Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
A fan of psychological thrillers, I found it necessary to rent two of Hitchcock’s originals, Vertigo and Rear Window, neither of which I had seen. I first watched Vertigo, saving Rear Window for a later day. While the movie is obviously a slave to its time, Hitchcock does a masterful job of utilizing what materials presented itself to a psycho-thriller in 1958. No Black Swan special effects that really add to the fear factor, but it was effective.
John “Scottie” Ferguson (James Stewart), a former detective, is hired by a friend to track his wife, as she has been acting up recently. His theory is that a woman from the past has possessed his wife (Kim Novak) in order to live again. Ferguson obliges, following Madeleine to interesting places around San Francisco. After a freak accident, John must save Madeleine’s life, breaking his cover. They begin to talk, and wander around the city together, until their time together leads to love. When Madeleine, possessed, insists on committing suicide, is John able to do what is necessary to stop her?
Filled with dramatic scenes, Vertigo revolutionized and perfected some of the conventions director’s put in their psycho-thrillers today. With odd coincidences, aspects you have to really think about to figure out, and daring scenes that shock even today’s audiences, Hitchcock paved the way for today’s Aronofsky and Shyamalan. Tense music helps move the music along, and at especially thrilling times the music gets louder to scare the crap out of you, making you feel the fear of the moment. The script, written by Alec Coppel, among others, reads like good literature. Describing that aspect is difficult, but believe me, it’s a positive.
I’ll admit, some of the kissing was just a bit dramatic. I think the shortest kiss probably lasted five minutes (contributing to the rumor that James Stewart had gills). Speaking of Stewart, he was great. The aging actor (he was born in 1908) had the same charm, average-Joe demeanor, and commanding voice that he had in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and others. Stewart accurately portrayed a man fighting “Between him and his conscious,” as the judge describes it. His wanderlust (which is ironic, because both “wander” and “lust” have important meanings in the film) is believable, and his chemistry with Kim Novak is great. Novak is wonderful playing the role of the two or three personalities (I guess) that she possesses.
I wish I could talk about the spoilers without spoiling the movie, because this movie is so thick with twists and shocks that it takes up most of the movie. These twists aren’t too deep that you won’t comprehend them, but they’re just deep enough that you likely don’t see them coming. Alfred Hitchcock does a wonderful job of creating terror without using extravagant effects. Vertigo‘s trailer claims the movie “gives new meaning to the word ‘suspense'” and claims “Only Hitchcock could weave this tangled web of terror.” But don’t watch the trailer if you don’t want a spoiler, because Hitchcock was never the best at creating trailers. Take the trailer for Psycho, for instance. If you’ve seen that movie, watch the trailer to see how unlike today’s trailers it really is.
James Stewart is at the top of his game, as is Hitchcock, so see Vertigo and prepare to be completely blown away by its intricate, terrifying suspense.