I was recently on an extended business trip to China and knowing I’d need to have a stock of DVD’s with me I dug up some old classics to bring along. One of these was Vertigo. It is a number of years since I watched it last and so I thought it was time for a revisit. I’ve been to San Francisco since I last saw the movie and it was interesting to recognise various locations (such as the Mission Dolores Church and graveyard near the Castro district) .
We of course know the story of a San Franscisco detective, John ‘Scottie’ Ferguson (James Stewart, It’s a Wonderful Life, George Bailey, 1948) who retired from the force after a case of vertigo during a chase which lead to the death of a fellow officer while trying to rescue our hero as he hung from a roof ledge. While trying to decide what to do with himself, the independently wealthy former detective spends a lot of time talking with ex girlfriend and fiancé Midge Wood -for a short while (Barbara Bel Gedes, Dallas, Miss Ellie Ewing, 1978 – 1990). During the discussions the subject of an old college friend wanting to talk to him pops up.,
Scottie meets this friend, Gavin Elster (The Time Machine, Anthony Bridewell, 1960), who it transpires is quite wealthy, having married in to a shipbuilding family. He asks Scottie to follow his wife Madeleine (Kim Novak, Bell Book and Candle, Gillian Holroyd, 1958) as he thinks she may be ill. Scottie reluctantly agrees to do this and very quickly begins to notice certain odd behaviours. When these are discussed with Gavin Estler, he reveals some of the story behind Madeleine’s grandmother, the tragic Carlotta Valdes.
While further watching Madeleine, he tracks her to the Presidio area under the Golden Gate Bridge where she seemingly jumps into the water. He of course rescues her and takes her home to recover. There is a certain tension between them at first, but this soon develops into a relationship with Scottie trying to help Madeleine as much as possible. This help ultimately results in the couple in a small museum village about 100 miles south of San Francisco which is central to the dreams Madeleine is having. Having forced her way into the old church and up the spire tower, Scottie struggles with his vertigo and while trying to get to the top, he hears a scream and sees her fall to her death outside.
Following a harsh coroner’s report and the general shock Scottie reverts into himself, suffering from a prolonged depression. While recovering he meets a lady who reminds him of Madeleine. Is all as it seems? A relationship develops here also and as it does certain events begin to link this women to the dead Madeleine and her grandmother Carlotta Valdes.
This culminates back in the same church tower, only this time both are able to climb to the top. Watching this movie with a critical eye, at one stage I suddenly realised I was waiting to see how it ended, as a thriller, it dragged me in and brought me along to the end. Always giving the viewer enough clues to bring you along with Scottie Ferguson, it still leaves you with that small piece of doubt which obviously lingered with Scottie. It is easy with the music, camerawork and story line to see why this film is such as classic.
Rating = 9/10. Nothing is perfect, but this movie well stands the test of time and captures the growing sense of unease felt by our hero.