Vertigo exudes class. This thrilling movie is a through-a-lens-darkly account of one man's obsession with a woman he believes to be dead. No director ever handled James Stewart the way Hitchcock did, and despite sounding increasingly like Larry The Lamb as the hours tick away, the man from Indiana, Pennsylvania gives one of the best performances of his career as John "Scottie" Ferguson, a cop whose terror of heights (the film opens with an absolutely stunning roof-top chase that leaves Scottie hanging by his fingertips) eventually leads him to quit the force. But, instead of languishing in retirement, Scottie winds up playing private eye for rich, debonair school chum Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore) and so begins his descent into very murky waters.

Paid to tail Elster's wife, Madelaine (Kim Novak), Scottie initially intends to protect her from herself. Madeleine is suffering from a series of strange outbursts, during which she seems to regress into a former life. The gorgeous Novak drifts airily through art galleries, visits old buildings and generally acts like a tourist who's lost her map, lulling Scottie into a false sense of security - at which point she goes loopy-loo and leaps into the Bay. Scottie saves her and falls in love.

And it's from here on in that Vertigo really grips, as deception, murder, manipulation and assorted psychological traumas follow one after t'other. There's a great bit in the middle that you will think is the end, but turns out to be just the foundation for one of the best plot twists in movie history.

There are so many great moments here that it's almost impossible to single them out, but thunderous applause must go to the camerawork, which is inventive and consistently brilliant. Novak is bewitchingly unknowable, San Francisco has never looked better and Stewart - almost constantly on camera -shows what a fine actor he is. Quite what the film's cynical attitude towards human relationships says about Hitchcock is anybody's guess, but this is clearly the work of a master at the peak of his powers.

Vertigo - originally presented in an old system called Vistavision - is now being re-released in both 35mm and 70mm versions, each on new, extensively cleaned-up prints. It can't be recommended highly enough, especially in super-wide 70mm.

It's a masterpiece. That's really all you need to know.

Join the Discussion
Add a comment (HTML tags are not allowed.)
Characters remaining: 5000