Scottie: One final thing I have to do…and then I’ll be free of the past.
This was a Hitchcock I saw when I was younger, and I recently wanted to see again. All I could remember of it were the scenes on the stairs, when James Stewart went up, looked down, and his acrophobia that was shown. Aside from this I couldn’t remember anything from the film so thought I should watch it, if only to see why he was on the stairs in the first place!
The film revolves around John ‘Scottie’ Ferguson (James Stewart), an ex police officer who left the force after his colleague dies because of Scottie’s vertigo. After this event, Scottie is hired by an old friend Gavin Elster (Tom Helmor) to follow his wife (Kim Novak) as he is apparently concerned about her actions. There follows a, perhaps overly long, sequence of Scottie following the wife and saving her from ‘drowning’. They then proceed to fall in love, until they end up at a tower (seen in her dreams) and she seems to commit suicide. This is then however revealed to the viewer to be a complete set up by Elster as a way to kill his wife without suspicion. The ‘wife’ Scottie followed was in fact someone else. Scottie, completely oblivious to this, was devastated, until he met the woman who had impersonated Elster’s wife and who he had followed. They continue their romance, Scottie wanting ‘Judy’ to become more and more like the woman he knew as Madeleine. Eventually he realises the set up and all that happens, and returns to the tower with Judy. I won’t reveal what happens but safe to say it’s not a happy ending.
This film has rightly been praised, but for me there are better films. Personally, one reason I didn’t love the film was because I didn’t believe in the romance, which was a pretty key part of the film! I’m not sure why but I just did not become invested in it (and it was not because James Stewart was too old, as I’ve seen mentioned elsewhere!). The performances of Stewart or Novak were excellent, despite there being no chemistry between them, in my opinion. Novak played the conflicting emotions of Judy when meeting Scottie after the ‘suicide’ particularly well, and this was believeable. Stewart also played the heartbroken lover, the guilt, and the frustration of his character well. I just didn’t believe in the love between the characters, which did mean the film wasn’t as dramatic as it might have been.
The story itself was good, and could have been more gripping if it was told differently. I found the film dragged a bit, so if it was made a bit shorter I may have enjoyed it more! I did get the feeling that the story was almost a background feature to the film though, as it explored the mental state of the characters, something which I can appreciate, but equally can become a bit much if you just want to enjoy a film!
The step sequence that I remembered from my first viewing was no less dramatic on a repeat viewing. Although nowadays the effect wouldn’t be considered inpressive, it still has an impact, so credit to Hitchcock for creating such a memorable scene. The chase up the steps, the shots looking down, and the climaxes of each sequence are unforgettable.
I also haven’t mentioned her but Midge (Barbara Bel Geddes), Scottie’s friend and ex- fiancée was great in her supporting role. She brought some much needed light heartedness to the film which, for me, made me want Scottie and her to hook up rather than with Madeleine/Judy!
Overall, Vertigo is not my favourite Hitchcock and doesn’t necessarily warrant the praise that has been heaped on it recently. It is undoubtedly good, and explores some challenging ideas, but it can get a bit heavy and long so there is potential for it to become boring. I understand how it has become so well received, but personally it wasn’t my kind of film. The main problem was that I wasn’t invested in the Scottie and Madeleine/Judy romance, but that may just be me. I would recommend this film but with a caution that you have to be in a particular mood to watch it, you shouldn’t watch it when you’re sleepy, and that you may have mixed feelings after watching it- as I did.