I should have classed Vertigo with Casablanca, Gone With The Wind, and The Wizard of Oz. After all what can I say that hasn't been said about Hitchcock's masterpiece? THIS: STOP PICKING THIS MOVIE APART! It's been analyzed and psychoanalyzed in Film-making 101 ever since the 1958 release. Critics and professors expound on all of its multiple levels, symbolism, and hidden meanings. On one level you have a psychological thriller in which the main character is so driven by guilt over his perceived responsibility for another man's death that he tries to redeem himself by saving someone else. Ironically he ends up losing her twice. Another oft-mentioned theme is trying to bring a lover back from the dead by finding a lookalike and polishing them. The strangest meaning I came across is that Hitchcock was using the movie to bare his soul..that Scottie's character is the master himself, who feared women and so tried to control them. What's lost in all this is the bottom line: this is one hell of a suspense-thriller with superb characterization and a plot that's been copied (see BODY DOUBLE) more than any other. On the simplest level it's the story of a man who uses his friend's illness to cover up the murder of his wife so he can live richly ever after.
Chasing a criminal from one San Francisco rooftop to another was no time for police detective JOHN "SCOTTIE" FERGUSON (Stewart) to discover his acrophobia, fear of heights. (Throughout the film whenever he so much as climbs a step ladder he develops Vertigo, a severe dizziness.) He slips and hangs between buildings, and another officer who tries to rescue him is killed. Scottie recovers from the trauma with help from his friend and former lover, MIDGE (Bel Geddes), an artist. But he has to resign from his job in the police dept. "Every time I look down I see that man falling," he confesses. An old school chum, GAVIN ELSTER (Helmore) shows up with a job offer that Scottie wants to refuse: spying on his wife, MADELINE (Novak) who's acting weird. "Do you believe the spirit of someone dead can possess her?" Gavin sadly asks. "No. Maybe you should take her to see a psychiatrist..or how about a plain old family doctor..and maybe you should see him, too," skeptical Scottie chides. Convinced that she is the reincarnation of her ancestor, Carlotta, who committed suicide, she wanders to Carlotta's grave in a mission cemetery, a historic hotel where Carlotta lived, and the museum where she stares at a portrait of Carlotta for hours. She does up her hair exactly like Carlotta's in that painting and wears the same antique jewelry. Scottie is immediately physically attracted to the beautiful blonde so it becomes his pleasure to follow her rather than a job. By the time he saves her from drowning in San Francisco Bay and takes her home, he has fallen completely in love. He doesn't reveal the arrangement with her husband so she confides in him about feeling possessed by Carlotta's spirit and being drawn to an old mission she sees in her dreams. It's the famous mission at San Juan Batista, and its where Carlotta had killed herself. Scottie takes her there, hoping it might cure her obsession with Carlotta. Before he can stop her she runs up the staircase all the way to the bell tower. He can't chase her..he's frozen by Vertigo again. She jumps from the tower to her death. For the second time Scottie has to watch someone die by falling from a high place while he stood paralyzed.
He has a nervous breakdown, but, once again, with loyal Midge's help (even after he stands her up) he slowly recovers. I felt sorry for Midge, who is clearly in love with Scottie herself. To his inquiry "Aren't you ever getting married?", she blurts out "there's only one man for me, Johnny" It's bad enough seeing the man you love have a mental breakdown, but can you imagine if the breakdown is over another woman? If I was Midge he'd fend for himself!
He soon gets his comeuppance when he meets a woman who looks exactly like Madeline, a department store clerk named JUDY BARTON (Novak) from Kansas. Scottie quickly falls in love with her, and she with him. She's a brunette, though, and doesn't talk or dress like Madeline. But Scottie can fix that..with new clothes and some hair coloring. Fate gives the never-married man a second chance at his one true love...until he finds out Judy's terrible secret. Because there might be somebody out there who doesn't know the rest of the story I won't reveal that secret. Rent the movie and just watch it for entertainment. Don't start thinking about it too deeply; but if you must, imagine that in August 1977, just maybe, a "body double" died at Graceland instead of Elvis...
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