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NOTE: The writings below contain an analysis outlining many major plot points. If you have not seen the film and do not wish for any of it's suprises to be ruined, read no further.

Looking back at all of the very best classic films, it is easy for one to say some of their effect has dulled; that they don't hit todays audiences nearly as much as they did when first released. What makes "Vertigo" one of the greatest films of all time is how stunning it is, even today. I remember seeing it for the first time; by the end I was pinned to my seat, breathless.

With "Vertigo", Alfred Hitchcock has de-romanticized romance itself. As the central players get pulled down into a whirlpool of fear and obsession, we go with them, so sympathetic to their personal struggles that end up disastrously for both of them. Set in a mystical San Francisco, Jimmy Stewart plays John Ferguson (his friends call him Scottie), a police detective forced to retire because of his fear of heights. He is asked by a college friend (Gavin Elster, played by Tom Helmore) to follow his wife; not because he believes she has cheated on him, but because he fears for her safety. He believes Madeline (Kim Novak) has been possessed by the spirit of a suicidal woman. Of course this seems absurd, but Scottie takes up the job anyway out of sympathy for him. He soon begins to suspect that Gavin might have been right. Scottie and Madeline fall madly in love, and it seems all will end happily ever after, with Jimmy Stewart saving the day once again...

...until Madeline unexpectedly commits suicide. Scottie's vertigo prevented him from saving her; she died by leaping off of a tall bell tower. This was an incredibly bold move for any director to take even in the final days of the studio system. With the death of Madeline, it seems the story is over. What can happen after your leading lady is dead? This is where "Vertigo" is brilliant. Instead of focusing on the events of Madeline's demise, it delves deep into the horror that Scottie is going through and how his yearning for the past affects him. Scottie, after spending half a year in a mental hospital, wanders aimlessly about San Francisco re-visiting all the places he had seen Madeline. So stuck in preterition is he that he follows a woman from the street who resembles Madeline to her home, the Empire Hotel. Her name is Judy (again Kim Novak). She agrees to have dinner with him, but no sooner does she do this that Hitchcock pulls the rug from under us once again. "Madeline" was really Judy from Kansas, agreeing to play the part of Elster's wife so that he could murder the real one and pass it off as a suicide. Scottie was cruelly tricked, and since everything went according to plan, there was nothing he could do. Everything went according to plan except for one thing. "Madeline" and Scottie had fallen in love.

Judy and Scottie keep seeing each other, which we know is not a good idea. But Judy is so keen to please him, even if it means that she must remake herself in Madeline's image. Scottie does everything- buys her the clothes, makes her change her hair color. His obsession is so profound; he will do anything to get Madeline back in his arms. However, we know he is only setting himself up for disaster. Judy is doing all she can to placate Scottie's sense of loss, while at the same time her own identity is being stripped from her. She is being viewed as an object, merely a tool in the pursuit to revive an image from the past. Many critics and film scholars have remarked upon the similarities between Scottie's quest and Hitchcock's to bring back Grace Kelly, betrothed to Prince Rainier III of Monaco. It has been said that "Vertigo" was Hitchcock's most personal film for just this reason. Hitchcock always wanted to create the "perfect" woman, like the one he felt he found in Grace Kelly, and he would mold and shape all of his leading ladies to be as "perfect" as they possibly could be. In "Vertigo", he not only acknowledges these obsessions, but he also deals with what one is going through on the other side.

All of these emotions collide in the most poignant, passionate moment I have ever seen in film. Scottie has completely remade Judy in Madeline's image, with the exception of her hair. He wants her to pin it up, but she is reluctant to complete the transformation. She goes into the bathroom to execute Scottie's wishes. Bernard Hermann's incredible score swells as she emerges, shrouded in a pale green mist. She has been altered from the care-free Kansas girl to Scotties wildest dreams (and nightmares). As she approaches him, there is an incredibly profound sort of irony laced between the two. They are embracing, but their hearts are being torn farther and farther apart. Judy and Scottie seem to be in ecstasy. In a moment of guilt, Scottie turns his head away, shaming himself for committing this type of necrophelia. But he quickly dismisses the notion, for he has his Madeline back. And to Scottie, this is all that matters.

Eventually, Scottie finds out Judy's secret. This leads to an unforgettable climax in the same bell tower where "Madeline" jumped to her death. Through various clues, Scottie has discovered everything that has been done to deceive and manipulate him. Hitchcock has orchestrated the finale of "Vertigo" in such a way that we feel a strange mix of Judys fear and Scotties hurt. Scottie does not realize how much Judy actually did love him, which is heartbreaking. But we can also sympathize with Scottie, because of the tricks played on him and because of the desire that has swallowed him, ruined his outlook on life. At the end of this scene, one of the two is gone forever, leaving the other stranded in a sea of loss.

The acting in "Vertigo" is simply amazing. Jimmy Stewart gives the kind of noteworthy performance that todays actors wish they could pull off. He plays Scottie with such honesty that it is hard not to feel for him. Kim Novak is a marvel as Madeline, grounding mystery in normal human emotion. And not much is said about Barbara Bel Gedde's understated performance as Scotties former girlfriend and pal Midge, who can do nothing but watch as he descends into near madness.

Alfred Hitchcock's masterpiece has not always been recognized as such. When it was first released, critics dismissed it and it was a financial failure. Alfred Hitchcock himself said that the film had failed him. After all, if neither the critics nor the audience appreciate your work, who else can you trust? But over the years, "Vertigo" has been recognized as a great film, and rightfully so. "Vertigo" is an incredibly haunting, beautiful, unforgettable film experience.



James Stewart .... John 'Scottie' Ferguson
Kim Novak .... Madeleine Elster/Judy Barton
Barbara Bel Geddes .... Marjorie 'Midge' Wood
Tom Helmore .... Gavin Elster
Henry Jones (I) .... Coroner
Raymond Bailey .... Scottie's Doctor
Ellen Corby .... Manageress of McKittrick Hotel
Konstantin Shayne .... Pop Leibel
Lee Patrick .... Older Mistaken Identification

Running Time: 129 minutes

"Vertigo" is rated PG for some sexual situations and mild violence.

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