Vertigo: Sixty years since the release of Alfred Hitchcock’s disturbing classic

 

Vertigo: Sixty years since the release of Alfred Hitchcock’s disturbing classic

By
Joanne Laurier

30 March 2018

In celebration of the 60th anniversary of its release, Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece Vertigo was presented recently in cinemas nationwide in the US by Fathom Events, Turner Classic Movies and Universal Pictures.

James Stewart in Vertigo

The 1958 classic psychological thriller was based on the 1954 novel Dentre les morts (Among the Dead) by French crime writers Pierre Boileau and Pierre Ayraud (whose pen name was Thomas Narcejac).

The movie was not a box office success, despite being a glamorous, big-budget effort directed by the “master of suspense,” and featuring one of Hollywood’s most beloved actors (James Stewart), along with budding sex symbol Kim Novak. Its darkness and obsessiveness may have seemed odd to audiences at a time when American affluence and power were supposedly at their height. Vertigo has its apparent flaws, including an implausible murder plot, certain trite or banal elements, and an uneven performance from Novak, but it has endured and proven to be one of the most troubling American films of the postwar period. This is a conundrum worth investigating.

Stewart plays John “Scottie” Ferguson, a one-time lawyer turned policeman, who once had the aspiration to become San Francisco’s police chief. His terrible fear of heights and the role it plays in the accidental death of a fellow officer lead him to retire from the force. Recovering from the trauma with the help of loving friend and former fiancée Midge (the wonderful Barbara Bel Geddes), Scottie seems restless, unsatisfied and essentially marking time.

Life takes a sharp turn when the wealthy shipbuilder Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore) hires Scottie ostensibly to shadow…

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