“Alfred Hitchcock engulfs you in a whirlpool of terror and tension!”
Although it received only mixed reviews upon its initial release and was far from a box-office success, Vertigo is now looked upon as Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece–a haunting, deeply personal and dreamlike exploration of Hitch’s favorite themes of guilt and sexual obsession. James Stewart (giving a surprisingly dark and unsettling performance) plays John “Scottie” Ferguson, a retired police detective who is hired by an old friend to follow his wife Madeline (a superbly cool Kim Novak, in what eventually becomes a double role), a suicidal blonde whom he suspects of being possessed by the spirit of a dead madwoman. The obsessive detective and the disturbed woman fall (and “fall” is indeed the operative word) in love and things begin to unravel in most peculiar ways, leading to one of the most twisted and dizzying “romances” in movie history.
Over the years, Vertigo has become a part of cinematic culture, imitated by filmmakers as disparate as Brian De Palma, Mel Brooks and David Lynch. Shot around San Francisco (and elsewhere in Northern California) in gorgeously saturated Technicolor, it has inspired special tours of its locations in and around the City by the Bay (one of which was even renamed the Hotel Vertigo). An ahead-of-its-time masterpiece, the film has also rightly become famous for Saul Bass’ stripped down, kinetic title sequence, which set the bar for design into the 1960s and beyond, and Bernard Herrmann’s lushly romantic score, which has been quoted extensively by other composers, most recently in the Oscar-winning The Artist (2011).