Blog Directory CineVerse: Scaling new heights

Scaling new heights

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Dig deeper and you’ll discover why Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” is an indisputable classic

by Erik J. Martin

Note: This is part one of a seven-part article on Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo”; I will post a new part each day over a week’s time.

For more than 50 years, one movie has continued to climb dizzying heights toward the top of favorite film lists without looking down. And why not? “Vertigo,” considered by many viewers to be director Alfred Hitchcock’s best movie, and a perennial choice among critics as one of the greatest films of all time, certainly has a winning formula for phobia.

Based on the novel D’ Entre Les Morts written by Pierre Boileua and Thomas Narcejak, “Vertigo” stars the late, great James Stewart in a bravura performance as detective Scottie Ferguson--retired from the force due to his uncontrollable fear of heights--and Kim Novak as Madeleine Elster, the voluptuous femme fatale who leads Scottie into a world of intrigue and dangerous psychosis. The film is, quite simply, is a masterfully paced murder mystery tour de force for the Hitchcock, who also served as the “Vertigo’s” producer.

Filmed on location in and around San Francisco, “Vertigo,” is vibrantly photographed by cinematographer Robert Burks and features stunning shots of the Golden Gate Bridge, the hilly city streets, the bay, and the majestic sequoia forests. Add to the mix Alec Coppel’s and Sam Taylor’s intricate screenplay, imbued with haunting themes of obsessive love at its core and topped by a clever plot twist or two, and the brilliantly moody score a la Bernard Hermann, and it’s no wonder how this 1958 film has stood the test of time.

Amazingly, “Vertigo” netted only two Academy Award nominations: for best art direction/set decoration, and best sound. But 40 years later, in 1998, the film was named to the American Film Institute’s list of 100 greatest movies.

Of interesting note to fans is that Novak--then a hot property in Hollywood--was not originally cast as Madeleine: Hitchcock envisioned actress Vera Miles–who would go on to star in “Psycho”-- as the female lead, but Miles had become pregnant, and declined.

The film helped make Novak bankable as a dramatic actress, and even more so as a curvaceous blond bombshell (Hitchcock once said that Novak was proud enough of her naturally well proportioned figure that the actress did not wear a bra during filming).

“Vertigo” benefited from a million-dollar restoration in the late 1990s that brought the movie back to theaters--introducing it to a new legion of fans in all of its originally intended colorful, wide-screen splendor. The restored letterbox version is also available on VHS, and DVD, which includes a rarely seen final shot that Hitchcock chose to cut prior to the film’s release.

Trivia note: The director makes his traditional cameo in this film 11 minutes after the opening. Hitchcock is donning a gray suit and walks past Gavin Elster's shipyard.

Tomorrow: Part 2—Themes, patterns and techniques in “Vertigo”

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