Review: Vertigo (1958)


Director: Alfred Hitchcock | 128 minutes | drama, thriller, romance | Actors: James Stewart, Kim Novak, Barbara Bel Geddes, Tom Helmore, Henry Jones, Raymond Bailey, Ellen Corby, Konstantin Shayne, Lee Patrick

The theme of the policeman falling under the spell of a woman is an interesting feature for modern crime thrillers, and it continues to revert to “Vertigo”. The film can count several contemporary directors among its fans, including Paul Verhoeven, who even staged Scottie’s house in San Francisco in ‘Basic Instinct’ (1992), also a film where the solution of a crime is threatened by the ‘ weaknesses’ of a detective. The solid James Stewart returns after “Rear Window” (1954) as the main character in “Vertigo” and Kim Novak – a ghostly ideal of women – is his muse. Hitchcock elaborates on the voyeurism of “Rear Window”, but with “Vertigo” again opts for a unique approach.

A detective suffers from a mental illness that makes him unable to practice his profession. He is supported by a friend (a Moneypenny-esque Barbara Bel Geddes) who is caring and intelligent, but cannot please him. Instead, he falls for the elusive Madeleine, who seems to live in her own world, driven by irrationality. That intrigues Scottie, an outsider herself. The viewer seems to be sucked into a female fantasy with Scottie, a psychological drama that is no longer a thriller, but then we overlook the inventiveness of Hitchcock.

Although “Vertigo” lacks the horror effects of films like “Psycho” (1960), it is steadily working towards a climax. A layer is slowly added that keeps the film interesting. Could Scottie herself be overcome by the past? Is Madeleine a lot more calculating than expected? It is all possible and is not even that important for enjoying the film. Put the thriller element aside and an icy cynical image of love unfolds.

Hitchcock’s vision of man-woman relationships culminated in “Vertigo”. “Truth is in the eye of the beholder” is the only positive thing he seems to care about for romance. Girlfriend Midge discreetly hides her feelings for Scottie but gets slammed when she meddles too much in his love life; Scottie himself tries to recreate the woman in his ideal image. He hesitates between his calling instincts and his feelings and whenever he seems to choose, fate strikes. It is all worked out stylishly – even with psychedelic special effects – although “Vertigo” is certainly not the most exciting of Hitchcock. Above all, it is a settlement with – and at the same time a tribute to – the platinum blonde fatal woman and the men who go for her.

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