Classics Revisited – Vertigo

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The next in the series is Alfred Hitchcock’s much revered Vertigo. This has almost universal critical acclaim with 100% on Metacritic and 94% on Rotten Tomatoes, not to mention topping The Sight and Sound 2012 critics poll for best film of all time. Based on Boileau-Narcejac’s novel The Living and the Dead and made in 1958 Vertigo is a slow burning psychological thriller and like many classics it received decidedly mixed reviews at the time.

James Stewart (The chap from It’s a Wonderful Life) is Scottie, who had to leave the police after his agoraphobia resulted in a tragic accident. He is then hired by his old Uni chum Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore) to follow his wife Madeleine (Kim Novak) and try and get to the root of her bizarre and unsettling behaviour. To say anymore than the bare bones would spoil the experience, like last year’s Parasite it is best to go in fresh. That way you get the full effect of the film. The way Hitchcock, helped by Bernard Hermann’s evocative yet understated score, slowly but assuredly cranks up the suspense. The way he rouses doubt, suspicion and fear only for sudden twists and turns to prove them misguided.


It is sluggish viewing initially as we follow Scottie’s progress trailing Madeleine as she snakes her way about a pristine and pretty looking San Francisco. The pace and his extremely unsubtle attempts at spying do help set the scene though, and a trail of breadcrumbs is laid for you to follow. You are lured in bit by bit as interest and confusion are piqued in equal measure, alongside a growing sense of voyeurism. This softly softly catchy monkey approach leads to a tumultuous series of events, as answers are revealed amongst intense levels of fear, paranoia and obsession.

The latter is particularly acute in Scottie, who goes on quite the journey and is greatly portrayed by the ever charming James Stewart, who featured in three other Hitchcock films – Rope, Rear Window and The Man Who Knew Too Much. Kim Novak’s performance is top drawer as well, Madeleine’s inner turmoil is brought to life with emotional zeal and intensity.

To use an odd comparison it is like Midsomer Murders entwined with Shakespeare. It is a dramatic work about love and obsession, loss and fear that leaves you guessing till the end. It may take it’s sweet time but it is time well spent.


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