Vertigo (1958)

Rating: ****
Review Date: 3/29/21
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Music : Bernard Herrmann
Cast: James Stewart, Kim Novak, Barbara Bel Geddes

"I always said you were wasting your time in the underwear department."

John Ferguson (James Stewart) is a recently retired detective. He is wracked with guilt over the death of a policeman, which triggered his fear of heights. An old friend coaxes John to take on another case as a personal favor, and asks him to follow his wife Madeline (Kim Novak) to make sure no harm comes to her. He is convinced that Madeline is possessed by a malevolent spirit and destined to die by her own hand. At first, John refuses and dismisses the story as superstitious rubbish, but after seeing Madeline, he falls madly in love with her and changes his mind. As Madeline's tortured mind reaches its breaking point, John's obsession with her leads him to madness. Is Madeline really cursed? Is she losing her mind due to some personality disorder or repressed childhood trauma? Or is something more sinister going on? Director Alfred Hitchcock masterfully guides you through this dark and twisted tale of obsession, madness, and murder, keeping you guessing the entire time.

Considered by many to be Hitchcock's greatest film, it's a deeply troubling tale of self-destruction that actually gave me chills while watching it. James Stewart gives a riveting and thoroughly unhinged performance as a man helplessly enslaved by the memory of a woman, and Kim Novak is mesmerizing in her dual roles. It's just unfortunate that her exaggerated eyebrows are so comically outrageous. Barbara Bel Geddes gives a grounded and heartbreaking performance as John's ex-fiancée, and his only connection to reality. The cinematography is superb, and Hitchcock's symbolic use of color is fascinating. The visual effects are decent, and while they're not entirely seamless, they don't detract from the story. Perhaps the greatest aspect of the film is Bernard Herrmann's haunting and terrifying music score, which perfectly captures the tangled emotions of mad love and doom. Not surprisingly, Hitchcock takes his time setting up the story and the pacing can be excruciating. After the first hour, I began to fidget restlessly, but the final act keeps you on the edge of your seat. In fact, it's really two entirely different movies strung together, with the entire first half merely being a backstory for the second half. However, despite Hitchcock's meticulous storytelling and attention to detail, there are several nagging questions and the setup requires an incredible amount of suspension of disbelief. Unfortunately, the issue that bothered me the most happens right at the beginning of the film, which is how did John survive the rooftop chase? And what was the innkeeper's angle?