- From Saul Bass’ gorgeous opening credits with Bernard Herrmann’s score (it has to be his finest, right?)—it is clear this film is different- even for Hitchcock—both his most ambitious film, the height of his perfectionism– and the greatest crystallization of his exposed psychosis on screen
- The famous dolly zoom (used superbly in Jaws, Goodfellas and Road to Perdition amongst others) is set up early in the opening chase as Stewart’s Scottie looks down dangling from the roof
- At 17 minutes we get the first of many scenes at Ernie’s restaurant- the beautiful plush red velvet décor. Flowers galore in the mise-en-scene throughout and of course the fixation on the color green- starting with Kim Novak’s emerald dress. Hitchcock’s’ camera glides effortlessly and unhurried across the room—hypnotic—approaches her back and lines her up in profile for the first time of many (a repeated formal shot). A strong sequence
- Much of the next 10 minutes is a silent, detailed detective film just tailing Novak. It is Hitchcock’s show—but I’m sure glad we have Herrmann’s radiant score to accompany us. Scottie is falling in love (that’s being kind)—watching her buy flowers, go to the cemetery, the museum. Hitchcock points out her hair silently with his camera, her holding the flowers like the Carlotta Valdes painting (creating his own painting in the museum in the meantime). We’re building the narrative and compiling the story of course- but we’re also building up Stewart’s fixation on her.
- There are a series of cinematic paintings in this film from Hitchcock that are as fine as he’d ever produce—it may not get better than his Golden Gate Bridge oil painting at 42 minutes- again- a wordless sequence
- Such patience in the narrative- establishing character- again we’re just stalking Novak as the hook is clearly in Stewart’s character
- At 58 minutes – another of those landscape paintings that should be on some art collector’s wall somewhere- the green car (yep—green) front left of the frame (makes a great pair with the golden gate painting) with the two “wandering” in the forest. The “always green” giant Sequoia redwood trees in Muir woods—“oldest living things”- suicide—finite. We also get the circles used again and again and set up in the opening Saul Bass credits.
- Greens galore, his sweater, her sweater, the car—all leading up to the greatest use of the color green on film in the hotel empire
- The staircase dolly zoom again here as the first half of this book closes- it isn’t a long film but this certainly would be where you put the intermission after Madeleine’s fall
- At the 84 minute mark we get the color-coated red-flashing nightmare surrealism sequence—the dismembered head of Stewart’s, his silhouette falling from the top of the mission tower—just 90 seconds of creative experimental cinema at its finest
- So much to peel back here as auteur cinema- Midge’s character says “mother is here” to Stewart’s character in the asylum. He’s damaged-see’s Novak’s Madeleine all over the place.
- The doppelgänger (of course turns out not)- the influence of Hitchcock- and Vertigo specifically on De Palma and Lynch is incalculable. Of course De Palma just straight up remade it and called it Obsession but has elements of Vertigo from the 360 shot no down in almost all of his films. Blue Velvet doesn’t seem possible without Hitchcock.
- Stewart is mesmerizing—I mean this is one of cinemas greatest actor’s finest hour (and why not? I mean this is maybe the greatest director’s greatest film)—but Novak is also no slouch either. Her look at the camera after meeting Stewart again- this time as the brunette Judy—very well done. “the powerfully carnal Kim Novak” – David Kehr- https://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/vertigo/Film?oid=3677239
- Hotel Empire’s neon greens—gob-smacking–dazzling. I don’t remember an earlier (or better) use of neon street light in cinema. This has been borrowed from many many times including Chazelle’s La La Land. We see Novak’s profile again- this time in silhouette at 104 minutes- a masterful formal touch call back to the first time he met here- along with being a stand-alone striking image
- At 106 minutes the third of fourth jaw-dropper of a moving oil painting on the screen as the couple walks around the pond
- Scottie’s obsession, his fetishism—disturbing—he’s monomaniacal “the gentleman seems to know what he wants”. The acrophobia is almost a red herring for what really ails him. One of cinema’s greatest (and most horrifying) characters as he molds Judy back into Madeleine.
- Green pouring in again after his transformation and possession of Judy back into Madeleine is complete. There’s almost a release as he finishes and perfects her hair at the 116 minute mark and then we get one of cinema’s most singularly brilliant moments/scenes and shots—the 360 degree kiss in the hotel room. The neon green bathing them, the camera dancing with them as the background shifts from the hotel room to the mission and back to the hotel room—cinematic ecstasy
- I forget how quickly the film actually ends after that moment- he discovers the secret and we’re off to the mission with the third and final sequence of the vertigo-induced dolly zoom. Some of Stewart’s finest acting in his career is on the way up the stairs as he abuses Judy—I think the film would lose a little bit of its spell if Stewart isn’t absolutely magnificent here
- As the film ends- the camera whisks away leaving Stewart on the ledge…
- A Masterpiece
Oh my gosh, this is great, more than great, amazing, thank you so much, I will have to see her.
What do you mean “I will have to see her”? Are you talking about Vertigo?
I would highly highly recommend this movie to you.
Hi @Azman, if my English sucks, I meant “I’ll have to see it again (Vertigo)” i’ve already seen Vertigo, the last time 6 months ago, although never with a review, in fact we talked about this both on the Hitchcock page as you mention below
@Aldo – I’m seeing this a year later, but your comment sounds so eerie and creepy and meta… haha, I love it (even if it was just a language mistake).
Review at the level of the best of all, i have not read it yet, but I am sure it is incredible, just for the amazing review, although i must say i have a little problem, it probably doesn’t matter, but why did you only put a masterpiece on it? you put others “a masterpiece, one of cinema’s great works of art” “absolute masterpiece” “a masterpiece towering achievement” “a giant masterpiece” “A masterpiece one of cinema’s greatest achievements” “massive masterpiece”
As I said I am probably exaggerating, but since many of the ones you have put that on are not at Vertigo level, i was curious to ask
@Aldo- thanks– hmm- I wasn’t aware I made so many different comments on the “masterpiece” line- haha. There’s nothing to it here on this page- it wasn’t like a conscious omission of some higher distinction. I certainly hold Vertigo in as high a regard as any film.
I left my review of this film a long time ago and Hitchcock’s page.
I just watched Rope recently so i thought about technicolor. What is technicolor Drake?? Why do films of the 30-50s (and some 60s and 70s films) look so distinct and beautiful?
Are films still shot in technicolor?
Did you make a page because you recently rewatched this film? Did you like it even more after this viewing?
Anyways, getting back to the review of Vertigo. (which I think as easily one of the greatest films ever made) What can I say. The review is so detailed and well written. You write everything that I observed in the film and expand it and add new points. I really like these reviews – very informative and helpful.
An all-timer of a movie getting such a befitting review, love it. Perfect timing for I just watched it for the third time. Truly, some movies are veritable gems, every time one rewatches it, one notices something new. The blocking and arrangement of bodies in a frame, as you’ve noted, is sublime, Hitchcock doesn’t just roll the camera on two people talking. Just curious, @Drake are you going to do a particular auteur study soon?
@JC- thanks for the comment here. Haha I agree- I could watch Vertigo again in a week and get even more out of it.
So I’m just wrapping up the Kurosawa study. Then I want to do Kieślowski soon. I’m Thinking of Ending Things makes me want to quickly rewatch Charlie Kaufman’s films so I may do that, too. I finally found (rather it came available on Criterion) Exotica from Atom Egoyan and I haven’t decided if I’m going to see just that one or watch all of his films too while I’m at it. That’s sort of the general plan.
There has been substantial discussion on the site about the best use of color in a whole film. How about the best use of a color or multiple colors in a specific scene or even a single moment? I think that the neon green hotel room scene in Vertigo is at the forefront of the choices. Here are some others I can recall:
– Red flag in Battleship Potemkin
– The glorious transition from sepia to technicolor in The Wizard of Oz
– Red restaurant in Vertigo is nearly as good as the green hotel
– Pink smoke in High and Low
– Red HAL control room in 2001 (this also has a case as the single best)
– Orange fire in Days of Heaven
– Colored smoke in Apocalypse Now
– The titular animals in Rumble Fish
– Colored banners in the battle sequences of Ran
– The iconic “girl in the red coat” of Schindler’s List
– Blue mobile in Blue
– Dark blue sky in the memorable shot of De Niro leaning on the window post in Heat
– Washed out brown of Bess walking away from the bus in Breaking the Waves
– Orangey hallway in a famous scene of In the Mood for Love
– Eerie blue in Mulholland Drive’s Club Silencio
– Pink pastry boxes or red elevator in The Grand Budapest Hotel
– The drop-dead-gorgeous orange Las Vegas sky in Blade Runner 2049
There are obviously many other great options. Any favorites I missed?
@Graham– good one- I’ll have to think on this one- I’m not sure it would be high enough to remove any of these (great choices!) but how about when David Hemmings drives through town in his convertible and the entire street is painted red in Blow Up?
What are the greatest 360 shots (shots where the camera tracks in a circle around a subject) in cinema? Vertigo’s green hotel room kiss shot is the quintessential one, and arguably the greatest. Hannah and Her Sisters has a brilliant one as well when the three titular characters converse together at a table. Moonlight begins with a tracking shot that becomes a 360 shot, and Nolan uses one in The Dark Knight. I’ve heard that De Palma is a master of 360 shots as well, though I haven’t seen any of his movies yet. What are other great examples?
@Graham- Tarantino loves a good 360 shot- he’s a big De Palma admirer https://coub.com/view/ajyal — but I also thought of Waves too http://thecinemaarchives.com/2019/12/30/waves-2019-shults/
Since Hitchcock so badly wished he had cast a younger actor after his financial failure here (not saying I’d want to recast Stewart, who is awesome), what are your thoughts about Marlon Brando in this role?
@Zane – I think I’m happy Stewart had it- haha. I wouldn’t want to see Brando here any more than I’d want to see Stewart in On the Waterfront or Streetcar.
@Zane – it’s always hard to imagine replacing an actor/actress from a classic performance. I think it is difficult to picture Brando playing a vulnerable character the way Stewart does although I will admit I think Brando would make for a more believable police officer/detective. There are notable similarities between this Stewart’s performance in Vertigo and Rear Window as they both are vulnerable and powerless at times due to either physical or phycological issues (a broken leg, vertigo/fear of heights). Brando frequently played such confident alpha male characters (admittingly I haven’t seen every Brando performance) but from what I have seen I don’t think he would have nearly as well as Stewart. What about Jack Lemmon? He was born 1925 so would have been around 33.
@James – I don’t think Brando would top Stewart in this role either, but I just saw Last Tango in Paris (fun fact: Kim Novak is actually name-dropped by Jean-Pierre Leaud in it) and was reminded of Vertigo in many ways which led to me popping the question.
I have not seen anything from Jack Lemmon except for JFK just yet so I can’t speak about my thoughts on him in Stewart’s part, but Brando was only a year older than Lemmon.
@Zane – check out The Apartment (1960), Lemmon is tremendous, terrific film all around. I still need to get to Last Tango, interesting about Kim Novak.
There’s a ton of fascinating psychology between Hitchcock and his actors and actresses, below is an article. Some of the stuff regarding Hitchcock puts him in a negative light, I am not making any kind of moral statement about Hitch, I love his work and think he was a fascinating person but he was certainly complex and did indeed have a dark side.
I don’t think Lemmon is the answer. I’ve yet to see anything other than The Apartment, Some Like it Hot, and JFK out of his filmography, but at this point I would argue he doesn’t have quite the right persona for Vertigo. In The Apartment, he plays a character who is much more of a submissive, good-natured everyman type than an obsessive stalker like Scottie Ferguson. Perhaps Lemmon could manage to effectively portray Scottie’s sense of longing and guilt, but I think he’d really falter if he attempted to act the angry frustration that the character feels near the end of the film. Of all the Stewart roles I’ve seen so far, I think Lemmon would be great in Anatomy of a Murder and Rear Window, pretty good in It’s a Wonderful Life and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and sufficient but rather miscast in The Man who Shot Liberty Valance and Vertigo. However, I suppose Stewart would have seemed just as strange a casting for an obsessive antihero to the 50s-folk back then as Lemmon does to me now, so perhaps Lemmon would subvert expectations and be great in Hitchcock’s movie. Who knows.
One actor who I believe might have exactly the correct sensibility for a Scottie Ferguson-type is Max von Sydow. Of course, 1968 would be a better time considering von Sydow’s age, and the film would have to be rewritten as a Swedish story or the story of a Swedish immigrant to justify the casting. Nonetheless, am I misguided in seeing a connection between him and the Stewart character?
@Graham – He could certainly do it, just watch Hour of the Wolf, and to a lesser extent The Virgin Spring I’d say as well. I’m just not sure his international profile was big enough after only really The Seventh Seal and a cameo – though a damn good one – in Wild Strawberries, to lead one of America’s biggest motion pictures in 1958.
@James Trapp- the actor I come back to would be Bogart (obsession in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and jealousy/obsession in In a Lonely Place). He’s dead in 1958 for Vertigo of course.
@Drake – wow I can’t believe I didn’t think of that one, Bogie would be perfect had he still been alive. I think In a Lonely Place is often overlooked, such a great performance and very dark indeed. Plus I can perfectly imagine Bogie saying the “you shouldn’t have been that sentimental” line.
@Drake – I certainly thought about Bogart here considering his performance in In a Lonely Place (not to mention Sierra Madre) but since A) he was dead and B) he was even older than Stewart I didn’t mention him. But in that vein, I could even see John Wayne in this role considering his performances in The Searchers, Red River and to a lesser extent The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance as well.
Do you think that Stewart and Novak are equals in the movie.
My most recent viewing makes me certain that they are.
@MASH— Hate to disagree but I do think Stewart’s work is a slightly different level
Maybe you are right. I’ve always felt that that it’s Stewart’s movie but I really commend Novak’s work.
Does this have the greatest opening credits sequence of any film.
I mean the opening credits of this film alone display more creativity and artistic ambition than the majority of many of the entire super hero films being massed produced today.
@James Trapp- Certainly if this isn’t the best it is right there. I found this https://collider.com/best-opening-credits-movies/ – a few that came to mind immediately are on this list Casino, Do the Right Thing, Dead Ringers… but Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown is missing.
This is as good a place as any to ask: what are the greatest works of film music ever composed? I think Herrmann’s Scene D’Amour for Vertigo is one of the most devastatingly moving pieces (in film or otherwise) that I have ever heard, so that would be my #1. It is one of those rare compositions that can give me the chills just from thinking about it, almost unbearably haunting, lonely, mysterious, cold, detached, and phantasmagorical. Speak Softly Love ( The Godfather Theme) is another one I’ve listened to countless hundreds of times and, especially with the Andy Williams rendition, it’s evocative powers have never faded on me.
As for an entire soundtrack, The Lord of the Rings by Howard Shore is as worthy a choice as any.
Ennio Moriconne – the Sergio Leone collaborations plus The Great Silence and The Mission
Also for me personally Howard Shore’s score for Crash
@Max- I think I’ve posted this before but I think Pitchfork does an excellent job https://pitchfork.com/features/lists-and-guides/the-50-best-movie-scores-of-all-time/
Wow, that is probably the best list of its kind I have seen, thank you for sharing this; however, the omission of The Lord of the Rings is inexplicable, as is the low placement of Vertigo (I’d challenge anyone to go listen to Scene D’Amour from Vertigo and tell me with a straight face that the scores to Shaft, or Halloween, or The Social Network have greater artistic merit).
@Max- we’re on the same page here
@Max – I am not sure as to how accurate this is but I read that Miles Davis apparently improvised the entire score for Elevators to the Gallows (1958) while watching the film. The film has a hypnotic Jazz score that could not fit more perfectly with the mood.
And speaking of hypnotic, Bernard Hermann’s Taxi Driver (1976) another example of a perfect match to the mood. Hermann’s score for Psycho (1960) is my favorite of the Hitchcock scores although I won’t argue if you want to pick Vertigo (1958).
@Max – Theme du Camille from Contempt
@Max- I think most works from Hermann (Psycho, Vertigo, Taxi Driver…), Morricone (The Dollars Trilogy, The Untouchables, Tarantino collaborations…), Zimmer (Inception, Interstellar, The Dark Knight Trilogy…), Steiner (King Kong, Casablanca, Gone with the Wind…),Williams (Jaws, Indiana Jones, Schindler’s List…) and many many others (The Godfather, Requim for a Dream, Blade Runner, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Birdman, Halloween, 81/2, La Strada, There Will Be Blood, Blue Velvet, Inside Llewyn Davis, The Social Network, The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, City Lights, JFK, Suspiria, LOTR, Batman exc.) could or should be regarded as some of the best pieces of musical art.
I will also like to ask a sub-question: what do you think are some of the most underrated film soundtracks?
My guesses would be Inglourious Basterds, Ocean’s Eleven, films from Rene Clair, The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, Dr Mabuse, The Thing, Cloud Atlas, and even if is not a film, Cuphead has some very enjoyable music.
Definitely Assassination of Jesse James; I never see it on any of these lists.
@Max- good call on Assassination of Jesse James
@RujK – Aguirre the Wrath of God, score by German band Popol Vuh is one of my favorites. The music is so perfectly haunting and mysterious in that opening scene with the expedition descending the mountain through the fog. The score is repeated a couple of times throughout the film including the end with Aguirre on the boat surrounded by monkeys as everyone else is dead.
@James Trapp- excellent addition here
Yeah I’m very much a believer in the auteur theory, but a fair counterpoint would be examples like Aguirre where the soundtrack is utterly indispensable to the film’s entire tone and atmosphere (and there being so few great composer/ directors; Chaplin comes to mind, who I’d argue was actually more talented in the former than the latter)