VERTIGO - Golden Oldies On the Big Screen
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Oct. 25, 2019
EDITOR’S NOTE: For years, when asked, I would cite ‘North By Northwest’ as my favorite Alfred Hitchcock film, though ‘Rear Window,’ ‘Psycho,’ ‘Strangers on a Train’ and ‘The Birds’ are high on the list as well. But in recent years, as I’ve watched it a few more times, ‘Vertigo’ has supplanted them all. It’s one of those rarities that just gets better with each viewing. So, with the SCERA theater in Orem bringing it back to the big screen at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 29, here’s my review, published in the Deseret News on Oct. 30, 1983, for a revival of the 1958 film.
“Vertigo,” Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 classic film, is an incredibly mesmerizing movie experience. And the script spins what has to be one of the most convoluted tales ever to be filmed — so much so, in fact, that it defies adequate description without giving away some of the odd twists and turns the film takes.
So I will try to be brief in description and not give away any details that might detract from your enjoyment of this highly entertaining treatise on human obsessions and our natural fear of death.
Hitchcock made several movies in which the storyline seemed to be merely an excuse to tie together camera tricks and suspenseful scenes, the most obvious example being “North by Northwest,” which is also one of his best films.
But “Vertigo” is the movie most often imitated (except for “Psycho”), and Brian De Palma fans may recognize part of the plot as resembling “Obsession,” and the museum scene as being similar to a moment in “Dressed to Kill.” That’s because, as skilled as he is, De Palma has long been moviedom’s worst Hitchcock rip-off artist. (And much of “Vertigo” was spoofed in Mel Brooks’ “High Anxiety,” of course.)
James Stewart in the opening sequence of 'Vertigo' (1958)
“Vertigo” opens with a heart-pounding sequence, as police detective John “Scottie” Ferguson (James Stewart) and a uniformed officer chase a criminal across several rooftops. As a result of that experience, Ferguson develops the title condition, causing him to blackout whenever he climbs any great height.
Eventually, he becomes involved with a beautiful society woman (Kim Novak) whose husband fears she is being possessed by a suicidal apparition. Needless to say, Scottie falls in love with her, but tragedy separates them. That carries you about halfway through the picture and it’s about as far as I’ll go in terms of description — but if you know Hitchcock’s style at all you’ll know things are not exactly as they seem and Scottie is in for some shocks before the film is over.
“Vertigo” is loaded with symbolic shots that represent our short time on earth, from giant redwoods towering above the characters to the expansive ocean behind them, and it all heightens the tension, which builds tremendously in several scenes, including a bizarre nightmare sequence.
What is best here, though, is the way Hitchcock manages to say so much so subtly. Where other filmmakers might use a voice-over narration, Hitchcock merely moves his camera a few feet or zooms in on something in the scene, thereby telling us all we need to know.
“Vertigo,” for as much as it says, is surprisingly void of dialogue. There are long sequences where nary a word is spoken, yet these are thoroughly involving scenes and very telling ones.
Bernard Herrmann’s eloquent score is among his finest, pulsating during suspense, soft and lilting during the romantic moments, and low-keyed and tense during build-up scenes.
Stewart is excellent as always and Kim Novak is surprisingly effective in her role, another of Hitchcock’s icy blondes. Barbara Bel Geddes is also very good as a semi-girlfriend whom Scottie has begun to take for granted, and there is a marvelous scene with Henry Jones as a judge who doesn’t hesitate to speak his mind in the courtroom about a case, no matter how it might influence the jury.
Does “Vertigo” deserve its place up there with the best movies of all time? It sure does, and if you have any doubts, catch it on the big screen while you can.