Film Review: Vertigo (1958)

Also known as: Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (complete title), From Among the Dead, Illicit Darkening (working titles)
Release Date: May 9th, 1958 (San Francisco premiere)
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Written by: Alec Coppel, Samuel Taylor
Based on: D’entre les morts by Pierre Boileau, Thomas Narcejac
Music by: Bernard Herrmann
Cast: James Stewart, Kim Novak, Barbara Bel Geddes, Tom Helmore, Henry Jones

Alfred J. Hitchcock Productions, Paramount Pictures, 128 Minutes

Review:

“Only one is a wanderer; two together are always going somewhere.” – Madeleine

This is the only one of Alfred Hitchcock’s ’50s and ’60s “masterpieces” that I have never seen. I’m not sure why I haven’t seen it over the years, as I’ve seen all the other films from this era multiple times. However, I wanted to save this one for a rainy day so what better time is there than just before a hurricane?

Having now seen it though, I’d say that it is probably my least favorite of the films considered at the top of Hitchcock’s oeuvre.

The reason being, is I just can’t buy into the plot. There are multiple things that make the plot kind of messy and for a film with a twist, I was able to figure it all out with a half hour to spare. It was kind of disappointing though, because I expected more than what I thought was the ending. But it ended, as I suspected, without any extra flair to put the end result ahead of my expectations.

The problem could be my own, however, as I’ve seen so many Hitchcock films, multiple times, that I can kind of see the tropes from top to bottom and thus, am able to get a pretty accurate sense of where the story is going. I may have had a different view of the film had I seen it a few decades ago like I did most of Hitchcock’s work.

Additionally, the film’s title and it’s plot revolves around a gimmick. The centerpiece of the film is James Stewart’s fear of heights but this is shown through what was a new technique at the time, the dolly zoom. While it’s a shot that has been used to death since this film, it’s a technique that has lost its effect on modern audiences. But that’s certainly not Hitchcock’s fault in 1958.

Apart from all that though, this is still a finely acted film. James Stewart was one of Hitchcock’s favorite leading men and for good reason. The two made magic together. And while this isn’t my favorite film of their pairings, it certainly isn’t a picture that is hindered by anything that Stewart did or the direction of Hitchcock for that matter.

Now while I mostly always love Kim Novak in film-noir, she did feel like she was out of her depth here. Not to knock her, she’s a good actress, but she lacked that extra something special that Hitchcock’s female leads usually bring to a film. She also didn’t have as good of a chemistry with Stewart as Grace Kelly or Doris Day.

One thing that did keep this movie very energetic and also assisted in keeping it well above water was the dynamite score of Bernard Hermann. It fit well with the tone of the picture, especially in that fantastically shot opening scene.

Vertigo is definitely a competent film, technically speaking, but the plot was too wonky. I guess you could get away with faking a death from a fall off of a tower in the late ’50s but I’m pretty sure they’d need to go deeper than a few eye witnesses to identify the body, even back then. Maybe I’m wrong but this just felt sort of thin and a bit daft.

Still, this is pretty enjoyable and even if the mystery fell flat, it was a fun ride until it wasn’t.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Hitchcock’s other thrillers of the ’50s and ’60s.

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