60/60 Review #36: Vertigo.

At the time of its release in 1958, Vertigo was a public and critical failure--only later to be considered, along with Psycho, one of Hitchcock's best films... possibly even his masterpiece (and on top of that, considered one of the greatest films ever made). Like with Rope 10 years prior, one of its biggest complaints was that some (including Hitchcock) felt James Stewart was miscast. In fact, despite Stewart being one of his biggest collaborators, Hitchcock never worked with him again after this film.

The film focuses on a San Francisco detective, John "Scottie" Ferguson (James Stewart). After a bad case that ended in another cop's death and that left Scottie hanging from the rafters, Scottie gained a bad fear of heights and vertigo. He quits his job because of it, but is soon hired by an old college buddy, Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore), to follow his wife Madeleine (Kim Novak) because she keeps wandering off, and he thinks she's been possessed by the spirit of her great grandmother. But in the process, he becomes too obsessed with her, and his sanity starts slipping the further into the case he gets.

Most people's biggest complaint seems to be the complicated plot, but that didn't really bother me (at least not directly). In fact, there were parts that reminded me somewhat of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (very loosely, mind you)--complicated, but with a damn good twist. Speaking of comparisons, very early on in the film I was reminded of Les Diabolique, which you might remember I reviewed back in May. Coincidentally, I discovered that this is based on a book that the authors wrote specifically for Hitchcock after he failed to get his hands on the adaptation of their other book... which, you guessed it, was adapted into Les Diabolique.

No, my biggest issue stemmed from the fact this movie never seems to end. At about the 50-minute mark, I felt I was about to reach the climax of the film as it seemed it had been going on so long. This movie is 128 minutes. It's a very long, drawn-out, slow film... and there actually is a huge twist about the 90 minute mark that would normally go at the end of the film. But there's still another 40 minutes after that. Long story short, it definitely could have been trimmed down.

There also seems to be a strange issue with time. By that I mean that it's very hard to discern just how much time has gone by at any given point. I figure for most of the first hour, only 1-3 days tops has gone by (and in that time, he falls madly and dangerously in love with a woman he barely knows... which I'll get to shortly). Then there's a part I really can't get in to without spoiling anything, but there's apparently this large time jump. I had to look it up to find out it was a whole year, as it's not really clear at all within the film how much time had passed.

I've said it in my other two reviews with the man during this project, but I really like James Stewart. His acting was superb in this film. That being said, his character bugged the heck out of me at times. He starts out likable enough, but he just goes nuts, falls for this woman he doesn't even know (a woman who is supposed to be married, at that), and--later--gets obsessive to the point of crazy creepy freak, who I would have called the cops on more than once during this movie. That aside, everyone else's acting is decent, though it does eventually delve into that cheesy, over-the-top, "old-timey" acting that I don't care for (except, of course, in Gone With The Wind).

All of that being said, this is definitely one I need to see again. I mean, seriously, even the IMDb FAQ on the film says first-time watchers tend not to care for the film, as they focus too much on the intricacies of the plot, some implausible things, and the fact that the movie never seems to end (partially thanks to the twist). I can agree with all of that, frankly, but it is one I'd be willing to give a second chance now that I know the story and wouldn't be nearly as focused one what the heck is going on.

Unfortunately, however, this review is for my initial viewing. And upon said viewing, I thought the film was too long, I didn't care for the main character (despite his generally great acting), and I felt the story and pacing didn't match up well enough (a different issue to me than it being too long, but somewhat related... if that makes sense). The movie is saved by innovative filmmaking and a fantastic twist, though. There's just too much other stuff that, at least at first glance, makes the film appear rather flawed.

Stop Saying OK! OK.

(P.S. I was originally going with a higher scoring. But as I let my thoughts settle and the film sink in, most of the initial positive emotions evened out and I felt this was more appropriate. And I prepare to be flogged for it.)


  1. A difference of opinion is nothing more than that--while I really like this film (now), I won't flog you for honesty.

    Anyway, I had a similar reaction on my first viewing. It's a strange film in a lot of ways, and it does generally get better with a second viewing. Give it another shot in a year or so and see what you think--Hitchcock deserves at least that.

  2. It's been a while since I've seen this one, but I really like it. Yes, it's a bit off, but I like how it plays with time and how obsessive and odd the character becomes as the film goes on as if it's the detective who is really the possessed character.

    As for the whole structure, it's certainly unconventional, but I like that a lot as it makes for what I think is a more emotional and unexpected final act.

  3. "is definitely one I need to see again" and i think thats how you are supposed to feel.

  4. Steve: Good to know.

    James: Indeed.

    Simon: Yeah, but probably not in the way I meant it. It probably wants you to feel you really need to see it again because it's awesome. Sorry to say, that's not how I feel.


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