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March 21, 2011

334. Vertigo
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
USA, 1958
IMDB | allmovie

Reviewed by Rachel
First viewing
(Quiet, film buffs! I know that’s shameful!)


Detective John “Scottie” Ferguson (James Stewart) has retired after his fear of heights causes his partner to fall to his death. Scottie thinks himself out of the police game until Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore), an old college friend, turns up out of the blue and asks him for a favour. Elster wants to hire Scottie as a private detective to follow his wife Madeleine (Kim Novak), who is behaving very strangely.*

Essential Scene:

I won’t describe this in too much detail, as there are certain plot points I don’t want to reveal.

Warning: Due to flashing images, this scene may not be suitable for sufferers of epilepsy.

Scottie is tossing and turning in bed, disturbed by visions. Sickly blue and purple tints intermittently cover the screen.

Scottie opens his eyes and looks upon a drawing of the bouquet of flowers that Madeleine was holding. The flowers turn into a moving cartoon. Alternating between black and white and colour, they then disperse all over the screen.

As an orange tint flashes on and off, Scottie stands next to two characters that are causing him so much grief.

Scottie’s disembodied head travels nearer to the camera with multi coloured tints and a busy background.

His body slowly falls through the air amongst flashing colours. (Mad Men, anyone?)

All colours and background dissipate as he gets nearer to the ground and a bright white light illuminates his falling frame.

Just before he hits the ground, Scottie wakes up with a start.

Dizzying just reading about it, isn’t it?


*The reason why I have been very brief in my synopsis, and why I’m going to be brief here, is that I truly believe that a first viewing of Vertigo should be done with as little plot knowledge as possible.

Vertigo is a stunning example of Hitchcock’s ability to disorientate both his audience and his characters. The constant feelings of uncertainty, fragile mental health and alienation coupled with the use of sickly tints hark back to his very first films — and boy, has the Master improved with age. And that’s saying something; if you knew how much I love his silent films…

This was my first viewing; I was aware of a few legendary images but that was all, and my reaction to the film is “Wowwy, wow, wow!” Yes, I am that eloquent. [Wow. ~ Ally]

So please excuse the brief review, but I do hope curiosity gets the better of you…

One Comment leave one →
  1. March 21, 2011 4:27 pm

    One of my all-time favourites! Was lucky enough to see this on the big screen. From Scotty’s apartment you can see the streets of San Francisco and Coit Tower, which is hard to see at home. We went round all the main locations during our honeymoon, including the sectioned tree in Muir woods ‘I was born here, here I died’ etc (may not be strictly accurate quote :)), the little Spanish church and graveyard and the Fort under the Golden Gate bridge where Madeleine throws herself into the screen. Fabulous film – Scotty seems more and more cruel the more you watch it. The scene when his long term girlfriend (Miss Ellie from Dallas) paints a horribly misguided pastiche of herself as Madeliene never fails to make me cringe.

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