Spiraling into Legend
Vertigo teases, befuddles and opens up the highway for Alfred Hitchcock's most expressive and imaginative storytelling. The plot defies easy categorization as former San Francisco detective John 'Scottie' Ferguson (James Stewart) follows the bizarre wanderings of Madeleine Elster (a transcendent Kim Novak). The way cameraman Robert Burks photographs this actress, it's not too difficult to fall under her spell, much like what happens to Stewart.
It's a beautiful thing to discover an original premise which doesn't rely on gimmicks. Stewart's character suffers from a fear of heights, a condition made bone chillingly clear in the first sequence when a fellow policeman falls to his death trying to rescue him. The love story feels so authentic - - passing through every possible permutation before the bond is sealed.
The world of Vertigo unfolds at a lovely pace with rhythms and cadences which seem brave by today's standards. During the first hour, the camera holds on some beautifully imagined details, capturing Novak's hair at a certain angle and building suspense through a balance of Bernard Herrmann's mesmerizing music and George Tomasini's cutting. Some may wish the vertigo perspectives were longer, but the abrupt editing serves the larger design and puts us on edge.
I might be going out on a limb by stating that Vertigo can and should replace Citizen Kane on the pedestal of great cinematic experiences. Rest assured, when the American Film Institute compiles its next top 100 list, Hitchcock's misunderstood 1958 effort could be the new king.
(Released by Paramount Pictures and rated "PG" by MPAA.)