From the opening title sequence, which is punctuated by Bernard Herrmann’s haunting, powerful score, it’s obvious that Alfred Hitchcock’'s Vertigo is going to be an intense experience. However, even this harrowing start fails to adequately prepare us for what's to come. With burning desire bubbling just below the surface at all times, Vertigo proves all consuming, a film that probes deeply into the psychological obsessions of a man torn apart by love.
Scotty (James Stewart), a retired San Francisco detective with an extreme fear of heights, is contacted by an old college friend named Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore), who wants to hire Scotty to spy on his wife. Far from being a jealous husband, Elster has come to believe that his wife, Madeleine (Kim Novak), has been ‘possessed’ by the spirit of one of her ancestors, a woman named Carlotta, who died tragically many years ago. Elster now fears that Madeleine may attempt to harm herself as she unwittingly relives events from the past. During the course of following Madeleine around town, however, Scotty finds that he himself is falling in love with her, a love that's taken full control of Scotty’s good senses.
Vertigo is a passionate movie, yet it’s passion is not solely of a romantic nature. More than merely falling in love with Madeleine, Scotty becomes obsessed with her, and Hitchcock captures this obsession by way of several impressive camera tricks. The first time Scotty sees Madeleine, she’s dining in an exclusive restaurant. Scotty watches as Madeleine gets up from her table and walks through a doorway, and as she does so a bright light envelops her, throwing everything in the background into darkness; Scotty can see nothing but Madeline’s radiant beauty, and from that moment on, whenever we see Madeleine, everything surrounding her is slightly out of focus. Like Scotty, we are meant to see only Madeline.
I’ve been a fan of Hitchcock’s for many years, and I rank several of his films among the best I’ve ever seen. Vertigo is his masterpiece.
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