John “Scottie” Ferguson is a San Francisco detective. During a rooftop chase he almost falls from a building. While holding on a fellow policeman tries to come to his aid but ends up falling to his death. The experience causes him to develop acrophobia. After a period of convalescence Scottie retires from the force.
One day he is approached by an old friend, Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore). Gavin is looking to have someone follow his wife Madeline (Kim Novak). He believes she is emotionally unstable and wants someone to keep an eye on her. He says she is having fugue periods and he fears for her safety. At first Scottie is not interested but eventually he reluctantly agrees.
Scottie follows Madeline. She goes to a florist to buy a nosegay. She then goes to the grave site of Carlotta Valdes who lived from 1831-1857. After staring at the grave stone for awhile she goes to the Legion of Honor Art Museum and sits in front the portrait of a young woman. A guide at the museum tells Scottie that the portrait is of a woman named Carlotta. She then goes to the McKittrick Hotel. Scottie finds out later that the McKittrick hotel use to be the home of Carlotta Valdes.
To investigate Carlotta Valdes, Scottie’s friend Midge Wood (Barbara Bel Geddes) takes him to a book dealer that is an expert in San Francisco history. Pop Leibel (Konstantin Shayne) tells Scottie that Carlotta was a woman who killed herself over the loss of a lover who spurned her and took their child since he and his wife didn’t have any. Gavin tells him that Carlotta was Madeline’s great grandmother but that Madeline isn’t aware of the family tragedy. Continuing to follow Madeline he follows her to San Francisco bay where she throws herself into the bay. Scottie saves her life.
They begin to see each other and Scottie falls in love with Madeline. Madeline tells him about a dream she had about a bell tower at a church. Scottie recognizes the place as the Mission San Juan Bautista, which happened to be the childhood home of Carlotta. Hoping to free her from her nightmare Scottie takes her there. Madeline tells Scottie that she loves him and runs from him into the church and up the steps to the bell tower. Scottie makes it half way up the steps before his vertigo returns and he is paralyzed. Madeline throws herself from the bell tower.
Madeline’s death is designated a suicide. Scottie is broken and spends time in an institution for his depression. When he is released he begins going to all the places he went with Madeline. Then one day he sees a woman that looks almost exactly like Madeline. She says her name is Judy Barton (Kim Novak). Scottie systematically begins to change Judy to make her look like Madeline but Judy has a secret that she is afraid to tell Scottie for fear of losing him.
“Vertigo” was released in 1958 and was directed by Alfred Hitchcock. The movie is a psychological thriller and a film noir. It is based on the 1954 novel “D’entre les morts” AKA “From Among the Dead” by Boileau-Narcejac and Thomas Narcejac. When the movie was released it got mixed reviews. It is now considered by some to be Hitchcock’s best film.
“Vertigo” is a riveting film. The not so good reviews may have been due to Jimmy Stewart being much older than the normal leading man at the time. Stewart was fifty and Novak was twenty-five. People didn’t come around until after it was re-released in the eighties that it is in fact an awesome movie. Hitchcock, in his typical mind games, once again digs into the human psyche and reveals man’s flaws in Technicolor and surrounded by a sweeping Bernard Hermann score. What better way to see one’s own failings than having it sugar coated with beautiful location settings and thrilling cinematography? Even though the film is pretty it’s also disquieting and ultimately shocking. The contrast between the beautiful scenes of San Francisco and the darkness of the film’s plot combined with the human flaws that culminate in its startling ending makes the movie intriguing and mesmerizing.
It was one of the so called lost five Hitchcock films. After its release the rights were bought back and left to Hitchcock’s daughter. The film was not released again until 1984. The other four films were: “The Man Who Knew Too Much,” “Rear Window,” “Rope” and “The Trouble With Harry“.
In 1989, Vertigo was one of the first 25 films selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the United States National Film Registry for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
The film saw the creation of one of the most famous effects in cinema. Called the “Vertigo effect” the shot creates a visual image of Scottie’s vertigo. It is created by adjusting the zoom lens while dollying either towards or away from the subject .
Alfred Hitchcock’s cameo is a little over eleven minutes into the film. He is walking past a shipbuilding company wearing a gray suit and carrying a small black case.
Vertigo is a sensation of dizziness and feeling off balance. Causes of vertigo can be due to the side effects of medication, inner ear problems, acrophobia, spinning around or even migraine headaches. Vertigo can cause nausea, fainting, vomiting, headaches, tinnitus or sweating.