Well, thank God for second chances. After another viewing, Vertigo arises as an amazing, deeply moving piece of cinema that functions on multiple levels. I’m going to try and keep this review spoiler-free (as I usually do in the Movie Hub) but I can’t help discussing a few basic plot details (it’s nothing that’ll spoil the movie for you, I swear). But still... if you prefer watching movies without seeing trailers, it might be best you watch Vertigo and stay away from this review.
Vertigo tells the story of a former detective suffering from post-traumatic stress. John Ferguson constantly has the sensation of vertigo (a sort of dizziness stemming from his fear of heights) after surviving a frightening encounter in the film’s opening scene. Jimmy Stewart is wonderful as John Ferguson, playing the role with a relatable, human quality that is instantly recognizable.
John is sent to spy on a friend’s wife, Madeleine, who is suspected of being possessed by her grandmother’s spirit. Hitchcock’s films are often successful for adding a supernatural dimension to a standard thriller. The same can be said for The Birds and Psycho. Kim Novak is also wonderful in her respective role - the range of Novak’s acting is really striking, as you’ll no doubt note in the second half of the film. Vertigo picks up midway, with a very exciting twist. Then things slow down and the movie seems to reset.
This “reset” in the film (I’ll try not to say more to avoid spoilers) is what makes Vertigo feel especially long. Still, it’s an appropriate move that highlights Ferguson’s desperation and obsession with Madeleine. The second half of the movie is beautifully done and highlights the very nature of love and loss.
Bernard Herrmann’s music (he composed many of the great Twilight Zone scores, as well) helps emphasize the circular storytelling present in Vertigo. Herrmann’s looping, carnival-like score compliments the obsessive nature of falling in love. I’ve included a scene above of one of the more striking moments in Vertigo. It might not make sense out-of-context, but it’s a wonderfully dream-like scene.
I should also mention that Vertigo employs great use of scenery. The San Francisco landscapes make for the perfect location. Hitchcock’s use of color is effective, too, though the technicolor nightmare late in the film is unnecessary and distracting.
Another potentially distracting issue with Vertigo involves the slightly sexist undertones. John Ferguson has this intense longing to “save” Madeleine, and he cares especially for the damsel-in-distress. Once Madeleine is free from her problems, his attraction fades a bit. I could write a lot more on this issue but I won’t bore you with those details. Just something I noticed and wanted to throw out there.
As a whole, Vertigo is a successful movie that - at its core - is a love story filled with suspense, mystery, deceit, and romance. The ending is a bit abrupt but appropriate, nonetheless. If you haven’t seen Vertigo, check this one out. I have a feeling you’ll like it.