Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Unit 4: Story Telling - Review - Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo

Figure 1. Vertigo Poster Art

One could best describe Vertigo as a film that tries to scare its audience from the protagonist’s point of view. One feels the need to mention the rather hellacious perspective of John Stewarts John Ferguson to that of heights. Just gazing over edges can send the viewer of a brief rollercoaster ride of paranoia.

•Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
•Written by: Alec Coppel & Samuel A. Taylor
•Cast: James Stewart as John "Scottie" Ferguson, Kim Novak as Madeleine Elster, Barbara Bel Geddes as Marjorie "Midge" Wood, Tom Helmore as Gavin Elster, Henry Jones as Coroner & Raymond Bailey as Doctor
•Genre: Drama, Romance, Mystery, Suspense & Classics
•Duration: 128 Minutes (aprox)

Figure 2. "What’s on your mind Gavin?”

Our story begins with a rather uncharacteristic James Stewart taking his leave from the San Francisco PD when a chase goes awry causing him to exhibit sever acrophobia. Having digested this impending situation the viewer is treated to a mystery involving the wife of John’s friend Gavin Elster. At first a rather dry case becomes intense with John realising that the poor Madeleine is exhibiting amnesic fugues. The film works on a number of different levels but what is quite possibly the most interesting feature is how the film completely transforms mid way through. Martyn Glanville observes:
“Vertigo is an enjoyably duplicitous film, full of artificiality in both the film-making (lots of back projection) and the story (things not being what we thought), in other words: pure Hitchcock.” (Glanville: 2000)
John Ferguson aka “Scottie” is the primary cause for concern bearing in mind that the beginning of the film portrays him as such a genuinely nice guy. One could say that Hitchcock was trying to show the audience what can happen when a man seeps into his own paranoia, for when we let it consume us we are bound by its function. This is perfectly illustrated by Scotties time spent in the mental hospital unable to break past his own deep seated guilt. One is just left hoping that Scotty will break out of it before the screen fades black & suddenly we realise this isn’t done... not by a long shot.

Figure 3. "Only one is a wanderer, two together are always going somewhere”

Madeline is our stories instigator, Scotties Unicorn – fabled creature impossible to capture. Having mourned her death longingly he gradually sinks even lower by visiting the places she did & doing the things she had done. One only begins to get truly unnerved when Trudy arises on the scene with Scotty flagging her down for a date like a kind of stalker. At this point one can only pity Scotty, completely unable to move past his own need to find a double of Madeline. Once again this harkens back to Hitchcock further exacerbating the character we were able to bond with who is only now a shell of his former self. Roger Ebert observes:
“When he cannot have her, he finds another woman and tries to mold her, dress her, train her, change her makeup and her hair, until she looks like the woman he desires. He cares nothing about the clay he is shaping; he will gladly sacrifice her on the altar of his dreams”. (Ebert: 1996)
This speaks volumes for Hitchcock’s need for control over women, specifically in his films. In this instance Scotty is a rendition of Hitchcock, things have to be perfect in every sense. This does not expire with love, one could even consider the tidy way in which Scotty hung an unconscious Madeline’s clothes, even going so far as to undress her. Every detail had to be considered which for a guy like Scotty doesn’t appear to be an issue until his mental breakdown. One could argue that Hitchcock like Scotty didn’t believe in the term “No”. Things had to be right, a need for perfection that could never truly be acquired.

Figure 4. “I wish you’d leave me alone”

One feels the need to end this review by considering Madeline’s identity which was a lie no doubt but one could not help but feel sorry for her despite what she had done. One could even understand her situation to a point, it’s not like she knew she would fall for the man she was conning. Yet out of love she decided to stay & against her will put herself through a complete transformation back to that of Madeline. This could have been Hitchcock’s way of diminishing Trudy’s disguise, hinting that maybe deep down Scotty subconsciously knew it was her all along even before the necklace was revealed. Dennis Schwartz observes:
"Hitchcock forgoes his usual suspense (he gives the twist ending away before the climax) and instead masterfully presents an eerie scenario of a psychologically distraught man caught in a dizzying whirlpool of exploitation and obsession, who lives in a dark dream world where his love is a form of necrophilia for his dreamgirl and he wants only a second chance to redeem himself in the real world.” (Schwartz: 2006)
One could not help but believe that if Hitchcock were Scotty then he would not need to believe in a body double. For this one is forced to believe that the Necklace is a play for the viewer to give Scotty an excuse to accept his suspicion. The narrative of Vertigo runs like a game of cat and mouse with a love stricken Madeline running from her ideal love. What one comes to realise is that with Madeline’s death & reincarnation as Judy, the man she loves is transformed as well. One could argue that one’s loss of sanity does cause one to change and in some cases for the worst as is the case of “Scotty” John Ferguson.


List of Illustrations

Figure 1. Vertigo Poster Art. (com) [Online image]. At:
(Accessed on: 26/02/12)

Figure 2. What’s on your mind Gavin? (com) [Online image]. At: (Accessed on: 26/02/12)

Figure 3. Only one is a wanderer, two together are always going somewhere. (com) [Online image]. At: (Accessed on: 26/02/12)

Figure 4. I wish you’d leave me alone. (com) [Online image]. At: (Accessed on: 26/02/12)



Glanville, Martyn. (2000) Vertigo Review At: (Accessed on: 26/02/12)

Ebert, Roger. (1996) Vertigo Review At: (Accessed on: 26/02/12)

Schwartz, Dennis. (2006) Alfred Hitchcock at his most disturbing. At:
(Accessed on: 26/02/12)

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