Right…. First off I must say I have a three-way bias here.
1) Alfred Hitchcock directed it.
2) Jimmy Stewart is more or less my favourite actor.
3) I’ve always been obsessed with San Francisco.
I already decided I was only going to do three Hitchcock films on this series. They were planned before I wrote the Rear Window review. I’m just spacing them out. Pretty sure everyone can guess what the third one will be. Here’s a hint; it’s Psycho. Ok, I suck at hints.
Vertigo is one of Alfred Hitchcock’s best films. That’s not just me saying that because I love it. It’s been voted as the greatest movie ever made, beating out longtime greatest movie, Citizen Kane (which I saw recently and…frankly will never make it here on Casabloga). The film is about John “Scottie” Ferguson (James Stewart), a retired detective. At the opening of the film, we discover Scottie finding out he has a fear of heights, a revelation that could have come at a better time, as he was hanging from the top of a tall building, and a colleague falls to his death trying to help him.
Scottie gets a call from an old college friend, Gavin (Tom Helmore) who wants to hire him out of retirement to follow his wife, Madeline (Kim Novak). He believes she’s being possessed by a dead ancestor. Scottie finds this to be crazy talk, but his friend insists that he do it, so he eventually accepts. The very first day, he follows her all over San Francisco, following a little too closely.
Hitchcock famously hated filming on location. All his movies were shot in-studio, where he could control every tiny detail. But the city of San Francisco is so amazing that the picky director chose to film on-location for this film. In the scenes where Scottie follows Madeline through the streets of 1950s San Francisco adds massive amounts of historical significance to the film. This was before the city had skyscrapers.
I took that picture above in 2011 when I visited the city. I really wanted to see the spot where Kim Novak jumped into the Bay, but a security person at Fort Point told me that after 9/11 they closed off that part of the Fort.
The three acts of this film are each completely different from each other. In the first act, it plays like a regular detective story. Follow her, find out what’s up. The second act is a love story. The third act is a dive into madness. that has a very unexpected conclusion. Usually when a movie changes so much like that so quickly, it’s confusing and terrible. But Alfred Hitchcock had a way to never lose you. He keeps your attention even when the characters are just driving around to the music of Bernard Herrmann.
Next time I go to San Francisco, I fully intend to take the Vertigo Tour.