It’s one of Alfred Hitchcock’s finest and most celebrated films. Pairing Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak, Hitchcock explored the ultimate con, the perfect murder, and a hopeless love story. In Hitchcock’s stylish 1958 film Vertigo, the director also paints one of the most beautiful travelogues for the San Francisco Bay area. The American Film Institute has declared it the all-time best mystery, the #12 best film score, the #18 best romance, the #18 best thriller, and the ninth best movie of all American films. Over the years international critics’ polls have seen Vertigo move back and forth with Citizen Kane for the designation of best film of all time. Celebrated directors François Truffaut and Martin Scorsese have heralded the film. Vertigo is also the only film that featured Hitchcock himself as a trumpet player–you’ll just need to keep a watchful eye for his cameo. And you can do that this weekend, as Vertigo is returning to theaters nationwide for two days to celebrate its 60th anniversary beginning this Sunday, March 18, 2018, as part of Turner Classic Movies, Universal Pictures and Fathom Events’ retrospective screenings of film classics.
Even more so than Otto Preminger’s haunting 1944 film Laura, Vertigo delves into obsession like no other film. Stewart’s take on an ex-cop observing the beautiful wife of an old friend at that friend’s request is a character far removed from any other role Stewart had ever taken on. And Novak really plays two women as the film is cracked into two halves–one a dangerous and enigmatic stranger, the other a young romantic from Salina, Kansas, trying to escape the decisions of her past. You, too, will find it hard pressed to avoid becoming obsessed with the film (I’ve seen it at least twice in theaters and dozens of times on home video over the decades).
Behind the scenes film aficionados will appreciate that Vertigo was the first film to use the dolly zoom, the camera taking the dolly out while zooming in, thereby creating the dizzying vertigo effect throughout the movie. John Whitney used an M5 gun director–an actual World War II anti-tank firing predictor, along with famed graphic designer Saul Bass’s spiral motifs, to create the film’s unusual opening title sequence. Edith Head’s spectacular designs were behind Novak and Stewart’s memorable wardrobes. The film was nominated for two Oscars, George Dutton for sound, and Hal Pereira, Henry Bumstead, Sam Comer, and Frank R. McKelvy for Art Decoration/Set Decoration.
But probably most significantly for the ambience of the film, Bernard Hermann’s score is one of Hollywood’s finest, and Martin Scorsese summed up the music his way: “Hitchcock’s film is about obsession, which means that it’s about circling back to the same moment, again and again… And the music is also built around spirals and circles, fulfilment and despair. Herrmann really understood what Hitchcock was going for — he wanted to penetrate to the heart of obsession.” Years later the 2011 Oscar winner for best picture The Artist would use the spiraling love theme from Vertigo to achieve the emotion needed for its key scene.
Thanks to Vertigo another screen classic was made possible. A delay caused by an illness with Hitchcock and the pregnancy of Vera Miles, originally targeted for the role Novak would play, led to a deal between studios for Novak and Stewart to appear in Columbia Pictures’ Vertigo combined with an agreement putting Stewart and Novak together again later that year for Paramount Pictures’ Christmas release Bell, Book, and Candle. Two movies with one of filmdom’s best pairings, in the same year, and Stewart was 50 and Novak was 25. The VistaVision of Vertigo and the Technicolor spectacle of Bell, Book, and Candle make for two of Hollywood’s most spectacularly striking films. Was there a year in film with more style than 1958?
Vertigo has been copied, imitated, and even parodied, most notably in Mel Brooks’ High Anxiety, co-starring Cloris Leachman, Harvey Korman, and Madeleine Kahn. The film was adapted the 1954 French novel D’entre les morts (From Among the Dead) by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac. The book is still in print 64 years later, and available here at Amazon.
Vertigo is coming to the big screen for only two days, Sunday, March 18, and Wednesday, March 21, at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. (local time) as part of its TCM Big Screen Classics series. Appearing at more than 600 select movie theaters nationwide, film fans can search for theaters and purchase tickets now at FathomEvents.com.
Here is the film’s original trailer and a preview of this screening:
Don’t miss this one!