This week I watch another Hitchcock classic and correct to what many would say is a crime that as a film fan I haven’t seen until now.   1958’s Vertigo starring the ever charismatic James Stewart in the lead is the next film in my Film7070 challenge.

When in hot pursuit over the rooftops of San Francisco, Officer John ‘Scottie’ Ferguson (James Stewart) nearly falls to his death, clinging onto a drain pipe with nothing more than his fingertips he witnesses his colleague slip and plummet to his own death as he tries to rescue Scottie.  Now retired and suffering from a bad case of acrophobia he is contacted by an old friend Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore) to come out of retirement and follow his wife as he is worried about her mental health.

Scottie accepts the task and to his surprise becomes unexpectedly wrapped up in the mystery of Madeleine Elster (Kim Novak) his obsession over her behaviour overcomes him as she believes she is possessed by a mentally unstable dead woman.  Whilst watching from a far and saving her from a suicide attempt he falls in love with his subject and they start a whirlwind affair.

To say Vertigo is a refreshing change may seem a tad strange as the film is 53 years old but at the time this would have been a big release and with us smack bang in the middle of the summer blockbuster season all I have is respect and admiration for Vertigo because for a film with a wide audience it is able to give us great plotting and fascinating characters that are just as good as the story.

The film’s an absolute rollercoaster but what’s interesting is that the ride it offers is not just ran by Hitchcock’s talent with mystery and suspense but with the emotion of the characters, especially that of Scottie.  This is the best I’ve seen Jimmy Stewart and the story takes him through the ringer, as soon as he falls for the beautiful Madeleine life just starts to spin, slow at first but then quicker and quicker until it’s too fast to hold on and what happens after is just the complete opposite of his character at the beginning of the film.  The character’s weaknesses are tested throughout the film and that’s not only his fear of heights but how easy he is to manipulate, the overbearing guilt and longing of love playing their parts perfectly.

Then you have the interesting relationship between Scottie and Midge (Barbara Bel Geddes) it’s pretty obvious that Midge is his comfort zone and you understand that in a perfect world they would be together, but Scottie is a man who seems like he never wants to settle and always has the need for something that he doesn’t have, he sees Madeleine as a piece of forbidden fruit and something that he can fix and I believe that is the attraction he craves and that’s what makes in my opinion Midge the most tragic character of the whole picture for the reason that she is the only person who doesn’t get what she wants.

I reviewed Brian De Palma’s Obsession recently, a film that was heavily influenced by Vertigo and now after seeing Vertigo you can definitely see how.  The second half of this film is a story takes the character of Scottie to some very dark places and for a while he becomes unlikable, a very brave choice from Hitchcock to have his star and an actor like Stewart to be seen in a negative manner.  The shift in tone is a shocking one and like Obsession it becomes about a twisted view on love and the affection Scottie has throughout the latter stages of the film, which leads to a truly fantastic climatic scene with an exquisite performance from Stewart.

On a purely psychological level the film has so much to say about men and their craving of the beautiful unavailable women and why some men may see love as a game that they have to win to try and find exactly what they want.  We get this twice once with Midge and secondly with the character of Judy Barton and it’s not until we meet Judy that we see the full extent of Scottie obsession with Madeleine.

The atmosphere of the film is just as important as the cast and Hitchcock once again understands his material perfectly, the tone of the film shifts many times but never once gets away from the director and that why I think this is the his best work that I have seen to date, his realisation and execution of what would have been one hell of a complex script seems unmatched.  Blending visual flair with great storytelling with not a hint of it feeling forced is something that I believe only the great man could achieve.

Basically, now that I’ve seen Vertigo I completely understand the many confused looks people gave me when I said I had never seen it, believe the classic status, believe the hype, it really is THAT good.  Possibly the best director ever hitting his top form, it should be easy to convoy that for any film fan Vertigo needs to be experienced.