, I'm not woried about an ego as long as the end product is ggod. I love Quentin Tatantino and yet he has a raging ego.
    I always liked Rear Window because of Grace Kelly. Sure Jimmy Stewart was brilliant as usual but Kelly just brought that exta something. ( I don' think she ever looked so ravishing ooops, beautiful, or is it stunning? ah, you get the drift! ). But now it is definitely Vertigo, and I doubt whether I'll change my mind again!
    Funny isn't it how certain directors could get such great performances out of an actor that others couldn't. My favorite Stewart films are his Hitchcock collaborations. So no quibbles here from him doing 'arguably his finest work under Hitch's tutelage', as I totally agree.

  4. I just got mine back! I think it was a glitch of some sort.

    Definitely check out Shadow of a Doubt if you get the chance. Such a creepy, but strangely funny, little film. I think that it (and Rope) are two of Hitchcock's most underrated films.

    Agreed on Tarantino's ego but he always lives up to my expectations, so he's allowed. haha.

    Grace Kelly is definitely the main reason to see Rear Window.

  5. Brent.

    Hi again from anonymous. Beleive me it isn't much fun either!!
    I have seen Rope and agree it is under-rated. I loved it but I generaaly say that about all Hitch's films! I beleive Rope was shot in one take, and in realtime. Whether true or nor I don't know. But it is possible and a real test of the actors skill!! Hitch had to tone down the homosexual undertone of the book/play?, but it is still subtely there.
    I will look out for Shadow. I like The Lady Vanishes too as it is quietly funny even though it is a black comedy. I like black comedy as cynicism can be hilarious if done right.

  6. Well, considering when Rope was made I'm not surprised that the homosexual undertones were downplayed; however, as you said, they are definitely there!

    I haven't seen The Lady Vanishes so I will add that to my list!

  7. A hithcocok classic that I have yet to see. You have a new follower and I'll be sure to come back :)

  8. Thanks, Tom! :) I'll definitely check your website out. Thanks for stopping by. I see you're from Belfast. I can't wait to go back to Ireland one day.

  9. There isn't much to Rear Window and North by..compared to Vertigo. There is just so much to Vertigo, you could spend hours decoding its text, and still never reach the end because its theme resides in the psychological realms of the mind, its not voyeurism, and its not plot driven like the other two

  10. Dear Laura, you may be interested to know of a new novel -

    Imagine the cinematic masterpiece Vertigo re-told by its tragic heroine:
    The Testament of Judith Barton, a novel

    Judy Barton may be the most-watched and least understood woman in movie history. Generations of viewers think Scottie Ferguson tells us all we need to know about her when he sputters, "You were his girl!" at Vertigo's climax. But what if the woman we've come to sympathize with by the time Scottie levels his deadly accusation is neither Gavin Elster's mistress, nor a willing accessory to murder?

    The Testament of Judith Barton, published with permission of The Hitchcock Trust and favorably reviewed by Kirkus, tells Judy's behind-the-scenes side of the story in her own voice. Like Wicked for The Wizard of Oz, it reveals the secret history of a classic film from a mysterious woman's point of view.