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Vertigo (1958)

by British Film Critic

In this film, in comparison to Rear Window, I could get a much more tangible grasp of Hitchcock’s direction, and how it elevated the film and it’s screenplay, building this incredibly mysterious, eerie and even haunting atmosphere that ties into almost every aspect of the film, whilst also paying off in the film’s many shocking reveals, especially it’s ending – there’s a certain consistency to the film that forms its alluring appeal. I’d heard often that Vertigo was overrated, but, to be completely honest, I really did think it was a truly great film.

Robert Burks’ work on this film is truly spectacular: it’s colourful, it’s immersive, and it’s powerful, basking in the beauty of San Francisco with explorative wide shots that leave you in awe each and every time. Not only is the composition fantastic, but Hitchcock’s smooth camera movement and positioning is incredibly meticulous, making even the most visually mundane scenes exciting. Vertigo is well known for popularising the dolly-zoom, and rightly so, as it’s savoury use works very well to engage you directly into the acrophobia of Stewart’s Ferguson, effortlessly getting you on board with his debilitating fear.

James Stewart gives a really excellent performance in this film, constantly showcasing a broad range of suppressed emotions: grief, fear, anger, melancholy, hopelessness are on show at all times thanks to Stewart’s ability to precisely read the mood of each scene, and convey it in his delivery and expressions. On the note of melancholia, Vertigo’s dense atmosphere does the film a lot of favours, made so visceral by the combined efforts of the performances, cinematography and, perhaps most notably, Bernard Herrman’s fantastic, hypnotising score, that never fails to add such weight and gravitas to almost every single passing moment.

My only problems with the film are minor -certain subplots and characters felt neglected, the film dragged slightly in the middle and the ending felt frustratingly abrupt and inconclusive. Aside from that, Vertigo is a very different thriller that never made me question why it is considered a masterwork by so many.