Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo, 1958

Any fan of old movies is a fan of Alfred Hitchcock, and it seems each viewing brings new levels to the description “creepy.” I recently caught Vertigo on TV a few weeks back, and while this film and its leading man (Jimmy Stewart) remain by far my favorites, I was somehow struck by this story like I never had been before.

Vertigo is the story of Detective John ‘Scottie’ Ferguson who falls in love with blonde bombshell Madeleine Elster, only to lose her in a tragic accident he could not prevent due to his fierce vertigo, or fear of heights. A short while later Scottie meets Madeleine’s doppelganger, Judy Barton, and develops a more than unnerving obsession with the woman who looks so much like his dead love. In scenes that surely David Lynch copied in his own modern American masterpieces, Scottie begins to make Judy over into the dead Madeleine, leading to an horrifying and unnerving surprise ending.

Although I’ve seen this film several times, I was never so intensely upset by the scenes of poor Judy’s makeover, and I was never so disgusted by Scottie’s insistence that she wear the same suit style, hair style, and make-up all down to the very specific details, much to Judy’s resistance. I suppose as we women get older, these types of things take on new meanings for us as we think back to our own experiences and moments in our lives when we allowed ourselves to be changed for the love of a man or made the changes ourselves even if we knew deep down that was not the way to find love and the man didn’t really love us if he wanted us to be someone else so desperately. Scottie’s desperation to make anew his lost love for his version of a second chance and Judy’s desperation to find love at any cost were painful to watch, and brought a whole new level of creepiness to this film.

The usually affable and kindly Jimmy Stewart is dark and morose in this film, with a threatening broodiness that is so unlike him yet is terrifyingly perfect, especially as his obsession begins to get the best of him.Of all the actors from Hollywood’s golden years, Mr. Stewart was always the one I loved the dearest even though he may not have been as classically good-looking as his counterparts. His performances in Harvey, The Spirit of St. Louis and of course It’s A Wonderful Life among so many others are on the top of my list. Still, there is something immensely pleasurable in watching him play such a disturbing and borderline demented character.

Apart from the fantastic performances not only from Mr. Stewart but the beautiful Kim Novak as well, Hitchcock’s direction is seamless and masterful. Utilising some really unique visual effects along with the tightly written storyline make this film truly magnificent, for any time period. If you haven’t seen Vertigo, and especially if you are a Hitchcock fan, you must see it immediately! It is very easily his best work and one of cinema’s greatest masterpieces.

If Vertigo were a mountain, it would be K2 and however painful it may be to get to the top it is worth the journey when you are finally up there, whether you are able to look down or not.