Perhaps one of Hitchcock’s best films, Vertigo, is next on the list of recommendations from the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book. With the combined star power of James Stewart and Kim Novak, this romantic thriller defines obsession as well as fear.
Stewart is John ‘Scottie’ Ferguson a San Francisco police detective on the verge of retiring from the force due to a debilitating case of acrophobia – an irrational fear of heights. When he hears from an old friend, Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore), he takes work tailing Elster’s wife, Madeline (Novak) who has some strange activities of late. Elster hints that he believes she may be possessed, but Scottie will have none of it, but agrees to take the case.
He not only becomes obsessed with he begins to fall in love with her, craving only her, much to the upset of would-be-suitor, and longtime friend, Midge (Barbara Bel Geddes).
As he trails her, be begins to become dangerously obsessed with her, and before he can stop anything, she ends up dead. But when another woman, Judy Barton, arrives in his life, a dead ringer for Madeline, there is the possibility that something truly dangerous is going on here.
There is nothing in this film that doesn’t work, from the dizzying moments of Scottie’s vertigo, to a finally crafted and acted story that has layer upon layer of meaning, while at the same time simply being a cracker of a story.
Everything is perfectly underlined with a beautiful and haunting score by Bernard Hermann. The film takes you in completely, bringing you into the mystery, as Scottie tries to unravel the threads of truths, his fear (often framed by some dazzling shots), and understand his own compulsions and feelings.
The film, even now, some 58 years on, looks stunning, and the story still enthrals, thanks in no small part to the performances, the incredible story and the skills of Hitchcock and those he surrounded himself with.
Novak shines in this film, as Madeline she is aloof, refined, stunning, and the relationship she develops with Scottie feels real, until that horrifying moment in the tower (what a sequence), as Judy is confident, cynical and just as stunning as a brunette as she was as a blonde, something Scottie wants to fix, and she has a secret she’ll reveal before the film’s end.
Revelations and discoveries are made, and Scottie may have to face his fears and his obsession before he can put this behind him once and for all.
Stewart is at his everyman best, playing the love, the obsession and the fear passionaltely as Scottie is pulled deeper and deeper into something he doesn’t at first understand, but before the story comes to it’s conclusion you know Stewart and Hitchcock will resolve everything in a most satisfactory way.
Beautiful, engaging, thrilling, and amazing, This one has stood the test of time, and proves itself over and over again with each viewing… and that ending!