Vertigo (movie)

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For other uses of the word Vertigo, see Vertigo.

Template:Infobox Movie

Vertigo is a 1958 suspense film directed by Alfred Hitchcock. The film is usually taken as a classic of the genre and is considered by many critics to be Hitchcock's masterpiece.


The Plot

Vertigo tells the story of a retired San Francisco detective, Scottie (James Stewart), who suffers from balance disorder and is hired to follow Madeleine Elster (Kim Novak), the wife of an old friend. Despite her trancelike, sometimes obsessive behavior and her suicidal tendencies, the detective falls in love with her and resolves to save her from herself. However, Scottie's balance disorder renders him unable to help her when he is most needed, and Madeleine's apparent death occurs as a result. About a year later, Scottie, still brooding about Madeleine, encounters a woman, Judy Barton, who reminds him strongly of his dead love, and he resolves to bring Madeleine back to life again. Judy, however, has secrets of her own, and the movie inevitably takes a final, tragic turn.

The screenplay and its sources

The movie was adapted by Samuel A. Taylor and Alec Coppel from the novel d'Entre les Morts by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac. Francois Truffaut suggested that the novel d'Entre les Morts was specifically written for Hitchcock by Boileau and Narcejac after Hitchcock was unable to buy the rights to their previous novel, Celle qui n'était plus, which was made into the movie Les Diaboliques. However, Narcejac has subsequently denied that this was their intention.

The film also alludes to the story of Orpheus and Eurydice. Although the source novel's explicit references to the myth do not appear in the film, certain themes do, including the return of a dead beloved to life, and discovering the fatal consequences of "looking back."

The final script was written by Samuel Taylor from notes by Hitchcock. However, a number of elements survive from an earlier script by Alec Coppel, including the opening rooftop sequence, the Cypress Point kiss, the two visits to San Juan Bautista, and the famous nightmare sequence. When Taylor attempted to take sole credit for the screenplay, Coppel protested to the Writers Guild, who determined that both writers were entitled to credit. It is believed by many that Hitchcock himself was primarily responsible for the character, structure, tone, and thematic richness of this, his most personal film.

Cinematic qualities

Vertigo is notable for the "Hitchcock zoom," an in-camera perspective distortion special effect created by Hitchcock that suggests the dizzying effect that gives the film its title.

The film's famous score was composed by Bernard Herrmann. In many of the key scenes Hitchcock essentially gave the film over to Herrmann, whose melodies, echoing Richard Wagner's Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde, dramatically convey Scotty's obsessive love for the woman he imagines to be Madeleine.

Vertigo as a Hitchcock film

Those interested in Hitchcock's biography have often noted the similarities between Scottie Ferguson's attitude toward Judy and Hitchcock's own attitude toward his leading actresses; Hitchcock took an active interest in moulding the on-screen appearance of his actresses to fit his vision of the perfect blonde, and the sequence in which Scottie orders Judy to gradually transform herself into Madeleine is often cited as an example of Hitchcock dramatizing his own obsessions.

Hitchcock used falling, and the threat of falling, in many of his films, for example Blackmail, Foreign Correspondent, Suspicion, Saboteur, Rear Window, To Catch a Thief, and North by Northwest. Critics have suggested that Vertigo uses this recurring motif as a metaphor for sexual obsession, existential angst, liebestod, or original sin.


Vertigo was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White or Color and Best Sound.

Vertigo was not a commercial success when first released, and its critical reputation built slowly, due in part to its lack of availability: it was one of five films owned by the Hitchcock estate removed from circulation in 1973. When Vertigo was re-released on film and home video in 1983, its critical fortunes soared. Finally, after a year-long restoration effort by Robert Harris and James Katz, the film was re-released to theaters in its former glory in 1996. The new print featured restored color and an enhanced soundtrack with digital sound. It was also exhibited for the first time in 70mm, the format for which it had been originally intended.

The film has been deemed "culturally significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.

In 2002, Vertigo was chosen the second greatest film of all time (behind Citizen Kane) by the Sight and Sound critics' poll.

San Francisco Bay Area locations in Vertigo

Vertigo is notable for its extensive location footage of the San Francisco Bay Area, leading some to claim the city itself as an important character in the script; San Francisco is famous for its steep hills, expansive views, and tall, arching bridges. Some have noted that in the numerous driving scenes shot in the city, the main characters' cars are almost always pictured heading down the city's steeply inclined streets.

Visiting the San Francisco film locations (perhaps most famously in a subsection of Chris Marker's documentary montage Sans Soleil) has something of a cult following as well as modest tourist appeal.

Areas that were shot on location (not recreated in a studio), and that still exist:

  • Mission San Juan Bautista, although the all-important tower had to be matted in with a painting using studio effects. Hitchcock had first visited the Mission before the tower was torn down due to dry rot, and was reportedly very displeased to find it missing when he returned to film his scenes. The original tower was much smaller and less dramatic than the special effects version however, so in the end the change could be considered fortuitous.
  • Mission Dolores, where for many years tourists could see the actual Carlotta Valdez headstone featured in the film. Eventually, the headstone was removed as the Mission considered it disrespectful to the dead to house a tourist attraction grave for a fictional person.
  • Fort Point National Historic Site and the Golden Gate Bridge
  • Big Basin Redwoods State Park, although the film claims these scenes are from Muir Woods National Monument.
  • Cypress Point, a well known location along the 17 Mile Drive near Pebble Beach.
  • California Palace of the Legion of Honor: the Carlotta Valdez portrait was lost after being removed from the gallery, but many of the other paintings in the background of the portrait scenes are still on view.
  • Coit Tower (appears in many background shots but is not featured). Hitchcock once said that he included it as a phallic symbol.
  • "The Brocklebank" (1000 Mason Street): Gavin and Madeleine's apartment building still looks essentially the same. Across the street from the Fairmont Hotel, where Hitchcock usually stayed when he visited and where many of the cast and crew stayed during filming.
  • 351 Buena Vista East: the sanitarium where Scottie recovers. Now apartments but looks the same from the outside. Across the street from the southern (most elevated) end of Buena Vista Park. Excellent views of the back of the building, dramatically situated on Buena Vista heights, are available from the Corona Heights neighborhood park.
  • The York Hotel [1] ( 940 Sutter Street: When Scottie first catches a glimpse of Judy Barton, he follows her back to her hotel and invites her to dinner at Ernie's. Judy's room is located on the third floor of the hotel, whose interiors were all created back in Hollywood. The flashing green neon of the "Hotel Empire" sign creates a ghostly effect for Judy's transformation into Scottie's make-believe vision of Madeleine, although the neon sign was replaced when the Hotel was re-named The York Hotel.


  • DePalma's 1984 movie Body Double also featured many plot elements from Vertigo.

External link

Template:Alfred Hitchcock's filmsast:Vértigu de:Vertigo – Aus dem Reich der Toten es:Vértigo (De entre los muertos) fr:Sueurs froides


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