Monday, January 17, 2011

CMBA Hitchcock Blogathon: Vertigo(1958).

Hitchcock, directed more than fifty feature films in a career spanning over six decades. Hitchcock did more than any director to shape modern cinema. He is famous for his narrative and withholding crucial information from his characters and from the audience.

One of my favorite Hitchcock films is, Vertigo (1958). Where Stewart plays "Scottie", a former police investigator suffering from acrophobia, who develops an obsession with a woman he is shadowing (Novak). Scottie's obsession leads to tragedy and this time Hitchcock does not go for a happy ending.

Vertigo(1958). Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Cast: James Stewart, Kim Novak and Barbara Bel Geddes. The film was written by Alec Coppel and Samuel A. Taylor, based on a novel by Boileau-Narcejac. At first the film received mixed reviews, but now ranked among the greatest films ever made. Hitchcock's film is about obsession, which means that it's about circling back to the same moment, over and over again ...

The story begins in San Francisco, during a police chase across the rooftops, Detective John "Scottie" Ferguson nearly falls to his death. Unfortunately, his partner falls to his death while trying to save him.

After which, Scottie decides to retire from police force, but an old friend Gavin Elster, contacts Scottie and wants him to work for him as a private investigator. His job is to follow his friends wife, Madeleine Elster and to learn the mystery of her strange behavior. Scottie follows them to a restaurant so he knows what she looks like.

In my favorite part of the movie, Scottie now on the case follows Madeleine as she visits the grave and the museum portrait of Carlotta Valdes.

Scottie learns that Carlotta Valdes tragic life ended in suicide and that she was Madeleine's great-grandmother. Madeleine next stop is Fort Point, where she jumps into San Francisco Bay. Scottie jumps in after her and takes her to his home to dry off and rest.

There Madeleine shares with him what she thinks she is living in a bad dream, Scottie believes the location in the dream is Mission San Juan Bautista and takes her there, in hopes to make her ease her mind..

At the mission, Madeleine panics and runs into the church and up the staircase of the bell tower. Scottie chases after her, but his acrophobia prevents him from climbing the staircase. Scottie hears a scream and sees Madeleine fall from the tower. Her death was declared a suicide and Gavin blamed her being possessed by Carlotta Valdes.

Scottie had fallen in love with Madeleine and went into a great depression after her death. As he improves, he begins to visit the places that they had once visited. In his travels, he spots woman who reminds him of Madeleine.

Scottie follows her to her hotel room where she tells him that her name is Judy Barton. At first she is worried he might learn the truth, but after a few minutes she agrees to join Scottie for dinner.

 After Scottie has left, we learn of her true identity. She was, in fact, the woman who he knew as "Madeleine". Judy in love with Scottie, decides to hide the truth. Their relationship is troubled by his memory of "Madeleine." He transforms Judy so that she begins to look like "Madeleine."

Scottie becomes suspicious when Judy wears a necklace that he remembered seeing in the portrait of Carlotta Valdes. Scottie takes Madeleine to Mission San Juan Bautista, so he can reenact the tragic event in which he could not save Madeleine. Maybe he has taken his obsession too far.

The wonderful performances of Novak and Stewart make this one of my favorite films. Hitchcock is on the mark for creating hypnotic scenes and a sense of tension which will keep you on the edge of your seat!

The wonderful score of Bernard Herrman is very important in help creating the atmosphere of this movie.

Fun Facts:
When actress Vera Miles, who was under personal contract to Hitchcock and had appeared on both his television show and in his film, The Wrong Man, could not act in Vertigo because of her pregnancy. The director cast Kim Novak as the female lead. Columbia head Harry Cohn agreed to lend Novak to Vertigo, if Stewart would agree to co-star with Novak in Bell, Book and Candle (1958).

Hitchcock said that Vertigo was one of his favorite films. Hitchcock blamed the film's failure on Stewart, at age 50, looking too old to play a convincing love interest for Kim Novak, who at 25 was half his age at the time.

Filming locations:

Filmed from September to December 1957, Vertigo is best known for its location of the San Francisco Bay Area, with its famous steep hills, expansive views, and tall, arching bridges.

The Mission San Juan Bautista, where Madeleine falls from the tower, is a real place, but the tower had to be matted in with a painting using studio effects. Hitchcock had first visited the mission before the tower was torn down due to dry rot, and was reportedly displeased to find it missing when he returned to film his scenes. The original tower was much smaller and less dramatic than the film's version.

The gallery where Carlotta's painting appears is the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco.

Muir Woods National Monument is in fact represented by Big Basin Redwoods State Park. The redwood tree showing its age is a replica of one that can still be found at Muir Woods.

The coastal region where Scottie and Madeleine first kiss is Cypress Point, a well-known location along the 17 Mile Drive near Pebble Beach. However, the lone tree by which they kiss is in fact a prop brought specially to the location.

The spectacular domed building past which Scottie and Judy walk is the Palace of Fine Arts.

Coit Tower appears in many background shots; Hitchcock once said that he included it as a phallic symbol.

Gavin and Madeleine's apartment building is "The Brocklebank" at 1000 Mason Street, is across the street from the Fairmont Hotel, where Hitchcock stayed when he visited and where many of the cast and crew stayed during filming.

The "McKittrick Hotel" was a privately-owned Victorian mansion from the 1880s at Gough and Eddy Streets, was torn down in 1959.

Podesta Baldocchi is the flower shop Madeleine visits as she is being followed by Scottie. The Podesta Baldocchi flower shop now does business from a location at 410 Harriet Street. It is well-known today as the "World's Oldest Family Owned Florist".

The sanatorium is 351 Buena Vista East, formerly St. Joseph's Hospital, now Park Hill condominiums.

The Empire Hotel is a real place, called the York Hotel, and now (as of January 2009) the Hotel Vertigo at 940 Sutter Street.

Please click here to read Lady Eves article: Shooting on a beautiful San Francisco day.

Jimmy Stewart (May 20, 1908 – July 2, 1997), was nominated for five Academy Awards, winning one in competition and receiving one Lifetime Achievement award.  He also had a military career and was a World War II and Vietnam War veteran, who rose to the rank of Brigadier General in the United States Air Force Reserve.

Throughout his seven decades in Hollywood, Stewart had a very versatile career and performed in the classics: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, The Philadelphia Story, Harvey, It's a Wonderful Life, Rear Window, Rope, The Man Who Knew Too Much, and Vertigo.

Kim Novak (born February 13, 1933), is best known for her performance in the classic film , Vertigo. Novak retired from acting in 1991 and has become an artist of oil paintings. She lives with her veterinarian husband on a ranch in, Oregon, where they raise livestock.

Barbara Bel Geddes(October 31, 1922 – August 8, 2005), Her film career began with The Long Night (1947), starring Henry Fonda, a remake of the French film, Le Jour se lève (1939). She was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for, I Remember Mama (1948). She found new opportunity when Alfred Hitchcock cast her in four episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Hitchcock cast her again with James Stewart in Vertigo (1958), as the long-suffering bohemian Midge. Bel Geddes also starred with Danny Kaye and Louis Armstrong in the musical, The Five Pennies.

Nineteen other classic movie blogs will post reviews and articles on many Hitchcock films. I 'm really looking forward to a day of wonderful movie reviews about one of my favorite directors. Please join us.

The Birds – Classic Film & TV Café
Dial M for Murder – True Classics: The ABCs of Film
The Lady Vanishes – MacGuffin Movies
Lifeboat – Classicfilmboy’s Movie Paradise
The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) – Reel Revival
Marnie – My Love of Old Hollywood
Mr. and Mrs. Smith – Carole & Co.
North By Northwest – Bette’s Classic Movie Blog
Notorious – Twenty Four Frames
The Pleasure Garden – Thrilling Days of Yesteryear
Rear Window – Java’s Journey
Rebecca – ClassicBecky’s Film and Literary Review
Rope – Kevin’s Movie Corner
Shadow of a Doubt - Great Entertainers Media Archive
The 39 Steps – Garbo Laughs
Three Classic Hitchcock Killers – The Lady Eve’s Reel Life
Torn Curtain - Via Margutta 51
The Trouble with Harry – Bit Part Actors
Vertigo – Noir and Chick Flicks
The Wrong Man – The Movie Projector


  1. Dawn, VERTIGO is my favorite Hitchcock film. When I saw it as a youth, I couldn't understand why Hitchcock revealed the plot twist with a third of the running time remaining. Later, I realized that it creates a tremendous amount of suspense--in essence, will the deceiver be caught? It's a haunting, sad movie about two people who have no chance at happiness together regardless of what they do. It's a complex film that warrants repeated viewings. I loved your trivia about the backgrounds and the production!

  2. An enjoyable review worthy of one of Hitchcock's best films. The trivia and backstage peak was definitely the cherry on top!
    Page at My Love Of Old Hollywood

  3. Dawn, this is without doubt the best review you have ever done. I believe Vertigo to be Hitchcock's masterpiece, and also one of Bernard Herrmann's most lush and perfect scores. Your pictures and sound bites are wonderful, and as Page said, your trivia is fascinating. Great job!

  4. Excellent work, Dawn. I'll come clean and admit that while I'm not as taken with Vertigo as some (it might be because since I've seen it so many times the flaws are hard to ignore) it is certainly Hitch's most personal of his works and your review has most assuredly done it justice.

  5. Dawn...I consider "Vertigo" the epitome of Hitchcock and it is at the top of my list of his masterpieces. Thanks for a very fine post with wonderful pictures and clips. The fact that I live in the SF Bay Area and have been to many of the exterior and interior locations - Podesta Baldocchi's old (and long-gone) flower shop, Ernie's Restaurant (RIP!), the Legion of Honor, Mission Dolores - even worked in an office (had been a dept. store in 1958) that was the setting for the scene in which Scottie selected dresses for Judy (though ALL interiors were recreated on a sound stage) - makes the film an even more personal experience for me. The ending, Scottie standing arms akimbo, staring down from the tower, is one of the most unforgettable in all of film.

  6. Good review, interesting to read about all the Bay Area locations.


  7. Thanks for the post. There is so much depth to this movie and such great images, so kudos for using pictures and clips to convey your thoughts.

  8. Count me among those who finds Vertigo to be a little overrated--I like it, but it's far from my favorite, and I don't think it's Hitchcock's best (I reserve that honor for Shadow of a Doubt, with Rear Window a close second). I enjoyed reading your take on the film and the "fun facts" that accompany your post. I didn't realize that Hitch blamed the box-office failure of the movie on Stewart. It seems entirely unfair, doesn't it, especially in retrospect? Scottie remains one of Stewart's best film performances.

  9. Dawn, "Vertigo" has become one of my favorite Hitchcock films. I love watching a true classic because it holds my interest with each viewing. I have only visited San Francisco once but found it a fascinating place, rife with cinematic opportunities. I can tell you love this film! You did a great job on this review, filling it with interesting stories, and I appreciated all of the pictures and photos and film clips you included. Fabulous post, Dawn!

  10. "Vertigo" was the first Hitch film I ever saw and the one that first interested me in a serious way in Classic Hollywood. I loved it, the music, the performances, the shoots, the whole thing of a girl supposedly coming back from the dead, etc. Nice review, thanks for that interesting trivia.

  11. Thank you everbody for your very kind and thoughtful comments . And a special thank to Ladyeve for allowing me to add her very interesting article, Shooting on a beautiful San Francisco day, to my article. I have to say everyone has done a wonderful job reviewing their favorite Hitchcock films. Thank you Rick for coming up with with the fun idea.

  12. Hitchcock was on his best.One of classic art by him.Loved it.Thanks for so lovely post.Enjoyed it.

  13. Excellent job Dawn on one of the most creative fantastic films in Hitchcock's filmography and that is saying a lot! San Francisco is one of my favorite cities which adds an additional flavor to it. Thanks!

  14. "Vertigo" is my second favorite Hitchcock film after "North by Northwest" (#3 is "Rear Window"), but I must admit that it is Hitchcock's most ambitious and probably greatest in a strictly artistic sense. It's just astounding how he took a clever thriller with a twist ending and turned it into something so complex, mysterious, and compulsively watchable and re-watchable, maybe the greatest feat of transformation of good material into great art in the history of cinema. Have there ever been so many astounding set pieces in one movie, even another Hitchcock movie? Who ever suspected that Kim Novak was capable of this, thus disproving the belief that Hitchcock wasn't good with actors. Was a music score ever used to better effect than here? Dawn, I must commend you on tackling a movie I would be afraid even to consider writing on--its greatness is that intimidating! One interesting bit of trivia (courtesy IMBd): Hitchcock wanted to buy the rights to the Boileau-Narcejac novel "Les Diaboliques" but just barely lost out to Clouzot. Maybe this inspired him to go all out to outdo one of the greatest of all thrillers.

  15. Thank you every one for your thoughtful comments.

    R. D. Finch, My favorite part of the film is when Scottie is following Madeleine around San Francisco, taking us on a sight seeing tour. "Vertigo", maybe the first performace that I saw of Kim Novak's. I seem to campare all of her other films performances to this film. Also, thank you for sharing the trivia info. and your thoughts on the film.. I can see you love the film as much as I do.

  16. JUJU, Thank you and thank you for stopping by. :)


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