Friday, October 13, 2006

High Anxiety, or: I Left My Sense of Balance in San Francisco

Hitch Part 8 of 15

This is Hitchcock at his most cerebrial. While not my favorite Hitchock film (that title is reserved for Shadow of a Doubt), it can rightly be called his peak, his greatest achievment. Since my first viewing of the film on July 4th 1998, it has been the movie I think of when I think of Hitchcock.

Based on a French novel, Vertigo is the story of John "Scottie" Ferguson (James Stewart), a San Francisco police detective who gains a paralizing fear of hights, after watching a fellow officer fall to his death while on assignment. "Scottie" quickly resigns from the police force after the accident, and spends a great deal of time with his former fiance turned platonic friend "Midge" (Barbara Bel Geddes of Dallas fame). Now with a lot of free time on his hands "Scottie" is contacted by a old colloge budy, Gavin Ellister (Tom Helmore), who hires him to keep a watch on his wife Madelein (Kim Novak), whom he suppects is either mentally ill, or periodicaly possed by the ghost of traggicaly fated ancestor.

Warning, Spoilers:

Mr. Ferguson takes on his friends case, follows the women and gradually falls in love with her. After she flings herself off the bell tower of an old spanish mission, he is devistated and ends up spending some time in a mental institution. Later, after being discharged from the facility, he comes across a young women named Judy Barton (also played by Kim Novak), who looks remarkable like the late Mrs. Ellister, and whom "Scottie" becomes obsecesd with remaking in her image.

While Novak does some increadable acting in the film, creating two fully realized and very different characterizations, it is Stewarts performance that always garners the most praise, and I think this is deservadly so. The only other Stewart performance that is compariable is his George Bailey in It's a Wonderfull Life, a character whose general sense of anger and fustration is always boiling just bellow the surifice, and towards the end of that picture gets a chance to be let out. In Vertigo Stewart delves even deeper into the darker portions of his subconcence, and by extensions Hitchcocks. His man unraveling is even more distrubing to us because it's Jimmy Stewarts, the 'ah-shucks' all American boy of 30's comedies, and honest but slightly rugged cowboy of Anthony Mann westerns from the 1950's. Stewarts 'everyman' stateus makes his comming unglued more real to the audiance, and enhances the hypnotic quality of the film, an undercurrent established in the Saul Bassian opening sequence, and throughout by Bernard Herrmanns amazing score. Vertigo is a must.


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