Scottie is a faded apparition who haunts the crowded streets of San Francisco, his love transformed into a bleached vertiginous obsession. Considered by many to be Hitchcock’s masterpiece, VERTIGO attains the dizzying height of a suspenseful murder mystery but deep below the taught surface tension lurks a bestial narrative of male entitlement and naked aggression.
Bernard Herrmann’s score amplifies the psychological dimension, invigorating the trauma with an illusive uncertainty; dialogue is often replaced by suggestive musical cues punctuated by Stewart and Novak’s subtle expressions and body language. Jimmy Stewart plays against type as John “Scottie” Ferguson, an ex-cop who suffers from debilitating acrophobia, a man unable to commit to a healthy relationship with Midge, his college girlfriend who adores him. She is the counterpoint to his fragile emotional state; we judge his spiraling madness against her feminine strength in an attempt to understand his sexual addiction…because Scottie seems to destroy those whom he loves most. Kim Novak’s duel performance is exceptional: she is a doppelganger; a cruel mistress of deception and lust who becomes imbued with a graceful humanity, a lovely woman torn between her past…and passion.
Hitch is at his best with a dazzling 360-degree shot: as Judy and Scottie embrace in her room, his mind reels backwards and we see revealed the carriage-house; the place of the final zealous kiss before the bone-shattering tragedy. As he constructs Judy piece-by-piece like a sex doll she becomes a rapturous puzzle of soft flesh and lipstick, a fabricated ghost deluged with a violent green miasma of jealousy and delusion. Hitch understands suspense: he reveals the cruel charade, which powers the nuclear fission between the audience and the characters. Finally a dark form emerges from the shadows of a bell tower, startling Judy quickly towards her final judgment…and leaves Scottie to bear his own cross of guilt and shame.
Final Grade: (A+)