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  • Writer's pictureThomas Duncan

Vertigo (1958)

Updated: Dec 8, 2023


Cast:

  • Alfred Hitchcock, Director

  • Alec Coppel and Samuel Taylor, Screenplay

  • Bernard Herman, Music

  • James Stewart as John "Scottie" Ferguson

  • Kim Novak as Judy Barton / 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

*Recognition:

  • Loosely based on D'entre les morts, a 1954 novel by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, Vertigo was released on May 9, 1958.

  • While Vertigo did break even upon its original release, it earned significantly less than other Hitchcock productions, and finished an estimated 13th among top grossing films in 1958.

  • Adding to the comparatively low box office numbers were the mixed to poor reviews at the time with many critics singling out the pacing and structure of the story as well as Hitchcock's departure from the romantic thrillers he had become known for.

  • In an interview with François Truffaut, Hitchcock stated that Vertigo was one of his favourite films, with some reservations. Hitchcock blamed the film's failure on the 49-year-old Stewart looking too old to play a convincing love interest for the 24-year-old Kim Novak.

  • Over time the film has been re-evaluated by film critics and has moved higher in esteem in most critics' opinions. Every ten years since 1952, the British Film Institute's film magazine, Sight & Sound, has asked the world's leading film critics to compile a list of the 10 greatest films of all time. In the 1962 and 1972 polls, Vertigo was not among the top 10 films in voting. Only in 1982 did Vertigo enter the list, and then in 7th place. By 1992, it had advanced to 4th place, by 2002 to 2nd, and in 2012 to 1st place in both the crime genre, and overall, ahead of Citizen Kane in 2nd place; in 2022, the Sight & Sound poll ranked Vertigo 2nd place. In the 2012 Sight & Sound director's poll of the greatest films ever made Vertigo was ranked 7th. In the earlier 2002 version of the list the film ranked 6th among directors. In 2022 edition of the list, the film ranked 6th in the director's poll.

  • In 1998, Time Out conducted a poll and Vertigo was voted the 5th greatest film of all time.

  • The Village Voice ranked Vertigo at No. 3 in its Top 250 "Best Films of the Century" list in 1999, based on a poll of critics.

  • Entertainment Weekly voted it the 19th Greatest film of all time in 1999.

  • In January 2002, the film was voted at No. 96 on the list of the "Top 100 Essential Films of All Time" by the National Society of Film Critics.

  • In 2009, the film was ranked at No. 10 on Japanese film magazine Kinema Junpo's Top 10 Non-Japanese Films of All Time list.

  • In 2022, Time Out magazine ranked the film at No.15 on their list of "The 100 best thriller films of all time".

  • In 1989, Vertigo was selected by the United States Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry in the first year of the registry's voting.

  • The American Film Institute has recognized the film on the following lists:

    • AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (1998) #61

    • AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills (2001) #18

    • AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions (2002) #18

    • AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores (2005) #12

    • AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) (2007) #9

    • AFI's 10 Top 10 (2008) #1 Mystery

  • Vertigo currently holds a 92% among critics on RT, a 100 score on Metacritic, and a 4.2 out of 5 on Letterboxd.

What is this movie is about?/Elevator Pitch: We all have a moment in a relationship gone bad that we obsess for a while on, and regret what happened.


Plot Summary: In Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo," the maestro of suspense takes us on a dizzying journey into the recesses of the human mind. James Stewart stars as Scottie Ferguson, a former detective burdened by his fear of heights, a phobia that gradually becomes a metaphor for the vertiginous nature of desire itself.

When Scottie is enlisted by an old acquaintance, Gavin Elster, to investigate his wife's peculiar behavior, the stage is set for a tale of passion and deception. Kim Novak, a vision of ethereal beauty, portrays Madeleine, the object of Scottie's infatuation. As Scottie falls deeper into a labyrinth of mystery and obsession, Hitchcock deftly unravels the thin thread connecting reality and fantasy.


As Scottie becomes entangled in a torrid affair, the film takes a dark and unexpected turn. The boundaries between truth and illusion blur, leaving both the protagonist and the audience teetering on the edge of a precipice. In a climactic twist that leaves us reeling, Hitchcock shatters our expectations and forces us to confront the fragility of our own perceptions.

"Vertigo" is a tour de force of psychological cinema, a mesmerizing exploration of the dark recesses of the human psyche. With its haunting imagery and an intricate web of deceit, the film lingers in our consciousness, leaving us questioning the nature of reality and the depths of our own desires.


Did You Know:

  • The opening title sequence designed by Saul Bass makes this the first movie to use computer graphics.

  • Uncredited second unit cameraman Irmin Roberts invented the famous "zoom out and track in" shot (now sometimes called "contra-zoom" or "trombone shot") to convey the sense of vertigo to the audience. The view down the mission stairwell cost $19,000 for just a couple of seconds of screentime.

  • This movie was unavailable for three decades because its rights (together with four other movies of the same period) were bought back by Sir Alfred Hitchcock and left as part of his legacy to his daughter Patricia Hitchcock. They've been long-known as the "Five Lost Hitchcocks" among movie buffs and were re-released in theaters around 1984 after an approximately thirty-year absence. The others are The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), Rear Window (1954), Rope (1948), and The Trouble with Harry (1955).

  • The Mission San Juan Batista is a real place, but the tower had to be matted in with a painting using studio effects; Hitchcock had first visited the mission before the tower was torn down due to dry rot, and was reportedly displeased to find it missing when he returned to film his scenes. The original tower was much smaller and less dramatic than the film's version.

Best Performance: Alfred Hitchcock (Director)/Bernard Herman (Music)

Best Secondary Performance: Alfred Hitchcock (Director)/James Stewart (Scottie)

Most Charismatic Award: James Stewart (Scottie)/Kim Novak (Judy/Madeleine)

Best Scene:

  • Midge's

  • Following Madeleine

  • Fort Point

  • Back at Scottie's

  • Wandering Together

  • Madeleine Takes Her Life

  • Fever Dream

  • Seeing Madeleine Everywhere

  • Judy Barton

  • The Reveal

  • Changing Judy

  • Final Confrontation

Favorite Scene: The Reveal/The Necklace

Most Indelible Moment: Final Confrontation


In Memorium:

  • Robin Wagner, 89, American set designer (The Producers, Jesus Christ Superstar, City of Angels, Victor/Victoria, Young Frankenstein, Angels in America, Dreamgirls), Tony winner (1978, 1990, 2001).

  • James Lewis, 63, American singer (Trans-Siberian Orchestra)

  • John Beasley, 79, American actor (The Soul Man, The Apostle, The Sum of All Fears, Everwood, Rudy, The Mighty Ducks)

Best Lines/Funniest Lines:

Scottie: Don't you think its kind of a waste for the two of us...

Madeleine: To wander separately? But, only one is a wanderer; two together are always going somewhere.


Judy: Couldn't you like me, just me the way I am? When we first started out, it was so good; w-we had fun. And... and then you started in on the clothes. Well, I'll wear the darn clothes if you want me to, if, if you'll just, just like me.


Scottie: You shouldn't keep souvenirs of a killing. You shouldn't have been that sentimental.


Scottie: I'm responsible for you now. You know, the Chinese say that once you have saved a person's life, you're responsible for it forever. And so I'm committed. And I have to know.

Madeleine: So little do I know. It is as though I were walking down a long corridor that - that once was mirrored, and fragments of that mirror still hang there. And when I come to the end of the corridor, there's nothing but darkness. And I know that when I walk into the darkness, that I'll die.


Scottie: One final thing I have to do... and then I'll be free of the past.


Scottie: One doesn't often get a second chance. I want to stop being haunted. You're my second chance, Judy; you're my second chance.


Scottie: Midge, who do you know that's an authority on San Francisco history?

Midge: That's the kind of greeting a girl likes! Not this "Hello-you-look-wonderful" stuff, just a good straight "Who do you know that's an authority on San Francisco his - -"


The Stanley Rubric:

Legacy: 8.25

Impact/Significance: 5.75

Novelty: 9.5

Classic-ness: 8.25

Rewatchability: 7

Audience Score: 8.8 (83% Google, 93% RT)

Total: 47.55


Remaining Questions:

  • What scares Judy so much that she falls/jumps in the final scene?

  • Why would she go along with Elster's plan?

  • How would Scottie explain Judy's death?

  • What was Scottie's plan after the confrontation on the belltower?

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