Vertigo (1958)

Be warned! If you, like me, have avoided seeing this film (SHAME!), there may be spoilers ahead!

Going into Vertigo I knew … well, absolutely nothing. Shocking, and a little shameful, I know. All I knew was that it starred Jimmy Stewart, and had elements of the “supernatural” to it (thanks to a good friend of mine, this being his favorite Hitchcock film). My reaction: I enjoyed it thoroughly, and especially the twist ending. However, I’m not infatuated, nor am I floored. I blame the hype … again.

Kim Novak and James Stewart were wonderful, and virtually irreplaceable in their roles. However, I do think much of Novak’s power is in her looks, something I hate to admit about a female performer. Her eyes could sink ships, and so they were put to brilliant use by Hitchcock here: Scottie didn’t stand a chance. She absolutely devoured him, an absolute necessity for both the character and plot progression.

Beyond Novak’s smouldering features, her performance was adequate. She spoke with a perfectly affected voice when need be, and slipped effortlessly into her slightly classless alter ego. However, in terms of emotive strength, she did what most actresses of the day did: relied on melodrama. Such was the nature of the beast at the time, and such was called for in this particular production.

Jimmy Stewart was, as always, iconic Jimmy Stewart. I still think that I absolutely have to see him in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington before I can truly judge him as a wonderful actor, instead of just an absolute treasure and joy to watch on screen (It’s one of my father’s all time favorite films, so I’ve always felt compelled to watch it. The opportunity has yet to arise … until now, of course). He’s lovely. He melts my heart every time he’s on screen. But I’ve never felt particularly moved by his acting chops, more his beautiful puppy dog eyes, and his unmistakeable voice and inflection.

The story is engaging, but I found it a little hard to dive into from the get go. The plot seemed so terribly far fetched, and so unlike Hitchcock to turn to the supernatural, that I simply couldn’t completely surrender myself to it. As such, the end twist wasn’t as all-consumingly shocking as it was intended to be. This alone feels like a huge let down, as I take the leap of faith quite seriously. I absolutely love suspending all disbelief for those two hours, believing in every word that echoes off the screen, and every flicker of light that paints a picture in front of me. I always give in, completely, and I just couldn’t with Vertigo, which breaks my heart just a little bit.

Visually it is absolutely stunning. I continuously found myself pouring over the interesting use of background space, the remarkable depth of field, and the stunning cityscapes that sprawled throughout the film. Just before Novak throws herself into the San Francisco Bay, I found myself completely captivated by the shots. It’s a visual masterpiece.

Some interesting little factoids (some of which are probably more well known than I’m aware of), Hitchcock came up with the idea for the “Contra-Zoom” shot developed by the uncredited Irmin Roberts came from a fainting spell he once had. He had wanted to use the effect in Rebecca (1940), however the technology didn’t exist at the time. Interestingly enough, both films are about the death of a wife holding those involved in their lives captive, influencing them.

It’s said that Hitchcock’s wife, Alma, saw the film and enjoyed every bit of it thoroughly, save for one small criticism: that in the scene by the San Francisco Bay, Kim Novak appeared to be too large for the shot. Hitchcock would go on to say that his wife hated the film, which wasn’t true at all! Hitchcock later bought back the rights to Vertigo so as to leave it to his Daughter as part of his legacy to her, making the film totally unavailable for decades. It’s evidently known as one of the “Five Lost Hitchcocks”. I had no idea until I started looking into the film. See what I mean? I knew absolutely nothing about the damn movie!

One more film down, countless more to go. Seriously, I’ve lost count. The list keeps growing because I haven’t had enough free time to really do anything with it! Time to tackle it with a fury!

This post was originally published on my tumblr on August 9, 2011.