Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, one of the most unnerving psychological thrillers ever made, began climbing the annals after Hitchcock’s death until reaching first in the prestigious British Sight & Sound magazine’s Top 50 Films of All Time in September 2012. With the distinguished eerie tune by Bernard Herrmann, whose very first film, remarkably, was Citizen Kane, Hitchcock, The Master of Suspense, encompasses the real world with a mystery supposedly from the supernatural. With outstanding performances from Kim Novak and Jimmy Stewart (though I still can’t get over his disproportionate walk), Vertigo turns the familiar murder-mystery story into an enthralling masterpiece of love, money and a lot of tall, dizzying stairs.
Legendary actor Jimmy Stewart plays John ‘Scottie’ Ferguson, a San Francisco detective who, after a police falls to his death attempting to help him on a rooftop, has been released from police duty due to his acrophobia, or fear of heights. However, shipping businessman Gavin Elster later discovers and hires Scottie’s detective hand to follow his twenty-six year old wife as he suspects supernatural occurrences that he claims that the dead visits his wife and drives her in drastic behaviors. Tailing her, he witnesses her mad wanderings and discovers that she ties her hair and collects the same flower as a woman from a painting in the Palace of the Legions of Honor. However, this is not enough to dub it more than a coincidence. Dexterously, he quickly learns that the twenty-six year-old Madeleine hears cries to suicide from this woman. Soon, however, he later quickly unearths the woman as Carlotta Valdes, also a suicidal at age twenty-six.
Though rated PG in almost all of the re-releases, the 1999 Digital version I viewed contained a PG-13 rating, which is far more fitting for the heavy elements and themes of death in the film. In fact, even from the opening credits, Hitchcock brings out the dreads and surprises. Filmed in essentially every historic site in and around San Francisco, Vertigo gives many long smooches and innuendos as well as some “suicide” attempts and disturbing constituents, specifically an extremely tense nightmare and the Carlotta Valdes picture which Hitchcock gradually managed, throughout the course of the film, to put a bit of sinister in it.
With his forty-fifth feature film, Hitchcock again proves himself as The Master. Though it all comes clear at the end, this tour de force will be frightening to young viewers, but it would be a piece of Sherlock Holmes for high school level viewers. Though it may be slow and plodding in the first hour when Scottie trails Madeleine Elster in his car, it soon catches on with Hitchcock’s masterful storytelling along with the suspenseful and mystic truth. With each suicide attempt, failed rescues and an ending with the horrid, though common truth, Vertigo gives The Master’s best.