Vertigo


Year 1958

James Stewart as   John 'Scottie' Ferguson  
Kim Novak as Madeleine Elster /
Judy Barton
Barbara Bel Geddes   as Midge Wood
Tom Helmore as Gavin Elster
 
Director - Alfred Hitchcock
Screenwriters - Alec Coppel
  - Samuel A. Taylor
Novel Authors - Pierre Boileau
  - Thomas Narcejac

The movie Vertigo is a study in obsession. A man's fear of heights inadvertently causes the death of a policeman colleague. The man with acroraphobia, Ferguson (Stewart), is demoralized by it and ripe to latch onto something to give him purpose. Enter an old college acquaintance, Gavin Elster (Helmore), who wants the now retired detective 'Scottie' Ferguson to keep an eye on his wife, Madeleine Elster (Novak). It seems that Medeleine goes into fugues where she visits the haunts of a dead ancestor and Gavin wants her observed for a while before he has her seeing any psychiatrists. Scottie falls in love with Madeleine and she professes her love for him right before she jumps out of a bell tower.

But that's not the end. Scottie becomes catatonic. He could've stopped her if it wasn't for his darned acrophobia. After a year of convalescing, he's let out of the looney bin, but he's still looney. He chances across a girl that he thinks looks like Madeleine and he begins taking her over mentally. He molds the girl, Judy Barton (also Novak), into the spitting image of Madeleine. Then, there's a revelation.

There's really not a lot to it. Man with problems meets a femme fatale wannabe about sums it up. This is hailed as a "masterpiece" and it might be. A masterpiece is a piece that someone in a guild would produce to impress the guild's master. Sort of like a senior thesis. It doesn't mean that it's good or bad, it's just the best that a person could produce at a given point in their apprenticeship.

But to say that it's a great work? Well, that's something else again. If you're tired when you watch this, then the movie becomes an effective sedative.

Personally, I think Hitchcock was an overt pervert and this oozed over into the movie. The character of Scottie is, in the vernacular, a creeper. He's about twenty-five years older than Madeleine/Judy for starters. In his first encounter with Madeleine, he fishes her out of the San Francisco Bay. What does he do with the nearly unconscious woman? He takes her back to his place, strips her naked, and puts her in his bed. To her, this is no big deal.

Later, Scottie falls in love with her. I don't care if it's Kim Novak. This is the wife of someone from his college days who befriended him. Does he really have so little control that he sleeps with this guy's wife? What a hero, Scottie!

Then there's the way he controls Judy. He makes her wear a special outfit, color her hair, and behave the way he wants. It's deranged, I tell ya! Judy is no closer to being sane and asks, "If I do what you tell me, will you love me?" Really? What is this? An early pubescent dream? Hitchcock? deSade? What's in a name?

But that's not why this movie is Torn and Frayed. This movie is less than great because of two things. The first is that it's slow moving. Nothing exciting really happens. Oh, there're three deaths. One at the beginning of the movie, one in the middle, and one at the end. There are too many uninspired moments between clever scenes. Here's an example.

Scottie follows Madeleine to a rooming house. He sees her in a window. He enters. There's no one at the front desk. He waits. There's no one at the front desk. He rings a bell. A woman is now at the front desk. He asks about Madeleine without giving her name. The innkeeper gives him no information. He says that he's a cop. The innkeeper gives him some information. He says that Madeleine is in the room now. The innkeeper tells him that he's wrong. "Is too." "Is not." "Is too." "Is not." They go up to the room. Madeleine, apparently bored from waiting, is no longer in the room. But how did she leave? Magic?

Everything is unhurried real-time. Drive around a big city? Unhurried real-time. Have a dull conversation? Unhurried real-time. Climb some stairs? Unhurried real-time.

The second thing wrong with this movie is that there's not much to it. I haven't read the novel "D'Entre Les Morts" ("Among the Dead" or "The Living and the Dead") so I can't say how closely Vertigo follows the book. From what I gather, in the book the feeling of Scottie's character for Madeleine is more plausible than in the movie. If you can't at least understand any of the characters, how can there be any pathos? It's the lack of depth of the main characters that ultimately sinks this movie.

Why does Scottie fall so in love with Madeleine? I dunno. Why is Scottie such a control freak? I dunno. Why does Madeleine return Scottie's affections? Why does Judy agree to be Scottie's pet? What purpose does Midge serve except to be the only sympathetic character in the movie? Why doesn't the script generate any sympathy for Judy? What was the collegiate relationship between Scottie and Gavin?

This movie is a one-trick pony. The Madeleine/Judy gimmick only goes so far before you have to ask, "And then what?"

It's not the worst movie ever made. In fact, some of the scenes are quite haunting. The trip that Scottie and Madeleine make to the redwood forest is ethereal enough to send chills up your spine. If this had been a vampire movie or had a serious touch of synchronicity to it where coincidences have a cumulative effect, then the stodgy scenes might have been a bit more engaging. I felt like I was watching Hitchcock show-off for his own pleasure rather than mine.

Vertigo does excell at creating a dreamlike mood. Maybe it's an inadvertent by-product of all of the continuity goofs within the movie. It fails to generate sympathy for Scottie and the movie should have been about his descent into madness. Saul Bass did the titles, which are cool.

No nudity, blasphemy, or profanity. Some chick flick potential if she likes to get riled up.


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