Vertigo (film)

Vertigo (film)

Infobox Film
name = Vertigo

image_size = 200px
caption = original poster by Saul Bass
director = Alfred Hitchcock
producer = Alfred Hitchcock "(uncredited)"
writer = Boileau-Narcejac "(novel)"
Alec Coppel
Samuel A. Taylor
starring = James Stewart
Kim Novak
music = Bernard Hermann
cinematography = Robert Burks, ASC
editing = George Tomasini
distributor = 1958-1982
Paramount Pictures
Universal Pictures
Non-USA 1996:
United International Pictures
released = 9 May fy|1958 "(US)"
runtime = 128 minutes
country = FilmUS
language = English
budget = US$2,479,000
gross =
imdb_id = 0052357

"Vertigo" (fy|1958) is a psychological thriller directed by Alfred Hitchcock, starring James Stewart and Kim Novak and featuring Barbara Bel Geddes and Tom Helmore. The film tells the story of a retired policeman who falls in love with a mysterious woman he has been hired to follow. Although it received mixed reviews on its first release, the film has since gained in esteem and is frequently listed among the greatest films ever made.


San Francisco detective John "Scottie" Ferguson (James Stewart) discovers he has an extreme fear of heights after a fellow police officer (Fred Graham) falls to his death during a rooftop chase. His fear of heights soon leads to vertigo. He is forced to retire from police work, and is unable even to stand on a stepstool in the apartment of his friend Marjorie "Midge" Wood (Barbara Bel Geddes) without being paralyzed by fear and dizziness.

Scottie is later hired as a private detective by a college acquaintance, Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore), who wants his beautiful blond wife Madeleine Elster (Kim Novak) followed. Elster is worried that she appears to have symptoms of a mental illness or spiritual possession. Scottie tails Madeleine, who spends her days visiting the grave and painting of Carlotta Valdes, a woman who killed herself 100 years earlier. Scottie notices that Madeleine is wearing her hair exactly like Carlotta and that she wanders the city in a trancelike, obsessive state.

In spite of the detective's former romantic involvement with Midge — they were engaged for three weeks — Scottie is strongly attracted to Madeleine. He follows her to Fort Point at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge, where she jumps into San Francisco Bay in what appears to be a suicide attempt. Scottie saves her and brings her to his apartment. On the phone with Gavin, Scottie learns that Carlotta was 26 when she killed herself, Madeleine's current age.

When Madeleine and Scottie take a trip to see coastal redwoods at Muir Woods National Monument (filmed at Big Basin Redwoods State Park), she enters into a reverie and experiences what appears to be Carlotta's past. She tells Scottie she has dreamed of Mission San Juan Bautista, and he takes her there in an effort to conquer her disturbing dreams. At the mission, Madeleine suddenly runs into the belltower. Scottie's acrophobia prevents him from following her up the steep staircase. Through a window, he sees Madeleine plummet from the top of the tower to her death.

Scottie suffers a nervous breakdown and flees the scene. At the inquest into Madeleine's death, Scottie is cleared by the prosecution but severely criticized by the coroner for negligence, though Gavin reassures him, telling him that "you and I both know who really killed Madeleine," suggesting that she was possessed by Carlotta's spirit. Gavin tells Scottie that he intends to cope with his grief by leaving San Francisco to travel the world. Scottie's depression worsens and he is placed in a mental hospital, where he descends into catatonic passivity and suffers from terrifying nightmares. Midge tries to console him but realizes that he is still in love with Madeleine.

Much later, Scottie, still brooding, begins to haunt the places where he had been with Madeleine. On one visit, he encounters a woman, Judy Barton, who bears a strong resemblance to Madeleine, although she has darker hair. In fact, in her looks, speech and deportment she seems quite vulgar in comparison with Madeleine's refined beauty. However, Scottie follows Judy to her hotel room, where she reluctantly tells him her story; she is a simple girl from Salina, Kansas, making a life for herself in San Francisco after a series of bad relationships.

However, after Scottie leaves, the truth is revealed; Judy writes him a letter in which she admits (in flashback) that she was in fact Madeleine. Elster bribed her to act as a mentally unstable "Madeleine". The woman who fell from the tower was Elster's real wife, hurled, already dead, from the tower by her husband. Elster had hired Scottie to follow the false Madeleine simply in order to have someone reputable to corroborate his claims of his wife's suicidal tendencies. With no witnesses and Scottie's testimony supporting Madeleine's "insanity", Elster got away with murder by correctly calculating that Scottie's vertigo would prevent him from following "Madeleine" up the tower to see the truth. Having written the letter, Judy, who has already fallen in love with Scottie, and feels guilty for the pain she has caused him, destroys the letter almost as soon as she has written it.

Scottie becomes obsessed with Judy, but any romantic possibility between them is thwarted by his memory of Madeleine. Scottie insists that Judy dress like Madeleine; despite her protests, she eventually gives in. When Judy is completely made over as Madeleine, she goes back to her apartment, where Scottie is waiting. She deliberately tries to retain some hint of her own identity by not wearing her hair in Madeleine's style, but finally he persuades her to change even this small detail. She goes into the bathroom and emerges, just as Madeleine emerged from his bedroom — the film echoes the earlier scene — and as Scottie embraces her the past swirls about them and their relationship seems finally to be consummated, his obsession cured.

Scottie grows suspicious of Judy when he sees her wearing a red, jeweled pendant that he remembers Madeleine claiming to have inherited. He takes her to Mission San Juan Bautista and forces her to climb up the tower once more, telling her that he wants to re-enact the scene in which he failed to save Madeleine. As they inch to the top, she confesses the truth, and Scottie rages at her. (As he has now made it to the top of the tower, the emotional surge has conquered Scottie's acrophobia.)

Judy pleads to Scottie that she does love him, and his anger abates. The two embrace and the music begins to swell before, suddenly, a shadowy figure appears at the top of the stairs. Judy, frightened, backs away from the approaching shadow and steps backwards off the tower ledge, plunging to her death. The figure, a nun, whispers, "God, have mercy," and rings the tower bell as Scottie stares down at Judy's fallen body; the emotional shock has cured his vertigo — but at a terrible cost.

A coda to the film, a one-minute scene, was shot that showed a more-or-less healed Scottie and Midge listening to a radio report (with unseen San Francisco radio announcer Dave McElhatton giving the report) of Gavin Elster's capture in Europe. This ending was mandated by European censorship requirements, however, and was not featured in the American cut of the film — it is included as an extra in the restored DVD release.


The screenplay is an adaptation of the French novel "" ("Cold Sweat: From Among the Dead") by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac. Hitchcock had previously tried to buy the rights to the same authors' previous novel, "Celle qui n'était plus", but he failed, and it was made instead by Henri-Georges Clouzot as "Les Diaboliques" [cite web |url= |title= Thomas Narcejac, 89, Author of Crime Novels |work=The New York Times |date=1998-07-05 |accessdate=2007-12-01] . Although François Truffaut once suggested that "D'Entre les morts" was specifically written for Hitchcock by Boileau and Narcejac,cite book | title=Hitchcock | last=Truffaut | first=François | authorlink=François Truffaut | coauthors=Hitchcock, Alfred | publisher=Simon and Schuster | location=New York | oclc=273102] Narcejac has subsequently denied that this was their intention.Fact|date=September 2007 However, Hitchcock's interest in their work meant that Paramount Pictures commissioned a synopsis of "D'Entre les morts" in 1954, before it had even been translated into English.Dan Aulier, "Vertigo: The Making of a Hitchcock Classic" (London: Titan Books, 1999), p. 30.]

Hitchcock originally hired playwright Maxwell Anderson to write a screenplay, but rejected his work, which was entitled "Darkling I Listen". (Hitchcock scholar Dan Aulier calls Anderson's screenplay a "standard B detective picture".) [Dan Aulier, "Vertigo: The Making of a Hitchcock Classic" (London: Titan Books, 1999), p. 34.] The final script was written by Samuel A. Taylor — who was recommended to Hitchcock due to his knowledge of San Francisco from notes by Hitchcock. Among Taylor's creations was the character of Midge. [Dan Aulier, "Vertigo: The Making of a Hitchcock Classic" (London: Titan Books, 1999), p. 51.] Taylor attempted to take sole credit for the screenplay, but Alec Coppel protested to the Screen Writers Guild, which determined that both writers were entitled to a credit. [Dan Aulier, "Vertigo: The Making of a Hitchcock Classic" (London: Titan Books, 1999), p. 61-2.]

When actress Vera Miles, who was under personal contract to Hitchcock and had appeared on both his television show and in his film "The Wrong Man", couldn't act in "Vertigo" due to pregnancy, the director declined to postpone shooting and cast Kim Novak as the feminine lead. (Ironically, by the time Novak had tied up prior film commitments and a vacation promised by Columbia Pictures, the studio that held her contract, Miles had completed her pregnancy and was available for the film. Hitchcock proceeded with Novak, nevertheless.)

Musical score

In a 2004 special issue by Sight and Sound devoted to Film Music, Martin Scorsese described the qualities of Herrmann's famous score:

:"Hitchcock's film is about obsession, which means that it's about circling back to the same moment, again and again ... And the music is also built around spirals and circles, fulfilment and despair. Herrmann really understood what Hitchcock was going for — he wanted to penetrate to the heart of obsession." []


Contemporary response

"Vertigo" premiered in San Francisco on 9 May, 1958. It performed averagely at the box office, [Aulier, "Vertigo", 174] and reviews were mixed. "Variety"'s "Stef" said the film showed Hitchcock's "mastery", but was too long and slow for "what is basically only a psychological murder mystery". [ [ "Variety" review] , 14 June, 1958.] Similarly, the "Los Angeles Times" admired the scenery, but found the plot "too long" and felt it "bogs down" in "a maze of detail"; scholar Dan Aulier says that this review "sounded the tone that most popular critics would take with the film". [Aulier, "Vertigo", 170-1.] However, the "Los Angeles Examiner" loved it, admiring the "excitement, action, romance, glamor and [the] crazy, off-beat love story". [Aulier, "Vertigo", 172.]

Additional reasons for the mixed response initially were that Hitchcock fans were not pleased with his departure from the romantic-thriller territory of earlier films and that the mystery was solved with one-third of the movie left to go. [cite news |first=David |last=Sterritt |authorlink= |coauthors= |title=At 50, Hitchcock's Timeless 'Vertigo' Still Offers a Dizzying Array of Gifts |url= |work=The Chronicle of Higher Education |publisher= |date=June 13, 2008 |accessdate= ]

"Vertigo" was nominated for Academy Awards in two technical categories: Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White or Color and Best Sound.

Hitchcock and Stewart received the San Sebastián International Film Festival for Best Director and Best Actor respectively.

In an interview with Francois Truffaut, Hitchcock stated that "Vertigo" was one of his favorite films, with some reservations. [Francois Truffaut, "The Cinema According to Alfred Hitchcock" (1967), revised edition known as "Truffaut-Hitchcock" (Simon & Schuster, 1985), p. 187]


In the 1960s, the French "Cahiers du cinéma" critics began re-evaluating Hitchcock as a serious artist rather than just a populist showman. However, even François Truffaut's important book of Hitchcock interviews mentions "Vertigo" very little. Dan Aulier has suggested that the real beginning of "Vertigo"'s rise in adulation was the British-Canadian scholar Robin Wood's "Hitchcock's Films" (1968), which calls the film "Hitchcock's masterpiece to date and one of the four or five most profound and beautiful films the cinema has yet given us". [Aulier, "Vertigo", 177.] Adding to its mystique was the fact that "Vertigo" was one of five films owned by the Hitchcock estate that was removed from circulation in 1973. When "Vertigo" was re-released in theaters in October 1983, and then on home video in October 1984, it achieved an impressive commercial success and laudatory reviews. [Aulier, "Vertigo", 190-1.] Similarly adulatory reviews were written for the October 1996 of a restored print in 70mm and DTS sound at the Castro Theater in San Francisco. [Aulier, "Vertigo", 191.]

In 1989, "Vertigo" was recognized as a "culturally, historically and aesthetically significant" film by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry, going in the first year of the registry's voting.

The film ranked 4th and 2nd respectively in "Sight and Sound"'s poll of the best films ever made, in 1992 and 2002 respectively. In 2005, "Vertigo" came in second (to "Goodfellas") in British magazine "Total Film"'s book, "100 Greatest Movies of All Time".

In 1998, the American Film Institute ranked the film #61 on its "100 Greatest movies" list. However, 10 years later, when a AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) was released to reflect changing cultural tastes, "Vertigo" catapulted into the top 10, reaching #9 on the list. AFI also ranked the film #18 on "AFI's 100 Years... 100 Passions", and #18 on "AFI's 100 Years... 100 Thrills". In June 2008, it revealed its "Ten top Ten"—the best ten films in ten "classic" American film genres—after polling over 1,500 people from the creative community. "Vertigo" was acknowledged as the best film in the mystery genre. [cite news | publisher = American Film Institute | title = AFI's 10 Top 10 | date = 2008-06-17 | url = | accessdate=2008-06-18]


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. It was also exhibited for the first time in 70mm, a format similar in size to the VistaVision in which it had been originally filmed. 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 to 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." [Robert A. Harris, [ "Reply"] in the thread [ "A few words about... the image and audio restoration of "Vertigo" and DVD"] , Home Theater Forum] 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. [Katz, qtd. by Aulier, "Vertgo", 198.] The new mix has also been accused of putting too much emphasis on the score at the expense of the sound effects.Fact|date=September 2007 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. Technicolor films use three individual layers of film: one for each of the primary colors. In the case of "Vertigo", these three separate layers 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.Fact|date=September 2007 The restoration team argue 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.Fact|date=September 2007

Filming locations

Filmed from September to December 1957, "Vertigo" is notable for its extensive location footage of the San Francisco Bay Area, with its famous 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.Fact|date=September 2007 In October 1996, the restored print of "Vertigo" debuted at the historic Castro Theatre in San Francisco with a live on-stage introduction by surviving cast member Kim Novak, providing the city a chance to celebrate itself.

Visiting the San Francisco film locations has something of a cult following as well as modest tourist appeal. Such a tour is featured in a subsection of Chris Marker's documentary montage "Sans Soleil".

Areas that were shot on location (not recreated in a studio): [Jeff Kraft and Aaron Leventhal, "Footsteps in the Fog: Alfred Hitchcock's San Francisco" (2002).]
* The Mission San Juan Bautista, where Madeleine falls from the tower, is a real place, but the 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 displeased to find it missing when he returned to film his scenes. The original tower was much smaller and less dramatic than the film's version.
* At Mission Dolores, for many years tourists could see the actual Carlotta Valdes headstone featured in the film (created by the props department). Eventually, the headstone was removed as the mission considered it disrespectful to the dead to house a tourist attraction grave for a fictional person.
* Madeleine jumps into the sea at Fort Point, underneath the Golden Gate Bridge.
* The gallery where Carlotta's painting appears is the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco. The Carlotta Valdes 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
* Muir Woods National Monument is in fact represented by Big Basin Redwoods State Park; however, the cutaway of the redwood tree showing its age is a replica of one that can still be found at Muir Woods.
* The coastal region where Scottie and Madeleine first kiss is Cypress Point, a well-known location along the 17 Mile Drive near Pebble Beach. However, the lone tree by which they kiss is in fact a prop brought specially to the location. [Aulier, "Vertigo", p. 90.]
* The spectacular domed building past which Scottie and Judy walk is the Palace of Fine Arts.
* Coit Tower appears in many background shots; Hitchcock once said that he included it as a phallic symbol. [Kraft and Leventhal, "Op. Cit.", p. 122.]
* Gavin and Madeleine's apartment building is "The Brocklebank" at 1000 Mason Street, which still looks essentially the same. It is aross the street from the Fairmont Hotel, where Hitchcock usually stayed when he visited and where many of the cast and crew stayed during filming.
* The "McKittrick Hotel" was a privately-owned Victorian mansion from the 1880s at Gough and Eddy Streets. It was torn down in 1959 and is now an athletic practice field for Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory School.
* Podesta Baldocchi is the flower shop Madeleine visits as she is being followed by Scottie. The shop's location at the time of filming was 224 Grant Street. It is now at 410 Harriet Street.
* The sanatorium is 351 Buena Vista East, formerly St. Joseph's Hospital, now Park Hill condominiums. It looks much the same from the outside; the best view is from the Corona Heights neighborhood park.
* The Empire Hotel is a real place but is now called the York Hotel at 940 Sutter Street. Judy's room was created, but the flashing green neon of the "Hotel Empire" sign outside is based on the actual hotel's sign (it was replaced when the hotel was re-named).
* Ernie's Restaurant (847 Montgomery St.) was a real place in North Beach, not far from Scottie's apartment. It is no longer operating.
* Scottie's Apartment (900 Lombard St.) is one block downhill from the "crookedest street in the world". Although the door has been repainted, the entrance is easily recognizable save for a few small changes to the patio. The doorbell and the mailbox, which Madeleine uses to deliver a note to Scottie, are exactly the same as they were in the movie.
* One short scene shows Union Square at dawn.

Cultural influence

* Director Brian DePalma made a mystery-thriller inspired by "Vertigo" in 1976 called "Obsession" with Cliff Robertson and Geneviève Bujold. Bernard Herrmann, who scored "Vertigo", also scored "Obsession".Fact|date=August 2008
* DePalma's 1984 movie "Body Double" also featured many plot elements from "Vertigo".Fact|date=August 2008
* In Mel Brooks's film "High Anxiety", which is a pastiche/homage to all Hitchcock films, the final scene takes place in a twisting staircase inside a bell tower.Fact|date=August 2008
* South Korean director Park Chan-Wook once said that "Vertigo" was the film that made him want to be a director. [cite web |url= |title=Park Chan-wook, filmmaker |accessdate=2007-09-20]
* Paul Verhoeven's "Basic Instinct", which is also set in San Francisco, is often seen as a stylistic and thematic imitation of "Vertigo", especially in regard to Sharon Stone's character Catherine Tramell.Fact|date=August 2008
* Faith No More's music video for their 1997 song "Last Cup Of Sorrow" is directly inspired by "Vertigo", featuring a semi-parodic version of the film.Fact|date=August 2008
* The band Harvey Danger has a song on their album "Where Have all the Merrymakers Gone?" called "Carlotta Valdez", which describes the plot of the film.Fact|date=August 2008
* Alejandro Amenabar's film "Abre Los Ojos" has been said to be a remake of "Vertigo". [cite web |url= |title=Review of Abre los Ojos |author=Jeremy Heilman |accessdate=2007-12-01] The film, as well as the American remake, "Vanilla Sky", duplicates the scene in Vertigo when Judy enters the room with her hair done in the same style as Madeleine.
* The short film "La Jetée" by Chris Marker, about a time traveller trying to recapture his past, quotes some scenes from "Vertigo" directly (most notably, the characters discuss the place of their lives within a Redwood tree trunk's rings). In his essays, Marker has joked that his film is a remake of "Vertigo" set in Paris.Fact|date=August 2008
* Terry Gilliam's feature-length adaptation of "La Jetée", "Twelve Monkeys", contains a scene in a movie theatre that is showing "Vertigo". Later in the film, music from the score of "Vertigo" is heard. The scene in which Madeleine emerges with her wig on duplicates the scene in "Vertigo" when Judy enters the room with her hair done in the same style as Madeleine.Fact|date=August 2008
* A second season episode of the comedy series "Sledge Hammer!", entitled "Vertical", faithfully parodies "Vertigo" throughout.Fact|date=August 2008
* The film was parodied on the Halloween episode of "That '70s Show" third season, where Eric Forman suffers from vertigo after almost falling from a roof of a small shed and seeing Fez falling while trying to lift him back up from where he was hanging.Fact|date=August 2008
* In the "" episodes "Off Balance" & "Perchance To Dream", the climax in the church tower is identical to the one in the film. "Balance" even features a villain named Count Vertigo.Fact|date=August 2008
* In one episode of "The Simpsons", "Principal Charming" in season 2, a scene depicts Principal Skinner ascending the school's bell tower (and experiencing the "Vertigo" zoom shot on the way up).Fact|date=August 2008
* Australian Director Douglas Horton's music-theatre production "Phobia" (first staged in 2003 by Chamber Made) is a homage to Hitchcock and "Vertigo" in particular.Fact|date=August 2008
* The opening chase sequence from "The Matrix" bears resemblance to "Vertigo". [cite web |url= |title=What is the Matrix? Cinema, Totality, and Topophilia |accessdate=2007-09-20]
* The Long Blondes have a song called "Appropriation (By Any Other Name)". It has been said that this song is told from the point of view of Judy, due to lines such as "When I met you, I never wore dresses like that" and "You can't have me, make me act the same". Lead singer Kate Jackson painted two different portraits for the CD single and 7" Vinyl, they both depicted Kim Novak's characters Madeleine Elster and Judy Barton. [ [ Drowned in Sound - Reviews - Single - The Long Blondes ] ]
* In Martin Scorsese's remake of the film "Cape Fear", the camera close-up of Juliette Lewis's eye references the opening credits of "Vertigo".Fact|date=August 2008
* In the 1993 film "Addams Family Values", the Portrait of Carlotta Valdes is seen being carried out of the McMansion in the suburbs of New York where Debbie and Fester live at.


External links

* [ Film Noir of the Week]
* [] in-depth review and analysis
* [ A Swimming in the Head] Detailed critique of the 1996 restoration
* [ A Very Different "Slice of Cake:"] Restoring Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo
* [ "Vertigo": Then & Now] Before and after images of San Francisco locations seen in the film
* [ Explanation to Vertigo's reference in Faith No More's music video for 'Last Cup Of Sorrow']
* [ "Vertigo" Eyegate Gallery]
* [ Alfred Hitchcock Wiki:Vertigo (1958)]

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