Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Vertigo (1958)

The last of the film noir movies showing at the Providence Public Library was last Sunday. Or so I thought. They added six more dates including one movie that had been cancelled due to weather. I convinced my wife to see Vertigo.

Scotty Ferguson (James Stewart) is a detective afraid of heights. It happened all of a sudden, one day while dangling by his fingertips over certain doom. Rather than become a desk jockey, he retires. Midge Wood (Barbara Bel Geddes) is his cute college buddy who he never managed to hook up with.

Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore), an old college friend, stops by to hire Scotty. Seems his hot, young, trophy wife (Kim Novak) is haunted, and that concerns 'oll Gavin. He wants Scotty to keep an eye on her.

Turns out that Madeleine has a great grandma who committed suicide, and g-gram seems to be sending Madeleine on the same career path. Can Scotty save her? She sure in purdy!

Despite being an early critical and financial failure, this is regarded as Alfred Hitchcock's masterpiece. AFI ranks it the tenth greatest film and best in the category of Mystery. Just about every organization that likes to rank films, ranks near the top. Even IMDB ranks it 40th (behind The Matrix and all three Lord of the Ring films, of course). I don't know if was despite or because of this that ...

I was disappointed.

Sacrilege, I know, but that's where I ended up. The high point is the story. It made sense from all angles, a rare feat with mysteries. Also, it was a visually appealing film. What I disliked was, well, Stewart. His stammer was charming back in his youth, and worked for him as a troubled banker, but as a 49 (and not looking a day over 51) year old detective, he was a muttering old fool. And what's this about it being film-noir? Noir is supposed to be a hard-boiled detective story. Stewart was soft boiled, at best.

And I must say something about the tedious pans and overdone score. I was really getting sick of the violins.

There also seems to be a missing scene. Midge (way too young to have gone to college with Stewart) visits Scotty in the Boobie Hatch (spoiler alert!), has a brief conversation with the doctor, then disappears from the movie. Then suddenly Scotty is roaming the streets, apparently fully recovered. Transition, please!

I know the reputation Vertigo has. It had many great elements. Maybe it's a victim of high expectations, I don't know. AMRU 3.

Kim Novak was hot.


  1. Fact, Kim Novak was hot. Maybe still is, probably not though.

    I liked this one a lot, I am always afraid I will not "get" the classics, but I found it to be a strong character based mystery, though I have to agree it was nothing like I expected it to be in the years prior to seeing the flick. Maybe a second viewing will yield more positive results?

  2. Maybe, I agree the production value was really high. I suppose my main two complaints was the pacing (long, drawn out violins ...) and that Jimmy Stewart was miscast. In Vertigo's brief history as a failure (it bombed initially), Hitchcock said he felt Stewart was too old for the role.

    And, maybe it's a bad idea to see a movie named "Vertigo" when you have a headache.

    Also, I totally didn't believe Madeleine and Judy were played by the same actress. Faked me out (Oh, spoiler alert ...)

  3. lol way to warn in advance on that one! Yeah, Stewart was probably the wrong person for the role, I enjoyed him much much more in Rear Window