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teaser Vertigo (1958)


A San Francisco police detective, John "Scottie" Ferguson, leaves the force after seeing a fellow policeman fall to his death during a rooftop chase. Ferguson suffers from vertigo, an extreme anxiety associated with heights. He confides in his ex-fiancee Midge, and is hired for a detective job by Gavin Elster, a former schoolmate. Elster wants Scottie to follow his wife Madeleine, who he fears is suicidal. As Scottie tails Madeleine, and saves her from a suicide attempt in the bay, he falls in love with her. But Scottie is unable to stop her next attempt as she climbs the bell tower of an old Spanish mission and jumps off the top. Devastated, Scottie withdraws from life temporarily but is jolted back to reality by his encounter with Judy, a shopgirl who bears an uncanny resemblance to the dead Madeleine. In his relentless pursuit of her, his fascination turns to obsession.

Producer/Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Associate Producer: Herbert Coleman
Screenplay: Samuel Taylor, Alec Coppel
Based on the novel D'Entre les Morts by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac
Cinematography: Robert Burks
Editor: George Tomasini
Music: Bernard Herrmann
Costumes: Edith Head
Special Effects: Farciot Edouart, John P. Fulton, W. Wallace Kelley
Sound: Harold Lewis, Winston Leverett
Title Design: Saul Bass
Dream Sequence Design: John Ferren
Cast: James Stewart (John "Scottie" Ferguson), Kim Novak (Madeleine Elster/ Judy Barton), Barbara Bel Geddes (Midge Wood), Tom Helmore (Gavin Elster), Ellen Corby (Hotel manageress), Henry Jones (Coroner), Raymond Bailey (Doctor), Konstantin Shayne (Pop Leibel), Lee Patrick (Madeleine look-alike), Margaret Brayton (Ransohoff salesperson), Joanne Genthon (Dream Carlotta), Sara Taft (Nun).
C-127m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.

Why VERTIGO is Essential

When it first appeared in May of 1958, Vertigo was considered a disappointment by most critics and moviegoers who thought the movie was too slow. Even Hitchcock's peers in the film industry were dismissive of Vertigo, granting it only two Oscar® nominations (for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration & Best Sound) and no wins. Hitchcock himself measured his own films' worth by the attention they garnered, so he could only move on to the next project and hope for better results. In what was proven to be a gradual but complete turnaround, Vertigo is now the most studied and discussed film of Alfred Hitchcock's career - it has been seen and enjoyed on the big screen by new generations in two major reissues, and has been voted the 2nd greatest film ever made (after Citizen Kane, 1941) in the most recent Sight and Sound survey of international film critics.

Hitchcock took a French novel, D'Entre les Morts (From Among the Dead), and first changed the setting from Paris to San Francisco, a perverse choice that placed a character with an intense fear of heights in the most vertical city in the United States. He then infused the story of an obsessive personality with obsessions of his own. For followers of the Auteur Theory, there is no greater attraction than the allure of such a personal document - Hitchcock had made a career of remaking blondes into his own vision of the perfect woman, so here is a film that is a meditation on that very subject!

For the cast, Hitchcock wanted James Stewart as the detective from the beginning of the project. Vertigo would be the fourth Stewart film directed by Hitchcock; it would also be the last. Hitchcock would later complain that Stewart, at 49, may have been too old for the role but most critics would rank it as possibly Stewart's finest performance. Kim Novak, as the object of the detective's obsession, was a late addition. Vera Miles, later to play Janet Leigh's sister in Psycho (1960), was to have played the role but bowed out after she became pregnant. Novak, however, surprised everyone with her performance in a difficult dual role, projecting mystery, fear and a touching vulnerability.

Certainly Vertigo works simultaneously on multiple levels. While audiences in 1958 were more concerned with the murder mystery aspects of the plot, it was the least interesting aspect for the director. Hitchcock films often feature what he called the "MacGuffin" - the plot device that sets the narrative in motion and motivates the characters (uranium samples, government papers, etc.) but is irrelevant to the audience. Some modern critics have said that the MacGuffin in Vertigo is the plot itself. Scottie Ferguson's obsession is Hitchcock's interest, so two-thirds of the way through the movie the twist ending is revealed. Hitchcock later explained to director Francois Truffaut that the change was made to highlight suspense over surprise. What will the detective do when he finally discovers the truth we already know?

The revelation by Judy that she is Madeleine has been criticized by some as being a premature revelation - it is twenty minutes before Scottie realizes the same. While they see this as a flaw in the picture's structure, others see it as a brilliant ploy by Hitchcock to shift audience sympathies and identification from Scottie to Judy; to de-emphasize the "whodunit" nature of the story and push forward the much more complex and challenging set of themes and concerns; and to implicate the viewer as a voyeur, a common occurrence in any Hitchcock film.

Just as Hitchcock's standing reached its peak in the early 1970's, Vertigo was pulled from release. The combination of the reputation of this now highly regarded film and a lack of access whipped up enthusiasm among movie lovers for the masterpiece they were denied. This could have led to a major letdown when Vertigo was finally re-released in 1984 but, for once, expectations of greatness were confirmed on the screen. In 1996 the film was extensively restored, given a new Dolby Surround soundtrack, and re-released to even greater acclaim.

by John M. Miller & Brian Cady

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teaser Vertigo (1958)

Pop Culture 101 - VERTIGO

Although the reincarnation theme in Vertigo (1958) turns out to be a red herring, it was a hot topic at the time of the film's production. In 1956, a bestseller called The Search for Bridey Murphy was published, detailing the true-life "recollections" of a woman under hypnosis of her previous life as a nineteenth-century Irish woman. The success of the book prompted a rash of imitations, as well as movies (I've Lived Before (1956), The Bride and the Beast, 1958) and TV shows rushing to capitalize on the then-current interest in reincarnation.

Before Vertigo was even released, James Stewart and Kim Novak were teamed again for the film Bell Book and Candle (1958) for Columbia Pictures. The pairing was not an accident - it was part of the loan-out agreement which brought Novak from Columbia to shoot Vertigo. Bell Book and Candle was a comedy-fantasy-romance co-starring Jack Lemmon and Ernie Kovacs.

A theme song entitled "Vertigo" was written by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, and was recorded by Billy Eckstine. Evans and Livingston had written the song "Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera Sera)" for Hitchcock's 1956 picture The Man Who Knew Too Much. It had been a huge hit for Doris Day and also won an Oscar® for best original song. Unfortunately for Eckstine and the songwriters, the song "Vertigo" was never heard by moviegoers; Hitchcock felt it was inappropriate for the film and omitted it.

In Vertigo, when Madeleine appears to die in a fall, Hitchcock is simply playing with audience expectations by killing off their leading lady halfway through the film. He will play upon these same expectations in a much more dramatic fashion during the beginning of Psycho (1960), when the Janet Leigh character Marion Crane meets up with Anthony Perkins' Norman Bates.

Brian De Palma has made a career out of borrowing Hitchcock themes, visuals and motifs for his films. (Some consider his work during his early years to be less an homage and more like blatant thievery). In the 1976 film Obsession, De Palma and his co-screenwriter Paul Schrader present their take on Vertigo. In it, Cliff Robertson plays a real estate developer who fixates on a woman (Genevieve Bujold) who reminds him of his murdered wife. The setting is New Orleans rather than San Francisco, but to compose the music score, De Palma enlisted none other than Bernard Herrmann.

Hitchcock was never hesitant to try new camera techniques to heighten the psychological effects he was striving for in his films. In Vertigo, he needed to convey Scottie's fear of heights and his disorientation. It was 2nd unit cameraman Irmin Roberts who created the in-camera special effect that has since become known as a "contra-zoom shot", a "trombone shot" or, most popularly, the "vertigo shot." It is created when using a zoom lens to adjust the field of view while the camera is physically moving toward or away from a subject in the frame. This causes a distortion of the perspective - the background of a scene appears to change size while the main subject remains the same. Since this optical effect has no correlation to normal human perception, the result is mentally disorienting.

After Vertigo, the most notable use of the "contra-zoom shot" effect was in Spielberg's Jaws (1975), as Roy Scheider reacts to a shark attack. Increased use of the effect in films like Scorsese's Goodfellas (1990) and many lesser films in the 90s have tended to render the "Vertigo shot" a clich. The original "Vertigo shot" was also parodied during a second season episode of the animated TV series The Simpsons, "Principal Charming", broadcast in 1991. Who knew Springfield Elementary had a bell tower?

The source novel for Vertigo, D'Entre les Morts, was filmed again in Canada in 1995 as La Presence des ombres. Directed by Marc F. Voizard, the film featured a French-Canadian cast.

by John M. Miller

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teaser Vertigo (1958)


For his traditional director cameo, in Vertigo Alfred Hitchcock can be seen at roughly eleven minutes into the film, walking past Gavin Elster's shipyard wearing a grey suit and carrying a small horn case.

Perhaps as a visual clue to the audience that color design was to play an important role in the movie, Vertigo begins in black-and-white. The Paramount logo and mountain and the VistaVision logo appear first in black-and-white, then a woman's face can be seen in monochrome in Saul Bass' titles up until the fourth credit line. Color first appears with the title of the movie as the woman's face becomes awash in red and the spiral effect appears in her eye.

Some of the most identifying images of Vertigo are the spinning spirals which are prominently featured in the advertising, titles, and actual film. While today's computer technology renders such effects pass, they were a new sight to 1950s mainstream movie audiences. They were the work of an avant-garde animator/filmmaker/musician named John Whitney, who had set about creating 16mm films that combined abstract animated visuals and music. With his brother James he created a revolving animation stand using war surplus turrets built for airplane machine guns. With these he could animate exposed light directly onto film in a variety of geometric patterns. Saul Bass spotted his work and saw that the spiral images perfectly mirrored the spiral visual motifs in Hitchcock's film.

The overall production design, and particularly the color design, is some of the most intricately detailed and executed in motion pictures. The red, gold, and green color palette is boldly manipulated throughout to visually cue the characters' thoughts, motivations, and fixations. The specialty designs of the credits, special effects, and dream sequences are all brilliantly conceived and add to the richness of the film. Some of the effects and visuals were completely new to pictures and would be adapted by other filmmakers for years.

San Juan Bautista, the Spanish mission that features so prominently in the film, never had a bell tower. At one time it had a small steeple, but this was demolished due to dry rot some time before filming. The bell tower exterior as seen in the film was created by models and matte paintings.

The vivid and unforgettable nightmare sequence in Vertigo was actually developed quite early in the production process. It is described in detail as early as Alec Coppel's draft of the script. Hitchcock enlisted Modern artist John Ferren to storyboard the sequence, which was followed faithfully in filming. Ferren's credit in the film is an ambiguous "Special Sequence By."

Movie posters for Vertigo primarily featured the striking graphics by Saul Bass. The spiral design seen in the film's opening titles and dream sequence is repeated here, and we also see the abstracted figures of a man and woman, seemingly in freefall as the man reaches out toward the female. One poster tagline reads, "Alfred Hitchcock engulfs you in a whirlpool of terror and tension!" Most posters had a simpler tagline, hyperbolic at the time, which has since proven to be prophetic: "Alfred Hitchcock's Masterpiece!"

Vertigo was one of five films that reverted to Hitchcock's ownership in 1973. He had them pulled from circulation and they were set aside as assets for his estate (i.e. his daughter Pat) to inherit upon his death. Vertigo, along with Rope (1948), Rear Window (1954), The Trouble with Harry (1955), and The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) were unavailable for television broadcast or film rental for several years. During this period the critical reputation of Vertigo only increased, along with the mystique of a film that was literally inaccessible. Finally, the five films were reissued by Universal in 1983, with the greatest acclaim saved for Vertigo.

In the mid-1990s, film restoration experts Robert Harris and James Katz took on the task of restoring Vertigo. They went to the original VistaVision elements and made their transfers to the very similar aspect ratio to be found on 70mm film. The soundtrack was mixed in digital Surround, although to do so they had to recreate the Foley sound effects for the film. The restoration was a great success, particularly in reviving the intricate color schemes devised for so much of the film.

by John M. Miller

Famous Quotes from VERTIGO

Scottie (James Stewart): I'm a man of independent means as the saying goes. Fairly independent.
Midge (Barbara Bel Geddes): Hmm hmm. Well, why don't you go away for a while?
Scottie: You mean to forget? Oh now, Midge, don't be so motherly. I'm not going to crack up.

Scottie (pointing to a bra hanging in her work area): What's this doo-hickey?
Midge: It's a brassiere. You know about those things. You're a big boy now.
Scottie: I've never run across one like that.

Scottie: Don't you think it's a waste, to wander separately?
Madeleine (Kim Novak): Only one is a wanderer. Two together are always going somewhere.

Scottie: What are you thinking?
Madeleine: Of all the people who've been born and have died while the trees went on living.
Scottie: Their true name is Sequoia Sempervirens, 'always green, ever-living.'
Madeleine: I don't like it.
Scottie: Why?
Madeleine: Knowing I have to die.

Madeleine (looking at a giant redwood cross-section representing thousands of years in time): Somewhere in here I was born, and there I died. It was only a moment for you, you took no notice.

Scottie: Will you have dinner with me?
Judy (Kim Novak): Why?
Scottie: Well, I just feel that I owe you something after all this.
Judy: No, you don't owe me anything.
Scottie: Well, will you then, for me?
Judy: Dinner and what else?
Scottie: Just dinner.
Judy: Cause I remind you of her?
Scottie: Because I'd like to have dinner with you.
Judy: Well, I've been on blind dates before. Matter of fact to be honest, I've been picked up before.

Scottie: Judy, I just want you to look nice. I know the kind of a suit that would look well on you.
Judy: No, I won't do it.
Scottie: Judy, Judy it can't make that much difference to you. I just want to see you...
Judy: No, I don't want any clothes. I don't want anything. I want to get out of here.
Scottie: Judy, do this for me.

Scottie: The color of your hair;it can't matter to you.

Scottie: I have to go back into the past once more, just once more for the last time.
Judy: Why? Why here?
Scottie: Madeleine died here, Judy.
Judy: I don't want to go. I'd rather wait here.
Scottie: No, I need you.
Judy: Why?
Scottie: I need you to be Madeleine for a while. And when it's done, we'll both be free.

Compiled by John M. Miller

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teaser Vertigo (1958)

The Big Idea Behind VERTIGO

French writers Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac had a worldwide bestseller with their first novel Celle qui n'etait plus (The Woman Who Was No More) in 1952. This book was filmed by Henri-Georges Clouzot and released as Les Diaboliques, starring Simone Signoret, in 1955. It was noted by many at the time that the resulting movie was very "Hitchcockian." In fact, the film rights for the writers' next novel, D'Entre les Morts , was purchased by Paramount for Hitchcock before it had even been translated to English (as From Among the Dead). The film rights cost $25,275.

Hitchcock first engaged famed playwright Maxwell Anderson to adapt the novel, with the immediate assignment to change the setting to San Francisco. For a hefty fee of $65,000, Anderson returned a first draft script entitled Darkling, I Listen which was deemed practically unfilmable. Hitchcock's friend Angus MacPhail was brought on next, but bowed out of the assignment, so the next serious stab at a screenplay was undertaken by Alec Coppel. It was at this point that Hitchcock was able to spend time and enjoy his favorite collaborative methods when fashioning a film: leisurely daily meetings during which Hitchcock himself contributed major material in terms of story structure, characterization, pacing - enough, in fact, to qualify as a co-writer.

Coppel's draft of the script carried the title From Among the Dead. It contained many important scenes that would carry through to the final film, such as the rooftop opening, the dream sequence, and the two scenes at the Spanish mission. Hitchcock was still unhappy, though, as was James Stewart, now attached to the project and armed with script approval. A new writer, San Francisco native Samuel Taylor, was brought in. He worked closely with Hitchcock until the director was sidelined by a medical emergency - a gallbladder operation. While Hitchcock convalesced from March to May of 1957, Taylor humanized the Stewart character, added Midge, and decided to reveal Madeleine's secret to the audience two-thirds of the way into the film rather than at the end.

Taylor claimed that he wrote his drafts only from Hitchcock's notes, never reading Alec Coppel's script or the novel. He petitioned the Screen Writers Guild to have sole credit for the screenplay. Reviewing the evidence, the Guild assigned credit to both writers. Principal photography on Vertigo was set to begin in August, 1957.

by John M. Miller

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teaser Vertigo (1958)

Behind the Camera on VERTIGO

While James Stewart had been an early and solid choice for the male lead in Vertigo (1958), (it helped that he and Alfred Hitchcock had the same agent, Lew Wasserman), the casting of the female lead went through a major change. Hitchcock had been grooming the actress Vera Miles for stardom for several years. She had appeared on his television series and in the unglamorous role of Henry Fonda's wife in The Wrong Man in 1956. Vertigo was to have followed it as Miles' star-making vehicle, but there were many production delays caused by script development and by Hitchcock's hospital visits. During this same time, Miles became pregnant and had to drop out. Some have also suggested that Hitchcock was disappointed in her work for The Wrong Man while other reports suggest that Miles was simply unwilling to become the director's new blonde creation.

Harry Cohen, head of Columbia Pictures, had been grooming Kim Novak for stardom. She was proving her box-office worth, and was a natural to step into the role when Vera Miles was unable to do Vertigo. In fact, she did not even screen test for it. She felt the part immediately, saying later, "when I read the lines, 'I want you to love me for me' I just identified with it so was what I felt when I came to Hollywood as a young girl. You know, they want to make you over completely."

Novak already had a reputation for being difficult, so perhaps it was not a surprise when she refused to show up for work on the Vertigo set in August, 1957. She was striking for more money from her home studio Columbia, who was paying her $1,250 a week even though they were receiving $250,000 for her loan-out for Vertigo and one more picture. The ploy worked and Novak got a raise.

Background plates and second unit work had been done in San Francisco much earlier in the year during the production delays. Shooting with the main cast began on September 13th. Famous sites in the city were beautifully captured on film: Mission Dolores, Lombard Street, Fort Point near the Golden Gate Bridge, the Empire Hotel on Sutter, The Palace of the Legion of Honor - all of which are popular stops on any self-guided "Vertigo tour" of the city today. As with most Hitchcock movies, the filming went relatively smoothly. The director avoided surprises, preferring to have every detail planned out in advance. Extensive storyboarding of most sequences assured that his trusted production staff would know what was expected of them.

After additional location shoots at the Big Basin Redwoods State Park and the Spanish mission San Juan Bautista, the cast and crew settled in at Paramount Studios soundstages for two months of filming. In the studio, Hitchcock was in his element and could exert absolute control though he had his share of creative challenges. One very striking sequence is the kissing scene that occurs when Scottie has finally made Judy over as Madeleine. As the couple kiss, the background slowly swirls, and we lose equilibrium as we see Judy's apartment become the livery stables of San Juan Bautista, setting for an earlier emotional scene between Scottie and Madeleine. The shot was achieved with rear projection of the background plates; the camera tracking slowly back, then forward; and with Stewart and Novak revolving on a circular platform. These simultaneous movements were very difficult to coordinate, and to pull off without the actors getting dizzy - in one take Stewart fell and was slightly injured. Principal photography was completed three days after this shot, just before Christmas, 1957.

The postproduction period in early 1958 was consumed with retakes, editing, and the creation of special effects shots involving models and matte paintings, particularly of the all-important bell tower.

For Vertigo, Bernard Herrmann wrote a brilliantly evocative and emotional score - one of the greatest scores for any motion picture. Ironically, though, he was not able to conduct it himself. A musician's strike halted recording in the U.S. so an overseas recording was necessary. The London Symphony began to record in March, 1958 with Muir Mathieson conducting. Halfway through the recording, the British musicians also went on strike, forcing completion of the score in Vienna. Vertigo premiered in San Francisco on May 9th, 1958.

by John M. Miller

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teaser Vertigo (1958)

The Critics' Corner on VERTIGO

"The measure of a great director lies in his ability to inspire his associates to rise above their usual competence and Hitchcock exhibits absolute genius in doing this in Vertigo [1958]...Stewart gives what I consider the finest performance of his career as the detective. He portrays obsession to the point of mania without the least bit of hamming or scenery chewing. The skill with which Alec Coppel and Samuel Taylor constructed their screenplay, proves two things - 1) that an audience will buy any startling change in human behavior if you give it time (with montages and subtle buildups) to believe the transitions and: 2) that a murder mystery can be the greatest form of emotional drama if one concentrates on the feelings of the characters rather than the plot mathematics - Vertigo is one of the most fascinating love stories ever filmed." - Jack Moffitt, The Hollywood Reporter, May 12, 1958.

"Vertigo is prime though uneven Hitchcock. James Stewart, on camera almost constantly, comes through with a startlingly fine performance as the lawyer-cop who suffers from acrophobia. Kim Novak, shopgirl who involves Stewart in what turns out to be a clear case of murder, is interesting under Hitchcock's direction Unbilled is the city of San Francisco, photographed extensively and in exquisite color. Through all of this runs Alfred Hitchcock's directorial hand, cutting, angling and gimmicking with mastery. Unfortunately, even that mastery is not enough to overcome one major fault --- that the film's first half is too slow and too long. This may be because: (1) Hitchcock became overly enamored of the vertiginous beauty of Frisco; or (2) the screenplay just takes too long to get off the ground. By [the end] Vertigo is more than two hours old, and it's questionable whether that much time should be devoted to what is basically only a psychological murder mystery." - Variety, May, 1958.

"Hitchcock has dabbled in a new, for him, dimension: the dream - but he has taken too long to unfold it. The twice-told theme, hard to grasp at best, bogs down further in a maze of detail; and the spectator experiences not only some of the vertigo afflicting James Stewart, the hero, but also - and worse - the indifference." - Phillip K. Scheuer, Los Angeles Times, May 29, 1958.

"Alfred Hitchcock, who produced and directed this thing, has never before indulged in such farfetched nonsense." - John McCarten, The New Yorker, June 7, 1958.

"Unfortunately, the story, as adapted for the screen comes off less praiseworthy, for most of the time the picture is not a little confusing. The story line is not easy to follow...Vertigo is technically a topnotch film. Story wise, little can be said. Hitchcock does as well as he can, considering the script, in a directorial capacity. Vertigo is not his best picture." - The Los Angeles Citizen-News, May 29, 1958.

"Brilliant but despicably cynical view of human obsession and the tendency of those in love to try to manipulate each other...The bleakness is perhaps a little hard to swallow, but there's no denying that this is the director at the very peak of his powers, while Novak is a revelation. Slow but totally compelling." - Geoff Andrew, TimeOut Movie Guide.

"Why has a film dismissed by the keenest minds of 1958 become an icon of modern cinema? Were they crazy or are we? Or is it simply that Vertigo defines the concept of art that is ahead of its time, a motion picture whose virtues resonate much more strongly with contemporary viewers than they could have done four decades past...what connects most impressively to today's audiences is the strange darkness of Vertigo's themes, its moments of obsessive eroticism, its tipping of the hat to sadism, masochism, fetishism, necrophilia, and more garden-variety neuroses. The film's continued ability to unsettle and disconcert without resorting to graphic visuals underlines how modern and timeless its themes and execution remain." - Kenneth Turan, The A List: The National Society of Film Critics' 100 Essential Films.

"What attracted Hitchcock to the project is that Scottie wants to indulge in necrophilia by resurrecting a dead woman and making love to her. He's also showing through Scottie how many directors can turn a simple girl like Kim Novak into a haunting screen presence. Hitchcock sets up distinctions between elegant Madeleine and Judy and between Madeleine and Midge (Barbara Bel Geddes), the pert, down-to-earth fiance whom Scottie dumps for Madeleine. Hitchcock states that, given a choice of women, men are so weak they'll always pick the helpless over the independent, the attractive over the plain, the frigid over the accessible, and the illusionary over the real." - Danny Peary, Guide for the Film Fanatic.

"this is certainly one of Hitchcock's most poetic films, a meditation on the destructive power of romantic illusion." - Georges Sadoul, Dictionary of Films

"Less a performance than a helpless confession of herself, Novak's contribution to [Vertigo] is one of the major female performances in the cinema. Among its many themes, Vertigo is about a rough young woman who gives a superb performance as a kind of Grace Kelly blind to being watched, and then finds herself trapped. The "Judy" in Vertigo loves Scottie, but it is her tragedy that she can only meet his desire for her by returning to the dream woman, "Madeleine." Vertigo contains a very subtle analysis of the ordeal and the self-obliteration in acting, and it works all the better because Novak was so direct, unschooled, and slavelike." - David Thomson, The New Biographical Dictionary of Film.

"It's remarkable that, considering all its plot twists, Vertigo should work even better after a first viewing. Once the secret's out, it's a completely different film, and a better one - no longer a harrowing ghost story, it is a profound study of sexual obsession, tied together by the city which best displays the essential acrophobic metaphor." - Scott Simmon, The International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers.

"A film as unsettling as the phobias it deals with, keeping its audience dizzy and off balance throughout." - Halliwell's Film & Video Guide.

Awards and Honors

Vertigo received only two Oscar® nominations in 1959. They were for Best Sound and for Best Art Direction - Set Decoration. Hitchcock was also nominated for the Best Director award by the Directors Guild of America.

Not given its due reward at the time of release, Vertigo has received the highest of praise in recent years. It was placed on the National Film Registry in 1989, and in 2002 it was named the 2nd best film ever made (behind Citizen Kane, 1941) on Sight and Sound's every-ten-year survey of international film critics.

Compiled by John M. Miller & Jeff Stafford

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teaser Vertigo (1958)

In 1982, Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo (1958) appeared as the seventh best film of all time on Sight and Sound's every-ten-year survey of international film critics. By 2002 it rose to second place below Citizen Kane (1941), which has held the top position since 1962. Quite an achievement for a movie dismissed by the New Yorker on its release as "farfetched nonsense" and by Time magazine as "another Hitchcock-and-bull story."

Vertigo, concerning a retired detective who becomes possessive of a young woman, was partially inspired by another film's success. Two French novelists, Thomas Narcejac and Pierre Boileau, had written the source novel for Henri-Georges Clouzot's Les Diaboliques (1955), a very successful international thriller and a little too close to Hitchcock's style for the director's comfort. When Narcejac and Boileau published their next novel, D'Entre les Morts (From Among the Dead), Hitchcock made sure Paramount bought the rights for him before someone else made it into a Hitchcock-style thriller.

Hitchcock's first alteration from the original story was to change the locale from Paris to San Francisco, sending the detective, suffering from a fear of heights, up and down the steep inclines of that California city's streets. The second, and most controversial, change was to reveal the novel's twist ending two-thirds of the way through the movie. Hitchcock later explained to director Francois Truffaut that the change was made to highlight suspense over surprise. What will the detective do when he finally discovers the truth we already know?

Hitchcock went through several screenwriters before finally accepting a script by Samuel Taylor under the title, supplied by Hitchcock, "From the Dead, or There'll Never Be Another You." For the cast, Hitchcock wanted James Stewart as the detective from the beginning of the project. Vertigo would be the fourth Stewart film directed by Hitchcock; it would also be the last. Hitchcock would later complain that Stewart, at 49, may have been too old for the role. Kim Novak, as the object of the detective's obsession, was a late addition. Vera Miles, later to play Janet Leigh's sister in Psycho (1960), was to have played the role but bowed out after she became pregnant.

Principal photography began in San Francisco in September 1957 and the movie would ultimately make landmarks of many of its locations: Ernie's Restaurant where Stewart first sees Novak, The Palace of the Legion of Honor where he follows her, and Fort Point where Stewart rescues Novak from the waters below Golden Gate Bridge. Those fans who travel 90 miles south of San Francisco to see the bell tower at the mission at San Juan Bautista, where Vertigo's stunning ending takes place, will find the mission but not the tower; it was only a model matted onto the image of the original building.

Vertigo was not as successful at the box office as the three Hitchcock films that followed, North by Northwest (1959), Psycho and The Birds (1963) but, as Hitchcock's reputation as an artist increased over the 1960's, Vertigo was often given by Hitchcock's champions as his most artistic work. Just as Hitchcock's standing reached its peak in the early 1970's, Vertigo was pulled from release. The combination of the reputation of this now highly regarded film and a lack of access whipped up enthusiasm among movie lovers for the masterpiece they were denied. This could have led to disaster when Vertigo was finally re-released in 1984 but, for once, expectations of greatness were confirmed on the screen. In 1996 the film was extensively restored, given a new Dolby Surround soundtrack, and re-released to even greater acclaim.

Perhaps Alfred Hitchcock was only a showman; certainly that's always how he saw himself. However, Vertigo, of all his movies, makes the greatest case that a showman can sometimes reach heights rarely achieved by even the loftiest artists.

Director and producer: Alfred Hitchcock
Screenplay: Samuel A. Taylor and Alec Coppel, based on the novel D'Entre Les Morts by Thomas Narcejac and Pierre Boileau
Cinematography: Robert Burks
Editor: George Tomasini
Music: Bernard Herrmann
Cast: James Stewart (Det. John 'Scottie' Ferguson), Kim Novak (Madeleine Elster/Judy Barton), Barbara Bel Geddes (Midge Wood), Tom Helmore (Gavin Elster), Henry Jones (Coroner).
C-130m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.

by Brian Cady

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