Vertigo – 1959 – dir. Alfred Hitchcock
Upon its release in 1958, Vertigo was neither a critical nor a popular success. It was, in fact, a bomb. Small wonder; it tackled taboo themes not discussed in the sanctity of people’s homes much less on the silver screen: sexual obsession, reincarnation, mental illness, dark desires. Today, it is regarded not only as Alfred Hitchcock’s finest film but also one of the best films ever made.
Hitchcock’s genius lay in his seemingly effortless ability to place ordinary Joes in extraordinary circumstances, thus making serious, universal themes and issues accessible to a popcorn-munching public.
Here, Jimmy Stewart (one of Hitchcock’s favorite actors) is “Scotty” Ferguson, perfect as an average guy who succumbs once and then succumbs again to the love of a woman, and more than pays the price. Hitchcock’s predilection for icy, un-haveable blondes (Grace Kelly in “Rear Window”, Tippi Hedren in both “Marnie” and “The Birds”) is now well-known and in “Vertigo”, the exquisite Kim Novak becomes his symbol of the woman he and Stewart can never possess. It is among Novak’s best roles, her spooky, spine-tingling stares deftly avoiding what, in the hands of a lesser actor, might have become mere histrionics.
From the opening credits (even the music by the legendary Bernard Hermann is dizzying), Vertigo grabs us with hypnotic camera angles and mesmerizes us with eerie locales. The famous dream sequence still causes chills fifty years later. We are set up as swiftly as Stewart is, to fall.
Adding excellence to a marvelous main cast are Barbara bel Geddes (later Miss Ellie on T.V.’s “Dallas”) and always enjoyable and beloved character actors, Ellen Corby (Grandma Walton on “The Waltons”) and the bug-eyed, funereal Henry Jones.
The years have been kind to Vertigo and it is now acknowledged as a favorite among cinephiles: a powerful, dreamy, enigmatic treatise on human obsession. It is also a helluva lot of fun. Enjoy!