Barbara Bel Geddes
There’s a lot going on here: the characters haunt one another, they manipulate, they disappear, and they dissolve into one another. Watching Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo is a dizzying experience, often confusing. I first saw the film when I was 13 and was left baffled at everything I’d seen. This is my third time with the film, and the experience is almost identical—I think I “get” it, but the dizziness and confusion are still there, which of course is more of a testament to Hitchcock’s skill.
Vertigo is a tale of obsession, often imitated (notably by Brian DePalma, Pedro Almodóvar, and most personally, Peter Bogdanovich) but never equaled. The story follows Scottie Ferguson (James Stewart), a retired detective who is asked by a college friend (Tom Helmore) to tail his wife, Madeleine Elster (Kim Novak), who he believes may be possessed by the spirit of a dead woman. Despite (or maybe because of) her catatonic mannerisms, Scottie falls for Madeleine.
And since Vertigo is now 50 years old, there’s no use in going any further into the plot, except to note that Kim Novak also plays a woman named Judy Barton. Another central character to the story is San Francisco, whose steep hills allude to the descent the events cause the characters to take.
This was Hitchcock’s fourth and final film with James Stewart, who gives his best “Hitch performance” here, his fourth (of eight) with composer Herrmann, whose strings helped solidify the director as the Master of Suspense, and his first with title designer Saul Bass, whose whirling designs set the tone for Vertigo before the story begins. Vertigo, in more ways than just these, is quintessential Hitchcock: the most perfect of mystery films, the most perfect of romances.
Feature Commentary with Associate Producer Herbert Coleman, Restoration Team Robert A. Harris and James C. Katz, and Other Vertigo Participants: Coleman has the best stories, as he worked on Vertigo and was closest to Hitchcock. The other participants ask questions and discuss the restoration process. The interesting tidbits from Coleman and the great chemistry between the trio makes this a must-listen.
Feature Commentary with Film Director William Friedkin: Friedkin divides the track into describing what’s onscreen and offering facts on the film.
Foreign Censorship Ending (2:08): Hitchcock was forced to tack on this prologue, which only made it to international prints.
The Vertigo Archives houses a number of sketches and storyboards from Hitch and art director Henry Bumstead.
Also included on Disc One are Production Notes, the Original Theatrical Trailer, and the Restoration Theatrical Trailer.
Obsessed with Vertigo: New Life for Hitchcock’s Masterpiece (29:18): This AMC original production from 1997 details the production and restoration process of Hitch’s film through interviews, clips, and narration.
Partners in Crime: Hitchcock’s Collaborators (54:52) focuses on four frequent collaborators: title designer Saul Bass, costume designer Edith Head, composer Bernard Herrmann, and wife/muse Alma. Through interviews (with the subjects and others), photos, and film clips, this documentary examines each individual’s careers and how their work is essential to Hitchcock’s.
Hitchcock/Truffaut (14:18): Set to film clips, these interview excerpts from 1962 aided French filmmaker François Truffaut in completing his book, ‘Hitchcock,’ which I proudly own.
Alfred Hitchcock Presents “The Case of Mr. Pelham” (25:35): This 1955 episode directed by Hitch concerns a man (Tom Ewell, The Seven Year Itch) who believes he has a double. Quite obvious why this episode was chosen for the disc.