2020 Blind Spot Series: Vertigo (1958)

There's plenty of Alfred Hitchcock films I'm yet to see so why did I pick Vertigo? Simply because it is regarded as a masterpiece and stars James Stewart. Yes, I'm that shallow. But also, Stewart was terrific in Rear Window, which is easily my favourite Hitchcock film, so I figured I'd play it safe with it. I was wrong as, while it's not terrible, the film is far from being the masterpiece I was expecting. 

The film opens with a rooftop chase with a tragic ending — a policeman falls to his death because detective John "Scottie" Ferguson (James Stewart) has a sudden attack of vertigo and can't help his colleague. 

Subsequently, he retires from the forces and, as tries to conquer his fear, an old friend from college, Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore), asks him to follow his wife, Madeleine (Kim Novak), as he fears she is going insane, maybe even contemplating suicide as she is acting like she has been possessed by her great-grandmother, who Madeleine knows nothing about, but Gavin knows committed suicide at the age of twenty-six, Madeleine's current age. 

Scottie is sceptical but agrees to the assignment and, after rescuing her from an apparent suicide attempt in the San Francisco bay, he gets to know her and falls in love with her. 

One of the issues I had with Vertigo is the writing. Story-wise, it starts out pretty well as it's compelling and engaging but, unfortunately, as it unfolds, there just are predictable twists, too much fake drama and a contrived romance. The characters are shallow, unbelievable and uninteresting, hence I didn't care for any of them. As for the dialogue, there's a lot of bland and banal exchanges between the characters throughout the film, especially when Scottie is interacting with her ex-fiancĂ©e and now friend Midge (Barbara Bel Geddes). 

And then the direction. I can't believe Hitchcock directed this film because there's almost a complete lack of suspense as the only exciting and tense moment is the rooftop chase at the beginning of the film.

That being said, there are still aspects of Vertigo I enjoyed. The performances, both from Stewart and Novak, are more than solid and make the film a little more watchable. The cinematography is very beautiful, and Bernard Hermann's musical score sets the atmosphere while also emphasising the characters' mood swings. 


  1. Wow! You were not impressed. I do admit it is not my favourite Hitchcock film but I still enjoyed it much more than you have. I found the theme of obsession, fear, and mental instability very intriguing to watch since Hitchcock had these traits. Jimmy Stewart was great as the troubled ex cop. The use of green in the cinematography was well played for sure. I would suggest to check out Strangers on a Train and Shadow of a Doubt as well as North by Northwest.

    1. I forgot to mention it but I did love the use of green here. As for your suggestions, both Strangers on a Train and Shadow of a Doubt are already on my watchlist, and I absolutely loved North by Northwest.

  2. I'm with you on not seeing this as one of Hitchcock's master works. It's a well made film with Kim Novak's best performance but it's mean spirited and Stewart's character is a cruelly selfish son of bitch.

    All the pluses you mentioned help the film but it's nowhere near the top tier Hitch's like Rear Window, Lifeboat, Strangers on a Train, North by Northwest, Notorious or Shadow of a Doubt.

    My favorite of his films is Saboteur which is considered just below the top level but it's got Priscilla Lane (LOVE her) and I've always had a soft spot for it. It's often confused with his similarly named earlier film Sabotage, which is probably the best of his British films before coming to the States.

    1. Rear Window and North by Northwest are my favourites so far. I've never heard of Saboteur but I will check it out.