VERTIGO. 1958. DIRECTED BY ALFRED HITCHCOCK. STARRING JAMES STEWART, KIM NOVAK AND BARBARA BEL GEDDES. REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
I’ve watched this fantastic Hitchcockian thriller more times than I could possibly count, the most recent being on a Saturday afternoon on BBC2 television. (That, by the way, is the absolute best way to watch it.) It just doesn’t get any better than this, I was thinking as I curled up on the couch with my cup of tea and custard creams, quivering with anticipation and excitement.
On this occasion, the film was preceded by an excellent documentary called HITCHCOCK’S LEADING LADIES: TALKING PICTURES. Narrated by Sylvia Sims, it gave a bit of an insight into the great director’s choice of leading actresses and showed interview clips of Ingrid Bergmann, Kim Novak, Tippi Hedren and, perhaps most interestingly of all, Janet Leigh of PSYCHO fame, the film that cemented Hitchcock’s reputation as ‘the master manipulator of audiences and the master of suspense.’
Sean Connery, while almost certainly not a beautiful leading lady, featured in the documentary too. When asked in an interview clip if he was bothered about having to rape Tippi Hedren in one of Hitchcock’s most underrated films, MARNIE, he grinned widely and said ‘not in the slightest,’ or words to that effect. It was pretty funny to watch, the way he said it. If you don’t think that that sounds funny, well then, I guess you just had to be there…
VERTIGO is a masterpiece. It tells the story of John Scott Ferguson, superbly played by James Stewart. Ferguson is a retired policeman who leaves the force when his acrophobia, a condition that causes vertigo or dizziness when faced with heights, causes a fellow police officer to fall to his death during the pursuit of a criminal.
Ferguson is asked by an old college chum, Gavin Elster, to follow his independently wealthy wife Madeleine, who has been behaving strangely and seems almost to be possessed with the spirit of a long-dead relative called Carlotta Valdes. Ferguson thinks it all sounds like a load of superstitious old hogwash, but he reluctantly agrees to Elster’s request.
One glimpse of the beautiful Madeleine (Kim Novak) and poor old ‘Scotty’ is hopelessly lost. He falls instantly in love. He happily becomes entangled in Madeleine’s apparent descent into suicidal madness, never dreaming for a second that he’s being dragged ever deeper into a web of the most despicable deceit and skullduggery imaginable.
I can’t say too much more about the plot for fear of giving away some of the twists and turns that make this film a cinematic work of art. If you haven’t seen it already, I hope you’ll want to after reading this review. No-one should miss out on seeing this movie.
The acting, the script and the direction are all faultless. The sets and costumes are gorgeous and the colours rich and deep. It’s a russet red, rich chestnut brown and woodland green film. Ernie’s restaurant, with the lavish red furnishings…! Gavin Elster’s lavishly-furnished office in the shipbuilding company, ditto. The city of San Francisco deserves a credit all of its own, it looks so beautiful and leaves such a lasting ‘blue’ impression. This has to be one of the most richly-coloured of Hitchcock’s films.
Scotty’s utter sadness as he wanders hopelessly around Madeleine’s old ‘haunts’ -an appropriate choice of words!- is something that anyone who’s ever lost someone through bereavement or break-up will identify with. By the way, I’ll go on record as saying that I think he should forget all about mopey Madeleine, beautiful though she undoubtedly is, and get with nice sensible Midge. She’d go to the ends of the earth for him if he but knew it. But no, typical man, he’s too blinded by love and a pretty face to appreciate the undying love, the real and lasting love, that’s right slap-bang under his nose.
Ah well. That’s men for you. Can’t see the wood for the trees, sometimes. That reminds me that there are some amazing trees in the film, too. It truly is the film that has everything, even a brief appearance by the lovely Ellen Corby who went on to be Grandma Walton in the television series THE WALTONS. Don’t lose another minute before you watch VERTIGO. It’ll be your gift to yourself.
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based performance poet, novelist, film blogger, sex blogger and short story writer. She has given more than 200 performances of her comedy sex-and-relationship poems in different venues around Dublin, including The Irish Writers’ Centre, The International Bar, Toners’ Pub (Ireland’s Most Literary Pub), the Ha’penny Inn, Le Dernier Paradis at the Trinity Inn and The Strokestown Poetry Festival.
Her articles, short stories and poems have appeared in The Metro-Herald newspaper, Ireland’s Big Issues magazine, The Irish Daily Star, The Irish Daily Sun and The Boyne Berries literary journal. In August 2014, she won the ONE LOVELY BLOG award for her (lovely!) horror film review blog. She is addicted to buying books and has been known to bring home rain-washed tomes she finds on the street and give them a home.
She is the proud possessor of a pair of unfeasibly large bosoms. They have given her- and the people around her- infinite pleasure over the years. She adores the horror genre in all its forms and will swap you anything you like for Hammer Horror or JAWS memorabilia. She would also be a great person to chat to about the differences between the Director’s Cut and the Theatrical Cut of The Wicker Man. You can contact her at: