“One doesn’t often get a second chance.”
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
Response to Peary’s Review:
To say more about the film’s suspenseful, psychologically intense storyline is to immediately give away spoilers; unfortunately Peary’s entire review (like most you’ll find online) is simply riddled with them. Suffice it to say that a significant death occurs about halfway through the film, and a further critical plot twist is revealed about 2/3rds of the way through — both of which should come as a deliciously unexpected surprise to novice viewers, thus adding to the film’s enduring legacy as a first-rate thriller. With that said, I’ll agree with Peary that the “unique and brilliant” structure of the film — in which “the picture becomes an intense, psychological character study of Scottie” rather than a potential murder mystery — is somewhat “infuriating”; like Peary, “I prefer the mystery unraveling to Scottie unraveling and becoming unbearably obsessive, tyrannical, and self-destructive”. Plus, as he notes, the surprisingly “tragic ending is… unsatisfying and depressing”.
Vertigo — which in recent years has steadily scaled the ranks of various highly regarded “best movie” lists, especially since a gorgeous restoration was completed in 1996 — is often cited as Hitchcock’s masterpiece, and certainly remains one of his most discussed and analyzed films. This is due in part to the fact that the story — in which middle-aged Stewart develops a near-pathological obsession with an aloof “icy blonde” — seems to mirror Hitchcock’s own idiosyncratic fascination with such women. However, while I admire the film on many levels, it’s ultimately not a personal favorite. Scottie’s treatment of Novak eventually becomes far too disturbing to easily stomach, and it’s not much fun to witness Hitchcock’s relentless assertion that when “given a choice of women, men are so weak they’ll always pick the helpless over the independent, the attractive over the plain, the frigid over the accessible, and the illusionary over the real” — indeed, the character of Barbara Bel Geddes’ “Midge” (Stewart’s ex-fiancee, who harbors an enduring crush on him) is never allowed to become anything more than a sorry symbol for everything “normal” and healthy Stewart is rejecting.
Yet regardless of how film fanatics may feel about the film’s ultimate ranking within Hitchcock’s pantheon, there’s much about it to enjoy — including Novak’s surprisingly nuanced performance(s), excellent use of Bay Area locales, and Bernard Herrmann’s justifiably celebrated score (one of his best). It remains a classic film ffs won’t want to miss viewing at least once — and likely more often, simply to absorb its complex psychological layering and storyline.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)
Links: (spoilers in nearly every review – be forewarned!)