Hitchcock’s Vertigo proves to be truly classic

EMPAC sponsored a screening of Alfred Hitchcock’s classic thriller Vertigo last Thursday as part of The Eternal Return series. When I heard this news, I was immediately excited, as Vertigo is an excellent film, one of my favorites.

The movie stars Jimmy Stewart as a retired San Francisco detective, Scottie, with a crippling case of acrophobia. An old friend of his from college, named Gavin, enlists Scottie’s help in tracking the activities of his wife, Madeleine. As Scottie follows her around, she buys some flowers, then visits a museum with a painting of a Spanish woman in it—a Spanish woman holding the exact same flowers. Scottie learns from the museum staff that the woman in the painting is Carlotta Valdes, a Spanish immigrant to the San Francisco area who was loved by a man just long enough to have a child together, then thrown back on the street.

As Scottie reports these details to Gavin, Gavin reveals that Carlotta was Madeleine’s great-grandmother, and that he thinks her spirit is possessing his wife. He asks Scottie to keep watching Madeleine and to keep her safe. Madeleine visits Carlotta’s grave, then drives out of town to a preserved Spanish missionary, then goes to the Golden Gate Bridge, where she slowly picks apart the flowers before jumping into the bay.

Scottie, of course, dives in after her to save her life. He takes her back to his apartment to dry off, she wakes up, and they talk for a while. He asks her questions about her condition, trying to gain more information without tipping her off. She rushes off home and returns the next day with a thank-you note. He asks where she’s going, and she replies, “Wandering.” He offers to go with her, and she accepts.

From this point, Scottie accompanies Madeleine, trying to find out more about her “possession” and ultimately falling in love with her in his quest to save her.

Revealing any more of the plot would just spoil the awesome twist(s) that come later, but the movie is great, especially for its time (it was produced in 1958). The acting is excellent—I’d expect nothing less from Stewart—and the writing is as good as any of Hitchcock’s other classics. I definitely recommend seeing it if you get the chance.

One interesting tidbit I learned from the pre-movie information slideshow: Vertigo, along with Rope, The Trouble With Harry, Rear Window, and The Man Who Knew Too Much, is known among film buffs as one the “five lost Hitchcocks” because their rights were bought back by Hitchcock and left as part of his legacy to his daughter. The films were unavailable for almost 30 years before finally being re-released in 1984.