Having been on my watch list for a few years, Vertigo was one of the films I was most looking forward to. It was my first time watching it and I hesitatingly admit that I was disappointed. Let me first clarify, being disappointed by a Hitchcock film is like being disappointed when your mother cooks your favorite meal: you’ve had better and expected better from her, but it was still a great dish and given the opportunity, it’s unlikely you would want to eat something else even at the risk of being disappointed.
The first problem is Kim Novak. I don’t believe her. I don’t believe her eyes, her words, or her movements. Having just watched Casablanca, I may have been spoiled by the perfect chemistry between Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. However, I have seen Jimmy Stewart achieve cinematic chemistry numerous times and was disappointed to find that it was altogether lacking here.
The second problem relates to a few of the various running story lines that play into Vertigo. First and foremost, we have the dead and disturbed ancestor, Carlotta, who appears to be haunting her great-granddaughter Madeleine. Second, we have the marriage between Gavin and Madeleine, two people who we never actually see in the same room. Thirdly, we have Scottie and the obsession that develops over Madeleine as he spies on her at the request of her husband while he is simultaneously battling a freshly induced disorder, Vertigo.
On one hand, I would argue that each of these moving parts are vastly under-explored; on the other hand, this mystique plays in to the suspense while the gaps in information are integral to how the story ultimately plays out. I would not presume to argue that the Master of Suspense made a mistake in these “under-developments,” but I will say that throughout the film, I felt intense frustration and confusion. To some extent, I think that was intentional on Hitchcock’s part, although, another part of me believes that had Hitchcock had access to later technology that would have allowed him to expose more background without subverting suspense, he would have gladly thwarted some of this confusion and frustration.
Overall, Vertigo is an important contribution to the genre of suspense, and while the presentation may not be flawless, it is certainly a film worth watching, discussing, and brooding over. I highly recommend watching this movie with a dorky movie-buff because you will doubtlessly ache to discuss the ending as soon as the film closes.