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Overall Rating
4.59

Awesome76.92%
Worth A Look: 13.19%
Average: 5.49%
Pretty Bad: 1.1%
Total Crap: 3.3%

3 reviews, 73 user ratings


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Vertigo
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by MP Bartley

"The French said it best."
5 stars

There's a lot of amusement to be had if you look for bizarre foreign translations of film titles. 'Airplane!' became 'Is There a Doctor on the Plane?' in one European country. 'Boogie Nights' became 'His Powerful Device Makes Him Famous' in another. Very funny, I'm sure you'll agree. But then occasionally you'll get one that sums up the film far better than the original title ever did. 'Vertigo' is just such an example, as the title for its release in France was 'Cold Sweat'. And that sums up the film beautifully. It sums up the slow encroaching sense of dread that the film has. It sums up the queasy feeling that you will have throughout the film. Because while 'Psycho' may be the Hitchcock film that has peeping you through your fingers and jumping out of your seat, 'Vertigo' is the one that will haunt your dreams in the small hours of the morning.

James Stewart is Scotty, a detective who has recently retired. He's quit because he's afflicted with agoraphobia, a condition that gives him dizzying attacks of vertigo. One such attack almost cost him his life, so he's happily retiring to the quiet times. This quiet doesn't last for long however as an old college friend makes a strange request of him. He wants his wife, Madeline (Kim Novak) followed. She frequently disappears off on her own and is prone to falling into dream-like trances. So Scotty does follow her. He follows her a lot. He follows her to a graveyard, to a hotel , to an art gallery, to a flowershop, and eventually to a spot where he saves her from suicide. And that's when the full extent of Scotty's obsession kicks in.

That's all I'm going to give away of the film for those who haven't seen it, and in fact that's probably too much anyway. Because part of the unsettling, un-nerving atmosphere that 'Vertigo' conjures up is because it goes into places where you just don't think it will go. This isn't a Hitchcock film concerned with black jokes and tricks on the audience, this is a Hitchcock film that's deadly serious. It's a film concerned with death, obsession, love, sex, destiny, re-incarnation, and most importantly of all, fear.

There's a constant uneasy feeling coursing through the veins of 'Vertigo' all accompanied by the terrific Bernard Hermann score. But this really is Hitchcock at his absolute finest. The actors, and we the audience, are just puppets in his hands, as he pulls us one way then the other, blindsides us, manipulates us and forces us down dark, bleak alleys of the human psyche. But he does it with a lightness of touch, a subtlety of skill that's amazing to watch. Nothing feels forced, not even a sequence towards the end where the plot is painfully spelled out in voice-over. By then, we've been too entranced by Hitchcock to care, and like Scotty we're obsessed to find out what the core of this mystery is.

Hitchcock's skill as a visualist is also plain to see here. The use of colour is vivid and unsettling with most scenes doused in either a blood-red or a deep green. But note how the scenes where Madeline is in control at the beginning are all in red, but as Scotty's obsession begins to take over her life, the scenes start to get drowned in green. It's a subtle, but magisterial touch, that tells us everything we need to know about these characters and their relationship. Or the amount of times we see Madeline reflected in a mirror to show how she's just a reflection of what Scotty wants to see. And then there's the justly-revered zoom/pullback effect used to show Scotty's vertigo (it's the effect that Spielberg stole for Roy Scheider's close-up on the beach in 'Jaws'). This is how good 'Vertigo' is, you're seeing pioneering cinema unfold before your every eyes.

And if this is Hitchcock at his peerless best, than Stewart and Novak rise to the challenge. Novak is entrancing as Madeline, keeping us at a distance, but allowing just enough fear and humanity to shine through to keep us as fascinated as Scotty is. Her performance is key, and she stands out as perhaps the ultimate Hitchcock blonde. But then there's Jimmy Stewart. Oh my. This is not George Bailey. This is the James Stewart that came back from World War 2 a profoundly changed and damaged man. A James Stewart that unflinchingly dipped into the darkest corners of humanity to see what hid there. And he rewards us with probably the greatest performance of his career, if not one of the greatest performances of all time. He starts out as a slightly naive, sensitive, man and ends up as one of the most damaged, screwed-up, dangerous 'heroes' to ever grace the screen. It's a slow descent into obsession and madness, hauntingly and skillfully done. There's unimaginable horror in those blue/green eyes of his.

It's practically impossible to review 'Vertigo' without giving away most of the plot. But that's a good thing, because 'Vertigo' is a teasing puzzle, carefully wrapped up inside a mystery whose impact depends upon going in with as little prior knowledge as possible. So I'll just say this: 'Vertigo' is possibly the peak of a career that reached several magnificent highs from the 1920's right through to the 1970's. And if that's not enough to make you want to go out and see it right now, I don't know what will.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=640&reviewer=293
originally posted: 05/06/05 00:21:05
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User Comments

9/13/17 morris campbell not as good as some of hitchcocks other films 3 stars
4/05/15 stanley welles a compelling meditation on sexual politics, romantic love and obsession 5 stars
7/23/14 Taco Town Amazingly well crafted...and I have a thing for Midge 5 stars
4/11/12 keith miron One of hitchcock's worst 2 stars
10/25/11 Annie G Great classic Hitchcock. Nice tour of San Francisco. 4 stars
9/21/11 anal mclovin 1 stars
12/18/10 Chris H My favorite film of all time 5 stars
11/22/09 SirGent Compulsively watchable, "Vertigo" is the definition of 'classic cinema' & Hitchcock's peak! 5 stars
7/04/09 Flounder In my humble opinion, this is the greatest film ever made 5 stars
6/01/08 PAUL SHORTT HITCHCOCK'S STIRRING PARABLE OF LOVE AND DEATH 5 stars
4/16/08 Steven Warcholek This movie started slow but ended with a shock. 4 stars
4/03/08 Aileen Rak If you love Hitchcock, You'll LOVE Vertigo! 5 stars
2/13/08 chris well played keep you in the seat waiting for the unexpected to happen over and over 4 stars
1/26/08 proper amateur film critic vertigo is a gorgeous, disturbing, icily romantic movie masterpiece 5 stars
1/07/08 Aaron Commareri One of Hitchcock's Best! 5 stars
10/15/07 fools♫gold The sexiest scary movie to ever be made. 5 stars
9/23/07 pete This movie is addicting....beware 5 stars
2/12/07 zenshark porbeagle underrated. 5 stars
2/11/07 action movie fan overrated> hard to understand not your best hitchcock 3 stars
8/29/06 Jake kerry and Michelle Loften are gay! This movie rules! 5 stars
5/02/06 Eden Brilliant dizzying film, keeps you off balance throughout. 5 stars
4/01/06 kerry a pile of pretentious trash from king Overrated Hitchcock 1 stars
12/07/05 T. Maj But isn't Jimmy Stewart a little too old for the part? 4 stars
9/02/05 Zack this movie rocks! 5 stars
7/25/05 Eric Rollins Perfect companion for Rear Window or High Anxiety. 5 stars
7/18/05 Stuart Andrews The greatest film ever made. 5 stars
6/04/05 Mike Jozic One of Hitch's best. Definintely worth checking out. 5 stars
5/24/05 Carolyn Rathburn Classic hitchcock with a great Jimmy Stewart. 5 stars
5/06/05 Michelle Lofton I wasn't too impressed 3 stars
3/02/05 Andrea Hale A Masterpiece 5 stars
11/15/04 Phil The greatest Hitchcock movie 5 stars
10/14/04 Uyi Omoregie A deep movie commenting on love, lust, obsession, deception, life, death, reincarnation 5 stars
5/20/04 Sean Scanlan Jimmy Sewart at his best again 5 stars
3/23/04 Trannon Goble Beautiful masterpiece 5 stars
12/15/03 Agent Sands Story, acting, & innovative directing return well on video investment. 5 stars
12/11/03 john the story is a bit far fetched but what style!!! 4 stars
11/22/03 ross hendrick completly outstanding, from the master of suspense 5 stars
11/04/02 Emily One of the most important films ever made. Will be studied for generations. 5 stars
6/25/02 Charles Tatum Very dull 3 stars
12/05/01 Skip Young Hitchcock's best. Beautiful and hypnotic. Incredible film. 5 stars
12/02/01 travis r. sorensen hitch's best. jimmy stewart is really creepy 5 stars
9/15/01 Monster W. Kung Good yet overrated. It's rare that Hitchcock pulls me into the story. No exception here. 4 stars
8/07/01 E-Funk Spectatcular. Alfred Hitchcock set a standard and stunned the shit out of a generation. 5 stars
7/28/01 Henry Ginsberg What suspence! 5 stars
6/14/01 Law Firm of Dewey, Cheatam & Howe For some reason this is the only Hitch I am not wild about 3 stars
6/13/01 sal thank you hitch 5 stars
5/31/01 Podgous Unreal, as all Hitchcock films, a little study helps immencely. 5 stars
4/24/01 Kimberly Roberts It was a great Hitchcock film!! 5 stars
2/17/01 Tyrone Hitchcock; nuff said 4 stars
1/02/01 R.W. Welch As weird in its way as "Psycho," and almost as good. 5 stars
11/15/00 nikki martin, 19yrs old, dont usually watch old movies i found this to be one of the best movies i have ever seen,thanx to my humanities instruct' 5 stars
11/15/00 salvo toscano Is there a better thriller than this? The italian title was The woman who lived twice. Cool 5 stars
10/13/00 kaz very good film i love the twist used to trick us again. 4 stars
9/20/00 Jeff the greatest film of all time 5 stars
7/11/00 Jami By far Hitchcock's masterpiece."I look up, I look down" 5 stars
6/09/00 cricket to me being young it was good enough that i didn't get bord. 4 stars
5/30/00 todd One of the best 5 stars
11/26/99 Matt Henderson Failure of romantic love, destruction/de-/re-construction of identity. Hitchcock's best! 5 stars
11/22/99 NateKerr gripping 4 stars
10/07/99 Chip One of my favourites 5 stars
2/01/99 Vick Di Brecci Love the music, like the visuals and Stewart's acting. Convoluted plot ruins much. 4 stars
1/24/99 Hannah Great, but somebody please explain to me what was the deal with Bel Geddes' character? 4 stars
11/26/98 Mr.Pink Hitchcock''s masterpiece along with Psycho. 5 stars
11/24/98 Lord Of The Dunce Just incredible filmmaking. Perfection. 5 stars
11/21/98 little jerry If there were any doubts about Hitchcock being a great artist this ends them all.Sublime. 5 stars
10/28/98 Silent Rob Yeah, it's all true! 5 stars
10/19/98 Kwyjibo In my top 5 ever. Just an incredible movie. 5 stars
9/28/98 Brandon B. Bah! 1 stars
9/17/98 Chuck-D Jimmy stewart goes crazy? What's not to love? 5 stars
9/05/98 pooky the bald Too... sweeeeeeeeeeeeet. 5 stars
9/04/98 Badass Haunting. 5 stars
8/28/98 Mister Whoopee A true classic. Textbook stuff from the master of suspense. 5 stars
8/24/98 The Capital City Goofball Classic Hitchcock. Every Hollywood exec should be made to watch this film. 5 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  04-Oct-1996 (R)

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