Friday, October 25, 2013


(1958) ****

Though it was initially dismissed by critics and moviegoers alike, Vertigo has been reappraised over the years to the point of where it is now deemed a classic. Here marks the last legendary collaboration between Alfred Hitchcock and dorky/wholesome James Stewart. Though an undeniable chemistry exists between Stewart and lead actress Kim Novak, Stewart was criticized for being too old to play her love interest. It's a fair criticism in my estimation. He was 50 at the time while she was 25. This would not be the last time an aging, slightly grandfatherly actor would play leading man to a much younger female. 

 He sure is a charming fellow but his dwindling hair distracts from this bug-out scene. 
Stewart plays "Scottie" a detective whose fear of heights arguably led to the death of another police officer, leading to his retirement. A friend of his named Gavin Elster hires him to follow his wife Madeleine (Novak) because he is worried about her increasingly bizarre behavior. 

In the scenes where Scottie follows her around the city we are guided on a gratuitously thorough tour of the streets of 1950's San Francisco. It's fun to identify the various landmarks although one should be prepared to endure multiple shots of James Stewart paying attention to the road.  

"It would behoove me to switch lanes at the next safe, available opportunity." 
Multiple iconic locations are either shown or name-dropped including Golden Gate Park and the bar at the Top of the Mark. Market Street actually looks like a vibrant street with markets instead of today's sketchy blend of tourists, commuters and resident addicts.  In one famous scene the Golden Gate Bridge is captured in all it's glory, its beauty exploited for everything it's worth in this extended lingering shot: 

Yeah, we get it, San Francisco is a beautiful place to be.
Madeleine is strangely obsessed with a portrait of a woman who committed suicide and it becomes clear that she has suicidal tendencies of her own. Scottie rescues her after she jumps into the bay (she jumped, like 10 feet into the water = whoop-tee-freakin'-doo) and the two go on to develop a strong bond. I won't go any further with the plot summary because half the fun is bearing witness to the several swerves that ensue.   

Vertigo has all of the elements of a classic Hitchcock film including innovative scares, unexpected storyline developments, a murder plot and a romance that binds it all together. The romantic aspects are way too sappy for my blood but Hitch was in top form when it came to the scares and the overall dark, foreboding mood.

I wavered between ***1/2 and **** but settled for the latter because of the inspired/inspiring use of the dolly zoom


Catfreeek said...

Great review and you reviewed a film featured on my arm. I really like Jimmy Stewart he slways comes off as such a regular guy.

AC said...

only seen it once but seem to remember liking it too. love the sf setting.

Octopunk said...

Johnny you seem unexpectedly bitter about the knockout beauty of San Francisco, but I wouldn't fret. I'm sure someone will depict the grandeur of nearby Walnut Creek in a movie someday.

The thing I like about this movie besides its relentless SF-ness is how Jimmy Stewart's character moves into a darker, less sympathetic place by the end.

Johnny Sweatpants said...

Don't get me wrong Octo, I absolutely adore San Francisco and am going there twice this weekend. I just thought Hitchcock relied to heavily on it. Walnut Creek is indeed beautiful and the weather is better.

Octopunk said...

Ha! I was just talking to a former SFer who had the same gripe about the weather. I always thought the official Seal of the City should include the words "bring a jacket."

Landshark said...

Nice review--it made me realized it's been too long since I've seen this one--one of my favs.

50PageMcGee said...

i think i have pictures of you getting drunk at the top of the mark.

JPX said...

I just realized that I have never seen this film, how is that possible? Great review, you have me sold!