Vertigo (1958) Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. With James Stewart, Kim Novak, Tom Helmore and Barbara Bel Geddes.
Adapted from the French novel, D’entre les morts, Alfred Hitchcock’s psychological masterpiece Vertigo is every bit the essential viewing that scholars and viewers alike would have you believe.
James Stewart plays ‘Scottie’, a retired San Francisco detective, hired to investigate the peculiar behaviour of an old friend’s wife, played by Kim Novak. I’ll refrain from spoilers, but suffice it say, there’s a great deal of twist to this influential, engrossing tale. Early in the film, it’s explained how Scottie develops acrophobia, a scene in which Hitchcock employs his first use of the now famous reverse-zoom-dolly technique to accentuate the disorientation.
Keeping us off-balance is the real trick of Vertigo. As its eerie narrative unveils and the visual tricks combine, our own sense of disorientation matches that of Stewart’s central character, as his emotions cross-swords with common sense. Novak’s beguiling turn as Madeleine keeps us guessing right until the controversially abrupt ending – while Bernard Herrmann’s gripping score brilliantly contributes to building the tension and imposing the drama.
Since its release the influence of Vertigo has echoed throughout cinema. From blockbusters like Steven Speilberg’s Jaws, employing the same famous camera technique, to the tone and visual references of Paul Verhoeven’s thriller, Basic Instinct, Hitchcock looms large. It was voted the greatest film of all-time by the British Film Institute in 2012. High praise you might say, but it’s had to argue against. 5/5