movie film review | chris tookey


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  Vertigo Review
Tookey's Rating
10 /10
Average Rating
9.39 /10
Scottie Ferguson ...... James Stewart , Madeleine/Judy ........ Kim Novak , Midge ................. Barbara Bel Geddes
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Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Written by: Alec Coppel, Samuel Taylor from Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac's novel D'Entre les Morts

Released: 1958
Origin: US
Colour: C
Length: 128

A detective (James Stewart) who's afraid of heights falls for a wife he's following (Kim Novak).
Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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An extraordinary, dreamlike thriller with a memorably bleak view of human nature, Vertigo received some of the most boneheaded reviews in critical history. It is one of the finest and most interesting films by the man generally - and, to my mind, rightly - regarded as the greatest of all movie directors, Alfred Hitchcock.

It starts out as a conventional thriller-cum-love story, about a detective who becomes obsessed with a mysterious, apparently half-crazed woman he's protecting for her husband, an old college friend (Tom Helmore). As he trails her, her behaviour takes on a disturbingly repetitive, nightmarish quality. When she commits suicide, our hero suffers an emotional breakdown. Months later, he sees a woman in the street who is her double and starts trailing her...

It’s at this point, about forty minutes before the end, that Hitchcock plays one of the sneakiest tricks ever played on a movie audience. He solves the mystery for us but not for his detective, effectively detaching us from our hero and making us watch his behaviour with new eyes as, increasingly unhinged, he tries to mould the new woman into the likeness of his lost love.

We become more critical of him but can still empathise with his obsession, unnervingly well played by Stewart, an actor normally cast as a much nicer, simpler soul. Even when the hero finally understands what has happened and gains revenge upon those who have tricked him, he (and we) can feel no pleasure in it. And the principal villain goes free.

Anyone who attends Vertigo expecting one of Hitchcock’s typically escapist thrillers may well be dissatisfied, for this is one of the bleakest character studies ever made.

It is here that Hitchcock most fully reveals his own most sinister side - especially his obsessive, sadistic treatment of beautiful leading ladies. It also explores the dark side of men in general, the elements of cruelty and manipulation that can lie behind the most loving male-female relationships.

At the same time, Hitchcock shows rare sympathy for his leading lady. The scenes where she tries to please the obsessed Scottie by changing herself into someone else have a heartbreaking intensity, well played by Kim Novak in the performance of her career.

The film received Oscar nominations for Best Art Direction (Hal Pereira, Henry Bumstead, Sam Comer, Frank McKelvy) and Sound (George Dutton); but Robert Burks's outstanding photography and Bernard Herrmann's score, one of the most nerve-jangling ever written, might also have been recognized. Hitchcock failed even to be nominated for Best Director, but this is one of the great directorial tours de force.

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