Vertigo is a 1958 American psychological thriller mystery movie directed by Alfred Hitchcock. It stars James Stewart and Kim Novak. This movie is considered the best Alfred Hitchcock movie. It is a classic example of Hitchcock as the "master of suspense". It has made several of the American Film Institute lists. Some even say that it is the greatest film of all time. Vertigo is part of the National Film Registry, because it is culturally significant.
|Directed by||Alfred Hitchcock|
|Based on||D'entre les morts|
by Pierre Boileau
|Produced by||Alfred Hitchcock|
|Edited by||George Tomasini|
|Music by||Bernard Herrmann|
Alfred J. Hitchcock Productions
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures[a]|
|Box office||$7.3 million|
John Scottie Ferguson is a former detective. Scottie was in a chase and saw a policeman die after falling from a tall building. Scottie now has a fear of heights (acrophobia) and a sense of rotating (vertigo). Gavin Elster tells John to follow his wife, Madeleine. Galvin says she is behaving strangely. John observes and follows Madeleine. She buys flowers, goes to the grave of Carlotta Valdes (1831–1857), looks at a painting of Carlotta, and stays at a hotel. John learns from a historian that Corlatta killed herself. Gavin tells John that Carlotta was the great-grandmother of Madeleine. Gavin believes Carlotta possesses Madeleine. Madeline jumps into the San Francisco bay, and John rescues her.
Madeleine tells about a nightmare. The location of the dream seems to be Mission San Juan Bautista. Scottie drives Madeleine there. They embrace and fall in love. Madeleine suddenly runs up the tower, falls, and dies. Scottie follows but is too dizzy to go up. The police call the death a suicide. Scottie gets depressed and has to go to a hospital. He is released. He comes back to places that connect to Madeleine. He looks everywhere for women that look like her. He meets a woman called Judy. She looks like Madeleine. He wants to spend time with her.
Judy has a flashback. She is really the Madeleine Scottie knew. She was involved in a murder plot. The plan was to fake the suicide of the real Madeleine. Gavin knew that Scottie had a fear of heights. So Gavin knew Scottie would not go up the tower. As a result, Scottie wouldn't see Gavin throwing down his wife's body from the tower. Judy writes a letter telling Scottie about the murder plot but rips it up.
Scottie wants to see Judy again. He is obsessed with "Madeleine". He makes Judy wear all the clothes of "Madeleine". Judy puts on the necklace of "Madeleine". Scottie realizes that Judy and "Madeleine" are the same person. He drives her to the mission. He makes Judy relive the murder scene. Judy admits that Galvin paid her to act like a "possessed" Madeleine. A nun scares Judy, and she falls and dies. Scottie is sad, but he no longer has a fear of heights.
- James Stewart as John "Scottie" Ferguson
- Kim Novak as Judy Barton and Madeleine Elster
- Tom Helmore as Gavin Elster
- Barbara Bel Geddes as Marjorie "Midge" Wood
- Henry Jones as the coroner
- Raymond Bailey as Scottie's doctor
- Ellen Corby as the manager of the McKittrick Hotel
- Konstantin Shayne as bookstore owner Pop Leibel
- Lee Patrick as the car owner mistaken for Madeleine
- Margaret Brayton as the Ransohoff's saleslady
- Paul Bryar as Capt. Hansen (accompanies Scottie to coroner's inquest)
- Dave McElhatton as the radio announcer (alternative ending)
- Fred Graham as Scottie's police partner (falls from rooftop)
- Nina Shipman as the girl mistaken for Madeleine at the museum
- Sara Taft as nun during closing scene
Alfred Hitchcock makes a cameo appearance.
A major theme in Vertigo is obsession. Scottie seems to obsess with Madeleine. The camera often follows the eyes of Scottie. His eyes constantly gaze at Madeleine. With the suicide, Scottie ends up in a mental hospital. Afterwards, he always goes to objects and places that connect to Madeleine. Judy has to look exactly like Madeleine. The obsession is like a spiral. It creates a form of vertigo. Gavin also makes Madeleine obsess with Carlotta. The theme of obsession connects to death. The vertigo and images of spirals connect to the idea of falling to one's death. Death appears with tunnels and corridors. Hallways are also common elements in horror films. Another theme in the film is self-deception. Scottie was a detective. This is someone who tries to figure out the truth about crimes. Now he is following Madeleine like a detective. However, Madeleine is not real and Scottie is deceived. He also deceives himself through his obsession. He tries to create an image of Madeleine, but forgets reality. Madness takes over. The film is very philosophical. Gender roles are important in the film. Some say the film is about male aggression and dominance. Another theme in the movie is lack of identity and wandering. Madeleine says that she is just wandering. When Scottie follows her, he also is wandering with her. He also says multiple times that he is just wandering. At one point, Madeleine seems to be driving in circles. Wandering means that they do not have a destination. There is no purpose or sense. The two are also unstable and do not understand themselves. This connects to the idea of vertigo and dizziness. The spirals in the film can connect to wandering without a destination.
The film script (screenplay) is based on the French novel D'entre les morts (From Among the Dead) by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac. In the book, Judy reveals the murder plot at the climax. Judy reveals the plot two-thirds way in the film. This would show the internal conflict of Judy. Judy wants to be with Scottie, but also wants to stay away from him. Hitchcock wanted to delete the letter-writing scene, but it remained in the movie.
Hitchock rejected the scripts of Maxwell Anderson and Alec Coppel. He finally accepted the script of Samuel A. Taylor. Taylor created the character Midge. Both Taylor and Coppel were credited in the film.
The movie was filmed in San Francisco and the San Francisco Bay Area. There are several notable shooting sites: Mission San Juan Bautista, Fort Point, underneath the Golden Gate Bridge, the California Palace of the Legion of Honor, Big Basin Redwoods State Park, the Palace of Fine Arts, Coit Tower, and Pebble Beach. There was outdoor shooting for 16 days and then studio shooting for several months.
Bernard Hermann composed the score for the film. This is one of his most notable music compositions for film.
The movie received mixed reviews at first. Some praised the film. Others did not like the structure of the film. Over time, the film has gotten much more praise by critics. In a 2002 Sight & Sound poll, Vertigo was ranked the second greatest film after Citizen Kane (1941). In 1962 and 1972, the film was on the top ten list of Sight & Sound. In 2012, Vertigo was considered the best film ever made. The film is studied by critics and is popular with audiences. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a 94%. Vertigo is the favorite film of Martin Scorsese. The film is on the following American Film Institute lists:
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