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Among the many working titles of this film were From Amongst the Dead, From Among the Dead, From the Dead, Among the Dead, Confessions on Tower and Darkling I Listen. According to information contained in the Paramount Production Records and the Alfred Hitchcock Collection, both located at the AMPAS Library, Paramount officials were nervous about producer-director Alfred Hitchcock's final choice of the title Vertigo, as they feared that potential moviegoers would not know what it meant. The studio finally agreed to use the title Vertigo with the stipulation that the advertising department would use unique art, and that Hitchcock's name would be featured as prominently as the film's title.
The film's unusual and prize-winning opening titles, created by Saul Bass, begin with the Paramount logo, seen in black-and-white, then move to the image of a woman's face. As the credits begin and the image gradually becomes color, the camera zooms in on her eye and a series of swirling Lissajous spirals (invented by a nineteenth-century French mathematician), animated by artist John H. Whitney, appear in a series of different colors. At the end of the opening credits, the camera appears to zoom back out so that the woman's eye is again seen, with the words "directed by Alfred Hitchcock" coming out of her eye.
Several major differences occur between the film and the book, which is set in Paris just before and after World War II. In the book, the detective, Roger Flavires, really believes that "Madeleine" is the reincarnation of her ancestor and that "Rene Sourange" [Judy Barton] is the reincarnation of Madeleine. At the end of the novel, when Rene confesses her part in the crime to kill her lover's wife, Flavires strangles her to death. Neither the detective nor the reader learns of the scheme to commit the murder until the very end of the novel. Also, in the book, Gvigne, Madeleine's husband and Rene's lover, is killed during the war.
Although only Alec Coppel and Samuel Taylor receive onscreen credit for the film's screenplay, studio records report that Maxwell Anderson worked on the script from June 1956 to February 1957. Angus McPhail was signed to work on the screenplay in September 1956, but his contract was canceled "due to illness." Although studio records indicate that McPhail did not complete any work on Vertigo, some modern sources assert that he did turn in a brief outline, including the critical opening scene in which Scottie attempts to save a fellow police officer and fails. According to scripts in the Alfred Hitchcock Collection, however, Coppel wrote the rooftop chase sequence, which was not in the original novel. A February 22, 1957 partial screenplay by Taylor, entitled From the Dead or There'll Never Be Another You, included, as a joke, the name of noted satirist Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914) as the co-author. The studio records add that Hitchcock also did considerable work on the film's screenplay. The Paramount Collection contains information that Coppel had to petition the Writers Guild to secure his onscreen credit, because Taylor attempted to obtain sole credit.
On July 11, 1956, Hollywood Reporter's "Rambling Reporter" column stated that Hitchcock originally wanted to cast Lana Turner as "Madeleine Elster/Judy Barton," but she "wanted too much loot" and was dropped from consideration. Vera Miles was then cast in the part, but after the production was delayed a number of times for various reasons, including two emergency gastronomical operations needed by Hitchcock, she became pregnant and had to give up the role. A handwritten note from associate producer Herbert Coleman, included in studio records, indicates that Jean Wallace May have been under consideration for the part. In mid-November 1956, "Rambling Reporter" announced that Joseph Cotten and Lee J. Cobb were "neck-and-neck" for the role of "Gavin Elster," and a modern source reports that Everett Sloane was also under consideration for the role.
Kim Novak was borrowed from Columbia for the production, in exchange for a payment of $250,000 by Paramount to Columbia and the agreement that James Stewart would co-star with her in the 1958 Columbia release Bell, Book and Candle. Novak resented how much her home studio was profiting from her loanout, according to modern sources, and refused to show up for the beginning of filming of Vertigo. After Novak's salary was re-negotiated to her satisfaction, production finally began. Location shooting featuring the principal actors began on September 30, 1957, with several second units shooting location footage both before and after principal photography.
When Daily Variety first reported the purchase of Thomas Narcejac and Pierre Boileau's novel for Hitchcock in October 1955, it was announced that "much of the filming will be done on location in Louisiana." Vertigo became famous for its use of San Francisco locations, however, and tours of the areas in which the film was shot are still conducted. Studio records list various buildings in San Francisco, Mission Dolores, San Juan Bautista Mission, the Big Basin Redwoods State Park and Watsonville, CA as being among the locations used. Although Ernie's, a famed San Francisco restaurant, was especially chosen by Hitchcock for its evocative atmosphere, no filming was done in the actual restaurant; instead, both the exterior and the entire interior, with its signature red-flocked walls, were reproduced at Paramount Studios. According to studio press releases, Roland and Victor Gotti, the co-owners of Ernie's, and matre d' Carlo Dotto were flown down from San Francisco to appear in the sequence during which "John `Scottie' Ferguson" sees Madeleine for the first time.
The interior of the famed San Francisco department store Ransohoff's was also recreated on the Paramount lot. As pointed out by contemporary studio records and modern sources, the actual San Juan Bautista Mission does not have a bell tower. According to a March 31, 1958 studio memo, the bell tower "was painted in
on glass for the exterior shots [of already shot footage of the existing mission] and the interior of the Tower was built on the set." A July 1982 article in San Francisco magazine reported that the tower mock-up was seventy feet tall.
According to studio records, Italian artist Manlio Sarra painted the "Portrait of Carlotta" used in the film. Photographs of actress Joanne Genthon were sent to Sarra with specific instructions as to how her hair and attire should be depicted, so that they could be duplicated for the appearance of Madeleine. Sarra painted the portrait from transparencies of the photographs of Genthon. [Although studio records indicate that Jacqueline Beer May have played "Carlotta" during the nightmare sequence in which Scottie briefly sees Carlotta at the inquest, other sources report that it was Genthon.] One modern source claims that John Ferren painted the portrait of Carlotta. An early version of the portrait, in which Vera Miles posed as Carlotta, was prepared before she dropped out of the film, but it has not been determined by whom it was painted.
Ferren, who had worked with Hitchcock on the 1956 film The Trouble with Harry, helped to design the nightmare sequence. In the sequence, Scottie's disorientation, terror and guilt are enhanced by a distinctive use of color, as are the disturbing images of him falling down into an empty grave and from the mission bell tower. According to studio papers, Hitchcock specifically ordered that Ferren's onscreen credit read "Special Sequence by," in order not to give away the nature of the sequence. In the 1983 theatrical re-issue, however, the credit was changed to "Dream Sequence Designed by." As described by modern sources, the "vertigo effect" was achieved by building a one-tenth scale model of the interior staircase of the bell tower, laying it on its side and having the camera zoom in on the stairs as it physically tracked backward. The famous "360-degree kiss" between Scottie and Judy in Judy's hotel room was filmed by putting the actors on a turntable, with specially shot transparencies rear-projected and revolving around them.
According to information in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, the PCA responded to a July 1957 screenplay from Paramount with concerns about the implied illicit relationship between Scottie and Judy, and asserted: "It will, of course, be most important that the indication that Elster will be brought back for trial is sufficiently emphasized." A "coda" was written in which, shortly after Judy falls to her death, "Midge Wood" hears on the radio that Elster is about to be arrested for his wife's murder. After Midge turns off the radio, Scottie enters and she silently fixes him a drink. Although the footage was deleted by Hitchcock after his first viewing of the rough cut, and was not included in the original 1958 picture, it was included in 1990s laser disc and DVD releases of the picture. According to an October 1996 SF Weekly article, San Francisco radio personality Dave McElhatton originally supplied the voice of the radio announcer, but when the footage was included as supplementary material, his voice was replaced by the restoration team (see below) "in order to minimize" the importance of the scene.
Some modern sources state that initially Hitchcock included voice-over narration by Scottie, but then dropped it, and point out that the "flashback sequence," in which Judy reveals, via her letter, her participation in Elster's murder of his wife, was a major source of contention for Hitchcock. After the film's first preview in early May 1958, Hitchcock decided to delete the scene and five hundred prints of the picture without the scene were prepared and shipped to exhibitors, but Barney Balaban, head of Paramount, insisted that the sequence be reinstated, which it was before its release.
Because of a musicians' strike in Hollywood, composer Bernard Herrmann could not conduct the score he had written, as he usually did. According to both contemporary news items and modern sources, part of the score was recorded in London by the London Symphony, until the English Musicians' Union decided to support the American studio musicians' strike and refused to continue. The rest of the score was then recorded in Vienna. Muir Mathieson was the conductor both in London and Vienna. According to a June 1958 Hollywood Reporter news item, the film's exhibition in Los Angeles was picketed by the still-striking musicians, who were protesting it having been scored overseas.
Herrmann's score for Vertigo, along with his music for Hitchcock's 1960 film Psycho, is considered to be his finest work by modern scholars. Because of legal prohibitions against using the Vienna-recorded music, contemporary soundtrack albums from Vertigo featured only the music recorded in London, and it was not until 1996, when a newly recorded version of Herrmann's score, played by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, was released that the entire score was available. Studio records indicate that Jay Livingston and Ray Evans were paid for a title song for the film, which modern sources report was commissioned by Paramount in an effort to explain the word vertigo. The song was not used in the film, however. According to contemporary news items, Paramount hosted an elaborate, two-day press preview of the film in early May 1958 in San Francisco. One hundred journalists were flown to San Francisco from around the country to attend the preview, a banquet and tours of the filming locations used in the city.
The film received mixed reviews upon its initial release, with many trade paper reviewers praising it extensively, especially its use of color, locations and music, but other reviewers finding themselves unsettled by the unusual mystery and love story. Although Bosley Crowther of New York Times called the film "devilishly farfetched," he also carefully revealed only a few details of the plot in order not to disturb moviegoers' "inevitable enjoyment" of it. Numerous other reviewers also noted that it would be unfair to reveal the picture's ending. Pronouncing Vertigo "one of the most fascinating love stories ever filmed," the Hollywood Reporter critic deemed that it was "a picture no filmaker [sic] should miss-if only to observe the pioneering techniques achieved by Hitchcock and his co-workers." Time, on the other hand, famously referred to the film as "another Hitchcock-and-bull story," while the New Yorker opined that the director had "never before indulged in such farfetched nonsense." Motion Picture Herald Prod Digest predicted that the film would be "an odds on bet" in the "blockbuster sweepstakes," but while it was not a flop, neither did it perform notably well at the box office. The picture had its first theatrical rerelease in 1963.
Modern sources add Isabel Analla and Jack Ano to the cast, and note that Polly Burson served as Novak's stunt double for the scenes in which she jumped into the San Francisco bay and from the bell tower. Hitchcock makes his customary cameo by walking past Elster's shipbuilding office just before Scottie enters. Vertigo marked the fourth and final film collaboration between Hitchcock and Stewart.
Vertigo received Academy Award nominations for Best Art Direction and Best Sound, and Hitchcock received a DGA nomination for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures. In 2007, the film was ranked 9th on AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies-10th Anniversary Edition list of the greatest American films, moving up from the 61st position it occupied on AFI's 1997 list. Vertigo was also on both AFI's 100 Most Heart-Pounding Movies list and the 100 Greatest Love Stories. In 1989, the film was added to the National Film Registry and in 1996, was named the Most Distinguished Reissue by the New York Film Critics Circle.
As with five other films directed by Hitchcock and released by either Warner Bros. or Paramount (Rope, Rear Window, The Trouble with Harry, the 1956 version of The Man Who Knew Too Much and Psycho, see entries above), the rights to Vertigo reverted completely to Hitchcock eight years after its initial release. Hitchcock sold the rights to Psycho to Universal but kept the other films, which were rarely screened during the 1970s and 1980s. Some modern sources have speculated that Hitchcock deliberately withheld them from exhibition in order to increase their value, while others state that Vertigo in particular was such a personal project for the director that he did not want it shown anymore. After Hitchcock's death in 1980, litigation held up the distribution of the pictures until 1983, when all five films were leased from the Hitchcock estate and released as a package by Universal Classics. Although the 1983-84 releases occasionally featured newly struck prints, they were made from the existing, deteriorating negatives. In 1993, Los Angeles Times reported that the theatrical and video re-releases of the films had earned Universal approximately fifty million dollars, thirty percent of which went to the Hitchcock estate, overseen by Hitchcock's daughter Pat.
In the early 1990s, James C. Katz, former head of the by-then defunct Universal Classics, along with producer and film historian Robert A. Harris, began restoring Vertigo for Universal. Their efforts to find, clean, restore and digitize the various components of the film and create new negatives in 35mm and 65mm took approximately thirty-six months, according to a April 22, 1997 The Times (London) article. Their efforts resulted in film and sound elements being found in the U.S., Germany, Italy and Spain, according to other 1990s sources. The team was so determined to recreate the original film as closely as possible that they even obtained a sample of the original paint used for the green Jaguar driven by Madeleine in order to match its color. In interviews, Katz and Harris relayed that because the score and dialogue were remastered in digital stereo, the accompanying Foley track (ambient noises such as footsteps, bells, bird calls, etc.) had to be re-recorded, with a few additions to cover portions of the soundtrack that could not be restored to a pristine state. They were guided in recreating the sound effects track by Hitchcock's dubbing notes from the 1950s, and also received help from associate producer Herbert Coleman.
According to several interviews with Katz, although Vertigo was shot in VistaVision, it was "reduction-printed" to widescreen 35mm for exhibition, and therefore had never been shown in its proper format. Presented for the first time in Super VistaVision 70mm and DTS digital stereo, Vertigo was shown at exclusive engagements in eight U.S. cities in 1996-97, including as a special presentation at the New York Film Festival on October 4, 1996. Novak and Pat Hitchcock toured extensively with the preserved film to promote it, both in the U.S. and Great Britain. According to a October 7, 1996 New York article, the restoration cost more than $1,000,000, and other sources noted how successful the reissue was, both at the box office and with fans and critics. Subsequently, special video and DVD collector's versions of the film were released, featuring the restored print. A thirty-minute documentary about the restoration, entitled "Obsessed with Vertigo," was broadcast on the American Movie Classics channel in 1997.
Vertigo, which received lavish critical praise upon its 1983 and 1996 re-releases, is considered by many modern scholars to be Hitchcock's "masterpiece," and has influenced numerous filmmakers. The many pictures bearing a resemblance to Vertigo include productions as disparate as the 1961 French film Last Year at Marienbad, directed by Alain Resnais, the 1969 Franois Truffaut-directed The Mississippi Mermaid (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1961-70), Brian De Palma's 1976 Obsession, which featured a score by Herrmann, and the 1977 spoof of Hitchcock films, High Anxiety, directed by Mel Brooks.