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The forgotten masterpiece review: Vertigo

Cameron Surdyk, Staff Writer

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When people think of Alfred Hitchcock movies the first one that usually comes to mind is his brilliantly directed 1960 slasher film “Psycho”. This is unfortunate because time has diminished the value of Hitchcock’s other thriller and suspense films. Films have fallen off the concentrated eyes of the mainstream audience despite demonstrating the absolute masterclass of directing. Some examples being 1948’s “Rope” and 1954’s “Rear Window” to name a few. It should also be noted that both of these films feature James “Jimmy” Stewart, a.k.a the guy from “It’s A Wonderful Life” (Which might I add should be watched every year around the holidays!) But I digress, for Hitchcock casted the very same James Stewart to play the leading role in probably the best forgotten Hitchcock flick of them all, 1958’s “Vertigo!”

In his role as John Ferguson, or “Scotty” to his close friends, Stewart plays a retired detective whose fear of heights is so severe it causes him to enter a state of intense vertigo. The movie begins with exposition as to why Ferguson has quit the force, which is because of his acrophobia, a fear of heights. Ferguson is then called in by his longtime friend from college Gavin Elster, played by Tom Helmore, to follow his wife who he believes is being possessed by a spirit that has departed from our world long ago. At first, Ferguson is hesitant, but eventually he agrees to take the job following Madeleine Elster, played by Kim Novak, to different locations around San Francisco. Eventually, Madeleine throws herself into San Francisco Bay, where the observing detective Ferguson is quick to react in saving her life. He brings her back to his house where they meet and then fall in love. From there, Ferguson realizes that the story Gavin has spinned for him isn’t at all what it seems, and Ferguson is faced by a complex, thrilling mystery.
Hitchcock does a fantastic job in directing this movie. It is much like Kubrick’s “The Shining” where it takes multiple viewings to grasp every hint the director has placed in the cinematography to solve the great mystery and unlock the meaning of the story in the film. Hitchcock uses color symbolism, angled shots, locations, and paintings to skillfully represent his clues with such subtlety that it leaves the viewer thinking upon discovery “Oh so that’s why that was put there!”

The cinematography in this movie is chillingly accompanied by an eerie soundtrack composed by the man responsible for the iconic screeching violins in “Psycho” Bernard Herrmann. Usually when there is a great chunk of a film that is not full of dialogue or action people will dismiss it as boring, but that is not the case here and that is due to the music. This movie has an eight minute car following scene, not a car chase scene! But a car following scene where Stewart’s character is following Novak’s character as she turns through the narrow streets of San Francisco unaware of the man following her. Furthermore, there is a scene where Stewart follows Novak into a graveyard that is as suspenseful as the car scene. Scenes like this are absolutely lethal in seducing the viewer into a sense of paranoia and suspicion, and Hitchcock is the master of moments like this! The music begins to intensify and your mind starts to wander, “Why is he turning left? What is around that corner? Is something going to jump out?” It is indeed a thrilling experience, all made possible by Bernard Herrmann’s masterful score.

Hitchcock was the kind of director that could take an actor or actress and squeeze the greatest possible performance out of them. “Psycho” is full of people that nobody nowadays would recognize like Vera Miles or Anthony Perkins, but the movie continues to be iconic because of their incredible performances. The same is definitely true here, as each character is carefully and articulately molded to fit and blend with one another. Take the scene where Tom Helmore’s character Gavin Elster calls Stewart to his office in the ship building yard. These are two people that have not made contact with each other for years and you can see the dichotomy of the both of them. Stewart is constantly puzzled and asks questions frequently as if he were concerned about being taken advantage of, while Helmore puts on a show as he tells Stewart exactly what is happening, the exact circumstances, and the exact statistical facts of his predicament with his wife, all while on a raised dining room in his office that acts as a stage. While Stewart, who sits in a chair listening respectfully, is the audience! Helmore wanders his office fiddling with different things, observing his paintings, one of which, is very significant. I implore you, the viewer, to find out which one it is! Nevertheless it goes without saying that Hitchcock is brilliant at orchestrating chemistry between two characters.

All in all, this movie deserves multiple viewings and I highly recommend watching this film. This is truly a movie meant for every type of viewer whether it be for analysis or just plain entertainment. Whatever the reason may be, please watch this movie, it will leave you speechless!

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The forgotten masterpiece review: Vertigo