19 July 2009 | Spikeopath
You're not lost. Mother's here.
John "Scottie" Ferguson is a San Francisco cop who decides to quit the service after his acrophobia results in him being unable to save the life of a colleague. Whilst taking it easy he gets a call from an old school friend, Gavin Elster, asking him if he wouldn't mind doing a little bit of detective work for him. The job is simply to tail his wife because she's obsessed with an ancestress who committed suicide, and the wife, Madeline, is showing signs of herself being suicidal. Ferguson tails her diligently and as the tail progresses, Ferguson himself starts to become ever obsessed about the demur blonde Madeline. As the story twists and turns, Ferguson's obsession will have far reaching consequences for both parties...
Vertigo is Alfred Hitchcock's most discussed, dissected and critically reappraised film, based on a novel by Pierre Boileau called D'Entre Les Morts, (also writer of Diabolique), Vertigo was not well liked on its release and unable to be viewed for some time due to copyright, the film was restored from a destroyed negative into a glorious 70mm print, and now in all its glory it can be seen as one of the greatest films to have ever been made. What is most striking about Vertigo, outside of Hitchcock baring his innermost that is, is that its plot on the surface is simplicity personified, but delving deeper, and repeat viewings are a necessity, its apparent that Vertigo is a chilling force of cinema, taking great delight in gnawing away at your perceptions, perhaps even your own capabilities as a human being.
Very much a film of two great halves, Vertigo first seems intent on being an almost ghost story like mystery. Once the prologue has introduced us to Ferguson's fear of heights, we then enter an almost dream like sequence of events as Ferguson tails the troubled Madeline, the suggestion of reincarnation bleakly leading to death hangs heavy as Hitchcock pulls his atmospheric strings. Then the film shifts into dark territory as obsessions and nods to Dante's Inferno and feverish dreams take control, Hitchcock, as we have come to learn over the years, lays out his soul for us the audience to partake in, the uneasy traits sitting side by side with fascination of the story. All of which is leading us to a spine tingling finale that is as hauntingly memorable as it is shocking, the end to our own dizzying journey that Alfred and his team have taken us on.
Technically the film is magnificent, the opening credits from Saul Bass brilliantly prep us for what is about to unfold, while Bernard Herrmann's score is as good as anything he ever did, unnerving one minute, swirlingly romantic the next, a truly incredible score. Hitchcock himself is firing from the top draw, introducing us to the brilliant zoom-forward-track-back camera technique to induce the feeling of Vertigo itself, with that merely a component of two hours of gorgeous texture lined with disturbing little peccadilloes. The two leads are arguably doing their respective career best work, James Stewart as Scottie Ferguson goes real deep to play it out with an edgy believability that decries his aw-shucks trademark of years since past. Kim Novak as Madeline is perhaps the quintessential Hitchcock blonde, perfect with the duality aspects of the role and playing off Stewart's ever creepy descent with seamlessly adroit skill. It however should be noted that Hitchcock and his loyal subjects had to work hard to get Novak right for the role, but the result proves that Novak had ability that sadly wasn't harnessed on too many other occasions.
Vertigo is a film that I myself wasn't too taken with on my first viewing, it's only during revisits that the piece has come to grab me by the soul and refuse to let go, it not only holds up on revisits, it also gets better with each subsequent viewing, it is simply a film that demands to be seen as many times as possible. Not only one of the greatest American films ever made, one of the greatest films ever made...period, so invest your soul in it, just the way that Hitchcock himself so clearly did. 10/10