"He thought his love was dead, until he found her in another woman."
- Film Tagline
29 May 1958
"Hitchcock's Latest Melodrama Arrives at the Capitol"
YOU MIGHT SAY THAT ALFRED HITCHCOCK'S LATEST MYSTERY MELODRAMA, "VERTIGO," IS ALL ABOUT HOW A DIZZY FELLOW CHASES AFTER A DIZZY DAME, the fellow being an ex-detective and the dame being - well, you guess. That is as fair a thumbnail digest as we can hastily contrive to give you a gist of this picture without giving the secret away. And, believe us, that secret is so clever, even though it is devilishly far-fetched, that we wouldn't want to risk at all disturbing your inevitable enjoyment of the film.
If that recommendation is sufficient, read no further. "Vertigo" opened yesterday at the Capitol.
However, if you are a skeptic and want to know just a little more about this typically Hitchcock picture, which has James Stewart and Kim Novak as its stars, let us give you two hints that should be helpful.
The first hint is that the story begins with this long-legged ex-detective, a known sufferer from acrophobia (fear of heights), being hired by a San Francisco magnate to shadow his strangely acting wife. Seems that this chic and silent beauty, who the magnate says loves him very much, is given to mysterious wanderings in and about that dramatic city with the startling views—and, believe us, it is dramatic, as seen in color and Vista Vision in this film.
She goes to the Mission Dolores and places flowers on the grave of a famous San Francisco beauty who died years ago. Then she goes to the art museum, the Palace of the Legion of Honor in Golden Gate Park, and sits staring at the portrait of this beauty as though she were in a daze.
Slowly, the gum-shoe realizes that, somehow, this dizzy dame has spells when she thinks she's animated by the personality of this tragic lady of the past. And he has no doubt about it when, one day at Old Fort Point, beneath the Golden Gate Bridge, she flings herself desperately and suicidally into the bay. Naturally, our fellow saves her and finds himself falling in love.
Still the mystery haunts him. What is this thing that invades the moody person of his loved one, the wife of another man? And how can he free her from this demon—and from her husband?
That's all we will tell you! Now—
Second hint: This fascinating mystery is based upon a tale written by the same fellows, Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, who wrote the story from which was taken that excellent French mystery, "Diabolique." That film, if you remember, told of a terribly devious plot to simulate a murder that didn't happen.
There! No more hints! Coming or not?
What more's to say? Well, nothing, except that "Vertigo" is performed in the manner expected of all performers in Hitchcock films. Mr. Stewart, as usual, manages to act awfully tense in a casual way, and Miss Novak is really quite amazing in—well, here is a bit of a hint—dual roles. Tom Helmore is sleek as the husband and Barbara Bel Geddes is sweet as the nice girl who loves the detective and has to watch him drifting away.
One more thing: there is a big hole—a big question-mark—at a critical point. It will stop you, if you're a quick thinker. But try not to be and enjoy the film."
Bosley Crother - New York Times
THE RESTORATION OF VERTIGO
IN 1996, THE FILM WAS GIVEN A LENGTHY AND CONTROVERSIAL RESTORATION by Robert A. Harris and James C. Katz and re-released to theaters. The new print featured restored color and newly created audio, utilizing modern sound effects mixed in DTS digital surround sound. In October 1996, the restored Vertigo premiered at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco, exhibited for the first time in DTS and 70mm, a format with a similar frame size to the VistaVision system in which it was originally shot.
One bone of contention regarding the 1996 restoration was the decision to re-record the foley sound effects from scratch (to allow Dolby-quality mixing for surround sound and stereo). Harris and Katz wanted to stay as close as possible to the original: "It was our intent to re-mix the original music tracks with dialogue culled from the old mono and new Foley and effects tracks, which were to have been created following Mr. Hitchcock's original notes. That was the intent. It is not what occurred, the studio having made the decision to re-invent the track anew". Harris and Katz sometimes added extra sound effects to camouflage defects in the old soundtrack ("hisses, pops, and bangs"); in particular they added extra seagull cries and a foghorn to the scene at Cypress Point. The new mix has also been accused of putting too much emphasis on the score at the expense of the sound effects. The 2005 Hitchcock Masterpiece Collection DVD contains the original mono track as an option.
Significant color correction was necessary because of the fading of original negatives. In some cases a new negative was created from the silver separation masters, but in many instances this was impossible because of differential separation shrinkage, and because the 1958 separations were poorly made. Separations used three individual films: one for each of the primary colors. In the case of Vertigo, these had shrunk in different and erratic proportions, making re-alignment impossible. As such, significant amounts of computer assisted coloration were necessary. Although the results are not noticeable on viewing the film, some elements were as many as eight generations away from the original negative.
When such large portions of re-creation become necessary, then the danger of artistic license by the restorers becomes an issue, and the restorers received some criticism for their re-creation of colors that allegedly did not honor the director and cinematographer's intentions. The restoration team argued that they did research on the colors used in the original locations, cars, wardrobe, and skin tones. One breakthrough moment came when the Ford Motor Company supplied a well-preserved green paint sample for a car used in the film. As the use of the color green in the film has artistic importance, matching a shade of green was a stroke of luck for restoration and provided a reference shade from which to work.
Isn't "VERTIGO" about the conflict between illusion and reality?
Oh, yes. I was interested by the basic situation, because it contained so much analogy to sex. Stewart's efforts to recreate the woman were, cinematically, exactly the same as though he were trying to undress the woman, instead of dressing her. He couldn't get the other woman out of his mind. Now, in the book, they didn't reveal that she was one and the same woman until the end of the story. I shocked Sam Taylor, who worked on it, when I said, "When Stewart comes upon this brunette girl, Sam, this is the time for us to blow the whole truth." He said, "Good God, why?" I told him, if we don't what is the rest of our story until we do reveal the truth. A man has picked up a brunette and sees in her the possibilities of resemblance to the other woman.
Let's put ourselves in the minds of our audience here: "So you've got a brunette and you're going to change her." What story are we telling now? A man wants to make a girl over and then, at the very end, finds out it is the same woman. Maybe he kills her, or whatever. Here we are, back in our old situation: surprise or suspense. And we come to our old analogy of the bomb: you and I sit talking and there's a bomb in the room. We're having a very innocuous conversation about nothing. Boring. Doesn't mean a thing. Suddenly, boom! the bomb goes off and they're shocked - for fifteen seconds. Now you change it. Play the same scene, insert the bomb, show that the bomb is placed there, establish that it's going to go off at one o'clock - it's now a quarter of one, ten of one--show a clock on the wall, back to the same scene. Now our conversation becomes very vital, by its sheer nonsense. "Look under the table! You fool!" Now they're working for ten minutes, instead of being surprised for fifteen seconds.
Now let's go back to Vertigo. If we don't let them know, they will speculate. They will get a very blurred impression as to what is going on. "Now," I said, "one of the fatal things, Sam, in all suspense is to have a mind that is confused. Otherwise the audience won't emote. Clarify, clarify, clarify. Don't let them say, "I don't know which woman that is, who's that?" So," I said, "we are going to take the bull by the horns and put it all in a flashback, bang! right then and there - show it's one and the same woman." Then, when Stewart comes to the hotel for her, the audience says, "Little does he know." Second, the girl's resistance in the earlier part of the film had no reason. Now you have the reason - she doesn't want to be uncovered. That's why she doesn't want the gray suit, doesn't want to go blond - because the moment she does, she's in for it. So now you've got extra values working for you. We play on his fetish in creating this dead woman, and he is so obsessed with the pride he has in making her over. Even when she comes back from the hairdresser, the blond hair is still down. And he says, "Put your hair up." She says, "No." He says, "Please." Now what is he saying to her? "You've taken everything off except your bra and your panties, please take those off." She says, "All right." She goes into the bathroom. He's only waiting to see a nude woman come out, ready to get in bed with. That's what the scene is.
Now, as soon as she comes out, he sees a ghost - he sees the other woman. That's why I played her in a green light. You see, in the earlier part - which is purely in the mind of Stewart -- when he is watching this girl go from place to place, when she is really faking, behaving like a woman of the past - in order to get this slightly subtle quality of a dreamlike nature although it was bright sunshine, I hot the film through a fog filter and I got a green effect - fog over bright sunshine. That's why, when she comes out of the bathroom, I played her in the green light. That's why I chose the Empire Hotel in Post Street - because it had a green neon sign outside the window. I wanted to establish that green light flashing all the time. So that when we need it, we've got it. I slid the soft, fog lens over, and as she came forward, for a moment he got the image of the past. Then as her face came up to him, I slipped the soft effect away, and he came back to reality. She had come back from the dead, and he felt it, and knew it, and probably was even bewildered - until he saw the locket - and then he knew he had been tricked.
"VERTIGO IS THE PINNACLE OF MOVIEMAKING"
"THERE IS NOTHING IN IT THAT FAILS AND IT HAS MORE GREAT SCENES AND IDEAS THAN I NEED (OR DARE) COUNT. Its powerful and affecting story is concise, clever and unpredictable. Hitchcock is playing at the peak of his game, with great depth of character and storytelling, and his actors do not let him down.
It tells the story of John "Scottie" Ferguson (James Stewart), a semi-retired detective whose fear of heights has cost the life of a partner. He is persuaded to take the case of an old friend, Gavin Elster, to follow his wife, Madeleine (Kim Novak), who has been behaving strangely. He learns that she has a connection with a certain Carlotta Valdez, who died a century ago. While trying to keep her sanity intact, Scottie falls deeply in love with the terrified Madeleine. They both wander across the city outskirts ("Only one is a wanderer; two together are always going somewhere"), looking at places that draw her toward the past life of Valdez. In a sudden moment of madness, she rushes up a bell tower and commits suicide. Scottie blames himself for Madeleine's death since his acrophobia would not let him save her in time. Devastated and broken, he suffers a nervous breakdown. His life is in ruins and the rest of the film is about his efforts to rebuild it.
You think I'm probably revealing too much. Oh, but this is just the tip of the iceberg!"
"Fifty years ago, at a preview in San Francisco, moviegoers looked up at the screen and saw "Vertigo" for the first time, and maybe some of them looked down too in confusion or dismay, wondering, as in a dream, where they were and how they had gotten there and how they would make it back to safer ground. With "Vertigo" you never know. It's a movie that — even if you know that it will always end the same way, tragically — never takes you to that inevitable conclusion by the same route. You feel as if you are wandering, which is the word Scottie and the object of his desire, Madeleine Elster (Kim Novak), use to describe their days... You can't help wondering what those first Bay Area viewers 50 years ago must have thought as they watched this strange, drifty, hallucinatory romance unfold on the big screen, with the strains of Bernard Herrmann's lush score — brazenly echoing the "Liebestod" from Wagner's "Tristan and Isolde" — swelling on the soundtrack. It wasn't what they had come to expect from Hitchcock, the beloved portly "master of suspense," who had been making impishly macabre thrillers for 30-some years and had since 1955 also been the host and impresario of a very popular mystery-story anthology series on television."
Terrence Rafferty, New York Times
AWARDS FOR VERTIGO
Most Distinguished Reissue - 1996 New York Film Critics Circle
U.S. National Film Registry - 1988 Library of Congress
100 Greatest American Movies - 1998 American Film Institute
Best Art Direction - Henry Bumstead - 1958 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science
Best Art Direction - Frank R. McKelvey - 1958 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science
Best Sound - George Dutton - 1958 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science
Best Art Direction - Hal Pereira - 1958 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science
Best Director - Alfred Hitchcock - 1958 Directors Guild of America
Best Art Direction - Sam Comer - 1958 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science
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