11/11/2013

Vertigo (1958)

Film: Vertigo
Release: 1958, Theatrical
Starring: James Stewart, Kim Novak, Barbara Bel Geddes
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
IMDB page: Link opens in a new window
Description: A newly retired police detective with a crippling fear of heights is talked into shadowing the wife of a wealthy shipbuilder for the sake of her safety - and falls in love with her in the process.

Hans' thoughts:

Dealing once again with his core traits, we have the Hitchcock film Vertigo. Possibly one of the strangest additions to his filmography, Vertigo maintains a very strange balance between your average romantic drama, and an odd crime/ghost story. I don't how much I actually "got" this film, at the surface it seems like a straight up crime drama starring John Stewart as the stand-in for your average person - as he has done in so many other Hitchcock pictures. However the story is about him being hired to follow a woman whom is believed to be possesed by a ghost, and we are quickly wrapped up in the city's local history and actually a pretty good story. Then, by the halfway point, the story makes a major tonal shift. It goes from being a "what's going on" mystery to being a romantic drama, and then once again by the final act of the film, we go through yet another tonal shift into something very dank and depressing. It kinda follows the three major steps of young love: The first discovery, followed by the period where they're wrapped up in being lovey dovey and then finally, the depression following the break-up. It's made a point from the get go that our main character has a crippling fear of heights. 

"Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain"
However that fact doesn't really come into play in the movie before the end of the first act. For a period, the audience is actually sort of "coaxed" into forgetting that it was a character point at all. Instead we're following the focus of our main character, whom besides his fear of heights is pretty much a blank slate. Of course as with all Hitchcock characters, he has a very fleshed out background, some would say perhaps unnecessarily so. We are given chunks of information in throwaway dialogue that has no bearance on the plot at all, but to it's credit it does make some of the lines seem a bit more natural (Why would anyone only talk about things that are extremely important?). James Stewart as well is, unfortunately, far from his best in this film. He seems either extremely typecasted or extremely bored with the movie, not straying too far from his performance in any other Hitchcock film I've reviewed for this site. I actually forgot which Hitchcock movie I was watching for a moment, thinking I had popped in "The Man Who Knew Too Much" by mistake. 

In this film we actually have two female leads, one is pretty well written and has some funny lines. The other is the one we spend most of the movie with. That sounds harsh, but it actually annoys me that we saw so little of the characters Majorie "Midge" Woods, played by Barbara Bel Geddes.  Of course as was custom for female characters written in the 50's, they both swoon over our main character. But whereas Geddes' character actually has grounds for doing so, the romantic sub-plot with our other female lead played by Kim Novak kind of comes out of nowhere. I sound bitter, but I had much preferred if this film had taken a completely different route than it ended up doing. There's not much to the love story element in the movie and yet it almost takes over the picture from the halfway point onwards. Leaving behind great potential for a mystery. It actually comes to the point that the final tonal shift of the final act comes completely out of left field. However, the devil is in the details and I admire how much work was put into each type of movie that's in the film. The tonal shift isn't just in the plot, no EVERYTHING about the film changes. From the way the movie is shot, to the use of sound. The First and latter halves of the film feels like two completely different films. That's to be heavily applauded.

I don't know why, and I feel terrible for saying this but I just didn't care all that much for this movie, it felt like a rushed version of what could've been a truly interesting examination of either one of these three major plot elements. Between the ghost mystery, the psychological aspect and the love story either one of these could probably have been good movies either on their own or only combined with one of the other parts. As it is, none of the parts really come into their own because of a lack of choosing to go down one particular road with the story and it turns out to be a case of "too many cooks spoil the broth". It's not a problem contained to this movie however, not knowing what to focus on in a movie is actually comparatively a very modern problem. Take, as an example, the third Sam Raimi Spider-Man movie that suffered highly because of the large number of major enemies and plotpoints that were scattered throughout the film to the point that it just didn't come together for a satisfying conclusion. The same can be said for this film, the ending came out of nowhere and it feels like the writer either didn't know where to go with the story next or realised he had hit the running time for the piece. 20 minutes of wrapping things up would've been a welcome addition to the film. There's just a lack of confrontation after the big reveal that leaves a giant gap in the film.
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