Monday, May 17, 2010

#13 Vertigo (1958)

"A Well Executed Thriller"

This week shall be Hitchcock week as I review three absolutely classic Hitchcock films: Psycho, The Birds, and of course, this one, Vertigo. I had never seen a Hitchcock film before this one, and I really wish I had seen them earlier. These films are absolutely incredible. The stories are excellent, the characters are engaging and multifaceted, and the twists are just oh so good. Vertigo really exemplifies all of these points. It also certainly doesn’t hurt that the movie takes place primarily in San Francisco, and I’m a sucker for films set in SF.

The story centers on John “Scottie” Ferguson, played by Jimmy Stewart (who you may also remember from “It’s A Wonderful Life”). Ferguson recently was chasing a criminal when he nearly fell to his death. This gave him a serious bout of Vertigo, and because of this, he decided to retire from the police force. He’s pulled back into work, however, when a man asks him to follow his wife, Madeleine Elster (Kim Novak), who has been acting very strangely. This is the essential action of the story, and I’d go further into it, but the plot is very complicated, and any effort to explain it on my part would not do it proper service (and might give away some very good twists, to boot). But needless to say, the plot is very cool, and some of the twists in the film are just absolutely amazing, and will totally blindside you.

The acting in this film is also very good. I am a big fan of Jimmy Stewart, and I thought he did a very good job with this role. He acts a lot like the character he played in Wonderful Life, but it still feels completely unique and engaging. Novak, the leading lady, does a very good job as well. More important to this film is the camera work, and Hitchcock is a true master of the camera. Hitchcock’s game is subtlety. You can’t watch this film passively; there are so many subtle clues leading up to the finale, the big reveal of what’s been going on in the film the whole time, and, as with Citizen Kane, you find yourself exclaiming “Oh!” about a hundred times. As a big fan of Sherlock Holmes, I found this extremely cool, and was into it the whole time. What I think makes this work even more is how little the film seems to progress through the middle. The film (or Ferguson) seems to get sidetracked a lot, and you find yourself asking where the film is going. The aptness with which all these seemingly unconnected lines are tied up at the end makes the film all the better.

I loved the setting of the film too. Being a resident of the Bay Area, I may be a little biased, but I thought San Francisco (and San Juan Batista) were such excellent places to shoot this film. The views are awe-inspiring. The shot where Ferguson and Elster are situated underneath the Golden Gate Bridge absolutely made my jaw drop. This is a little detracting of the film at the same time if you’re from the area, however, there are many cases in the film where the location jumps around, or the characters aren’t where they say they are, and a local will be able to point it out in a second, but it still works just as well.

All in all, this is a very well executed film. Why is it on the list? Simple, it’s a Hitchcock film. Hitchcock is one of those legendary, titanic, filmmakers, similar to Orson Welles or Stanley Kubrick, whose films simply cannot be left out of lists like these. Moreover, this film is a showcase for the thriller genre, and generally on top ten or top 15 lists today, despite its mediocre reception upon its release. The film does a good job of leading you in one direction, and completely blindsiding you with the reveal. Basically this movie is awesome, and I’m going to stop attempting to (and failing at) sum up the words to express how cool this film is, and leave you with one command: “watch this film”.

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