This is one of the single most masterful pictures ever made. I had the privilege of first seeing it as it was meant to be watched, i.e. in a movie theater in a grandiose, newly restored 70mm Vistavision print when the film was re-released in 1996. I had never been so stirred by a movie, and have rarely been since to that level.
“Vertigo” is such a whirlpool of obsession and all the darkest things that lurk beneath human nature, things wrenching to face. It stars Jimmy Stewart as you’ve never seen him before, in the role of John Ferguson, a police detective who quits the force after his fear of heights cost the life of a partner. Then one day, an old college friends hires him to follow his wife Madeleine (played by the beautiful Kim Novak), who has been behaving strangely lately. Johnny takes the job as a favor to his friend and soon gets caught in a rather disturbing affair. Madeleine seems to connect with a lady who died tragically a hundred years ago. She wanders around the places where the lady spent time, stares at a portrait of her in the museum, visits her grave… Ferguson is puzzled by Madeleine’s behavior, but he’s also compelled to keep following her and eventually falls deeply in love with her.
And then things go wrong and… Believe me, this is barely the tip of the iceberg. “Vertigo” keeps getting more psychologically and emotionally complex and sordid, as John’s love becomes obsession and he feels the urge to regain what he had. The film relentlessly explores the relation between John and Madeleine even after she’s gone and replaced by another girl who reminds him of his flame (also played by Novak).
“Vertigo” is extremely well written: it’s intelligent, unpredictable, riveting. And then there’s Alfred Hitchcock, who outdid himself by crafting this unique masterpiece. Through all his work, you sense the Master’s keen sense of suspense and storytelling, but never has his style been this weaved with the film’s core, creating such a visceral cinematic experience. The cinematography is gorgeous and many shots are really impressive, like the classic staircase shot that simulates the effect of vertigo and the sequence by the Golden Gate. There’s also a dazzling sequence showing Stewart’s difficulty to keep a straight mind. And then there’s Novak and Stewart’s unforgettable screen couple, so lost in what’s real and pretend, said and unsaid, as well as Bernard Herrman‘s brilliant score. “Vertigo” is an absolute must-see if you aren’t afraid to see how far filmmaking is able to take you.