Cast & Crew
Barbara Bel Geddes
San Francisco police detective John "Scottie" Ferguson is forced to retire after he is involved in a rooftop chase and his acrophobia and accompanying vertigo leads to the death of a fellow officer. Although Scottie hopes to overcome his phobia, his longtime friend, Midge Wood, an artist who is in love with him, cautions him that only a severe emotional shock might snap him out of it. One day, Scottie tells Midge that he has been contacted by Gavin Elster, an old college friend. Scottie meets with Elster at his office near the waterfront, where Elster oversees a shipbuilding business. Elster informs Scottie that he is worried about his young, blonde wife Madeleine, whose rich family built the business that Elster runs. Scottie is baffled by Elster's claims that Madeleine has been having blackouts and seems to be possessed by someone from the past. Although Scottie is reluctant to become involved, Elster convinces him that he needs a friend to observe Madeleine before he commits her to a mental institution. That night, Scottie goes to Ernie's, a popular restaurant, so that he can see Madeleine for the first time as she dines with her husband. Scottie is awed by Madeleine's beauty and the next morning, follows her as she leaves home and goes to a flower shop to buy a nosegay. Seeming to be in a trance, Madeleine then goes to the cemetery of the old Mission Dolores and stands before a grave. After Madeleine departs, Scottie reads the gravestone, which belongs to Carlotta Valdes, who died in 1857 at the age of 26, the same age as Madeleine. Scottie then follows Madeleine to the Palace of the Legion of Honor art gallery and watches as she sits motionless in front of a portrait of a young woman. Scottie is stunned to see that the nosegay Madeleine carries is an exact duplicate of the one in the portrait, and that she even wears the same hairstyle as the painting's subject. Upon learning that the painting is called "Portrait of Carlotta," Scottie follows Madeleine as she drives to the McKittrick Hotel, where she enters a room on the second floor. The landlady, who knows Madeleine as Carlotta Valdes, tells Scottie that "Carlotta" comes to the hotel for a few hours several times a week. When Scottie searches the room, however, Madeleine has disappeared. Scottie then goes to Midge's and when he asks about sources of information about old San Francisco, she takes him to see bookstore owner Pop Leibel. Pop relates that Carlotta was a young beauty, reared in an old mission and romanced by a rich, older man who built a mansion for her. After their child was born, however, the man took the child and deserted Carlotta, who went mad and committed suicide. Scottie is intrigued when Pop states that Carlotta's mansion eventually became the McKittrick Hotel. The next day, Scottie tells Elster of his findings, and Elster confesses that he knew about Carlotta but did not tell Scottie in order not to prejudice him. Elster reveals that Carlotta was Madeleine's great-grandmother, but when Scottie declares that it would be natural for Madeleine to become obsessed with her ancestor, Elster asserts that while Madeleine's mother told him the truth, she never told Madeleine for fear of upsetting her with the knowledge of insanity in their family. Elster insists that Madeleine, who owns several pieces of Carlotta's jewelry, including the distinctive necklace she wore while sitting for her portrait, has become possessed by Carlotta. Later, Scottie again follows Madeleine, with whom he has become obsessed, as she goes to the museum and then to Fort Point underneath the Golden Gate Bridge. When Madeleine suddenly throws herself into the water, Scottie jumps in and rescues her. Scottie takes the unconscious Madeleine to his apartment to recover and when she awakens, she claims to have no memory of the incident, although she does recall being at Fort Point. When Scottie then asks her if she has ever been to the art gallery containing Carlotta's portrait, she states that she has not, confirming Elster's assertion that she does not remember her wanderings to places connected to Carlotta. Their conversation is interrupted by a phone call from Elster, and while Scottie updates him on Madeleine's condition, Madeleine departs. The following day, Scottie is tailing Madeleine when she comes to his apartment to leave him a note. Scottie suggests that they take a drive, and they go to a Sequoia forest, where they discuss the ephemeral nature of time and memory. As Scottie presses her about why she jumped into the bay, and about "where" and "when" she currently is, Madeleine relates that she feels like she is walking down a long corridor, covered with mirrored fragments that reflect a life not her own, yet familiar. When Scottie continues to question her, Madeleine reveals her fear that she is insane and will die soon. Scottie embraces her and assures her that he will never let her go, and their relationship is sealed with a passionate kiss. Sometime later, Madeleine awakens Scottie late one night, telling him that she had a recurring nightmare about an old Spanish church. Scottie recognizes her description of the area as nearby San Juan Bautista, an old, Spanish mission that has been preserved as it was one hundred years ago, but Madeleine insists that she has never been there. That afternoon, Scottie takes her there to reassure her that it is a real place and that she has nothing to fear from it. In the livery stable, Madeleine describes having lived at the mission, as if recalling Carlotta's memories of her youth, and Scottie tries to reason with her, showing her things that she might have once seen and become confused about. After sharing another passionate kiss with Scottie, Madeleine runs off, crying that although she loves him, there is something she must do, and that it is too late for them. Scottie follows her as she races up into the church's bell tower, but as he climbs the stairs, begins to suffer from vertigo. Madeleine reaches the top of the tower before Scottie, and as he looks through a window, sees her fall to the roof of the church below. Devastated, Scottie leaves the scene. Soon after, at the coroner's inquest, Madeleine's death is ruled a suicide, although the official lambasts Scottie's lack of action. Elster consoles Scottie, asserting that it was his fault for getting Scottie involved, and tells him that he is moving to Europe. After having a terrifying nightmare about Madeleine's death, Scottie suffers a nervous breakdown and is institutionalized for a year. Upon his release, Scottie sees women resembling Madeleine everywhere he goes until one day, he sees a redheaded woman who looks so strongly like Madeleine that he follows her to her room in a cheap hotel. There, the woman, whose name is Judy Barton, believes that Scottie is trying to pick her up, but when he confesses that she reminds him of someone he once loved, she softens and agrees to dine with him that evening. After Scottie departs, however, Judy begins to pack, then writes a letter to Scottie, confessing that Elster concocted a scheme to kill his wife and make Scottie a dupe to cover his crime. As Judy writes, she recalls how Elster transformed her, his mistress, into a sophisticated double of the real Madeleine, then employed Scottie to follow her, and as they hoped, Scottie fell in love with her. Judy had not planned on reciprocating his love, however, and was distressed upon having to betray him by running to the bell tower, from which Elster threw the already dead body of his wife. Deciding that she wants to make Scottie love her as herself, not as Madeleine, Judy destroys the letter. After dinner, Scottie begs to spend more time with her and Judy consents, although as the days pass, she is unnerved by his attempts to transform her into Madeleine by buying her similar clothes and having her hair dyed platinum blonde. Desperate to regain his affection, however, Judy goes along with his efforts until she looks just as she did when she was impersonating Madeleine. His dream of resurrecting Madeleine achieved, Scottie kisses Judy deeply, recalling the last time that he kissed Madeleine before her death. As they prepare to go out, however, Judy unthinkingly dons Carlotta's necklace, and Scottie deduces Elster's scheme, and Judy's part in it. Scottie drives the nervous Judy to San Juan Bautista and there forces her to climb the bell tower, stating that this is his "second chance." As they climb, Scottie realizes that he no longer suffers from vertigo, and Judy confesses to her part in the crime, revealing that Elster discarded her after his wife's death. Alternately calling her Madeleine and Judy, Scottie tells her how much he loved her, and Judy responds that they can begin again, with her transformation back into Madeleine as proof of her love for him. Just then, a nun comes into the tower and her footsteps frighten Judy, who steps back and fall to her death on the roof below. Shattered, Scottie looks down at her body.
Barbara Bel Geddes
Robert Coburn Jr.
C. C. Coleman
C. O. "doc" Erickson
John P. Fulton
Dr. A. Vincent Gerty
Ed Morey Jr.
G. E. Richardson
Bert Van Volkenburg
John H. Whitney
Best Art Direction
The Essentials (6/18 & 12/3) - VERTIGO
A San Francisco police detective, John "Scottie" Ferguson, leaves the force after seeing a fellow policeman fall to his death during a rooftop chase. Ferguson suffers from vertigo, an extreme anxiety associated with heights. He confides in his ex-fiancee Midge, and is hired for a detective job by Gavin Elster, a former schoolmate. Elster wants Scottie to follow his wife Madeleine, who he fears is suicidal. As Scottie tails Madeleine, and saves her from a suicide attempt in the bay, he falls in love with her. But Scottie is unable to stop her next attempt as she climbs the bell tower of an old Spanish mission and jumps off the top. Devastated, Scottie withdraws from life temporarily but is jolted back to reality by his encounter with Judy, a shopgirl who bears an uncanny resemblance to the dead Madeleine. In his relentless pursuit of her, his fascination turns to obsession.
Producer/Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Associate Producer: Herbert Coleman
Screenplay: Samuel Taylor, Alec Coppel
Based on the novel D'Entre les Morts by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac
Cinematography: Robert Burks
Editor: George Tomasini
Music: Bernard Herrmann
Costumes: Edith Head
Special Effects: Farciot Edouart, John P. Fulton, W. Wallace Kelley
Sound: Harold Lewis, Winston Leverett
Title Design: Saul Bass
Dream Sequence Design: John Ferren
Cast: James Stewart (John "Scottie" Ferguson), Kim Novak (Madeleine Elster/ Judy Barton), Barbara Bel Geddes (Midge Wood), Tom Helmore (Gavin Elster), Ellen Corby (Hotel manageress), Henry Jones (Coroner), Raymond Bailey (Doctor), Konstantin Shayne (Pop Leibel), Lee Patrick (Madeleine look-alike), Margaret Brayton (Ransohoff salesperson), Joanne Genthon (Dream Carlotta), Sara Taft (Nun).
C-127m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.
Why VERTIGO is Essential
When it first appeared in May of 1958, Vertigo was considered a disappointment by most critics and moviegoers who thought the movie was too slow. Even Hitchcock's peers in the film industry were dismissive of Vertigo, granting it only two Oscar® nominations (for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration & Best Sound) and no wins. Hitchcock himself measured his own films' worth by the attention they garnered, so he could only move on to the next project and hope for better results. In what was proven to be a gradual but complete turnaround, Vertigo is now the most studied and discussed film of Alfred Hitchcock's career - it has been seen and enjoyed on the big screen by new generations in two major reissues, and has been voted the 2nd greatest film ever made (after Citizen Kane, 1941) in the most recent Sight and Sound survey of international film critics.
Hitchcock took a French novel, D'Entre les Morts (From Among the Dead), and first changed the setting from Paris to San Francisco, a perverse choice that placed a character with an intense fear of heights in the most vertical city in the United States. He then infused the story of an obsessive personality with obsessions of his own. For followers of the Auteur Theory, there is no greater attraction than the allure of such a personal document - Hitchcock had made a career of remaking blondes into his own vision of the perfect woman, so here is a film that is a meditation on that very subject!
For the cast, Hitchcock wanted James Stewart as the detective from the beginning of the project. Vertigo would be the fourth Stewart film directed by Hitchcock; it would also be the last. Hitchcock would later complain that Stewart, at 49, may have been too old for the role but most critics would rank it as possibly Stewart's finest performance. Kim Novak, as the object of the detective's obsession, was a late addition. Vera Miles, later to play Janet Leigh's sister in Psycho (1960), was to have played the role but bowed out after she became pregnant. Novak, however, surprised everyone with her performance in a difficult dual role, projecting mystery, fear and a touching vulnerability.
Certainly Vertigo works simultaneously on multiple levels. While audiences in 1958 were more concerned with the murder mystery aspects of the plot, it was the least interesting aspect for the director. Hitchcock films often feature what he called the "MacGuffin" - the plot device that sets the narrative in motion and motivates the characters (uranium samples, government papers, etc.) but is irrelevant to the audience. Some modern critics have said that the MacGuffin in Vertigo is the plot itself. Scottie Ferguson's obsession is Hitchcock's interest, so two-thirds of the way through the movie the twist ending is revealed. Hitchcock later explained to director Francois Truffaut that the change was made to highlight suspense over surprise. What will the detective do when he finally discovers the truth we already know?
The revelation by Judy that she is Madeleine has been criticized by some as being a premature revelation - it is twenty minutes before Scottie realizes the same. While they see this as a flaw in the picture's structure, others see it as a brilliant ploy by Hitchcock to shift audience sympathies and identification from Scottie to Judy; to de-emphasize the "whodunit" nature of the story and push forward the much more complex and challenging set of themes and concerns; and to implicate the viewer as a voyeur, a common occurrence in any Hitchcock film.
Just as Hitchcock's standing reached its peak in the early 1970's, Vertigo was pulled from release. The combination of the reputation of this now highly regarded film and a lack of access whipped up enthusiasm among movie lovers for the masterpiece they were denied. This could have led to a major letdown when Vertigo was finally re-released in 1984 but, for once, expectations of greatness were confirmed on the screen. In 1996 the film was extensively restored, given a new Dolby Surround soundtrack, and re-released to even greater acclaim.
by John M. Miller & Brian Cady
The Essentials (6/18 & 12/3) - VERTIGO
Pop Culture (6/18 & 12/3) - VERTIGO
Although the reincarnation theme in Vertigo (1958) turns out to be a red herring, it was a hot topic at the time of the film's production. In 1956, a bestseller called The Search for Bridey Murphy was published, detailing the true-life "recollections" of a woman under hypnosis of her previous life as a nineteenth-century Irish woman. The success of the book prompted a rash of imitations, as well as movies (I've Lived Before (1956), The Bride and the Beast, 1958) and TV shows rushing to capitalize on the then-current interest in reincarnation.
Before Vertigo was even released, James Stewart and Kim Novak were teamed again for the film Bell Book and Candle (1958) for Columbia Pictures. The pairing was not an accident - it was part of the loan-out agreement which brought Novak from Columbia to shoot Vertigo. Bell Book and Candle was a comedy-fantasy-romance co-starring Jack Lemmon and Ernie Kovacs.
A theme song entitled "Vertigo" was written by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, and was recorded by Billy Eckstine. Evans and Livingston had written the song "Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera Sera)" for Hitchcock's 1956 picture The Man Who Knew Too Much. It had been a huge hit for Doris Day and also won an Oscar® for best original song. Unfortunately for Eckstine and the songwriters, the song "Vertigo" was never heard by moviegoers; Hitchcock felt it was inappropriate for the film and omitted it.
In Vertigo, when Madeleine appears to die in a fall, Hitchcock is simply playing with audience expectations by killing off their leading lady halfway through the film. He will play upon these same expectations in a much more dramatic fashion during the beginning of Psycho (1960), when the Janet Leigh character Marion Crane meets up with Anthony Perkins' Norman Bates.
Brian De Palma has made a career out of borrowing Hitchcock themes, visuals and motifs for his films. (Some consider his work during his early years to be less an homage and more like blatant thievery). In the 1976 film Obsession, De Palma and his co-screenwriter Paul Schrader present their take on Vertigo. In it, Cliff Robertson plays a real estate developer who fixates on a woman (Genevieve Bujold) who reminds him of his murdered wife. The setting is New Orleans rather than San Francisco, but to compose the music score, De Palma enlisted none other than Bernard Herrmann.
Hitchcock was never hesitant to try new camera techniques to heighten the psychological effects he was striving for in his films. In Vertigo, he needed to convey Scottie's fear of heights and his disorientation. It was 2nd unit cameraman Irmin Roberts who created the in-camera special effect that has since become known as a "contra-zoom shot", a "trombone shot" or, most popularly, the "vertigo shot." It is created when using a zoom lens to adjust the field of view while the camera is physically moving toward or away from a subject in the frame. This causes a distortion of the perspective - the background of a scene appears to change size while the main subject remains the same. Since this optical effect has no correlation to normal human perception, the result is mentally disorienting.
After Vertigo, the most notable use of the "contra-zoom shot" effect was in Spielberg's Jaws (1975), as Roy Scheider reacts to a shark attack. Increased use of the effect in films like Scorsese's Goodfellas (1990) and many lesser films in the 90s have tended to render the "Vertigo shot" a cliché. The original "Vertigo shot" was also parodied during a second season episode of the animated TV series The Simpsons, "Principal Charming", broadcast in 1991. Who knew Springfield Elementary had a bell tower?
The source novel for Vertigo, D'Entre les Morts, was filmed again in Canada in 1995 as La Presence des ombres. Directed by Marc F. Voizard, the film featured a French-Canadian cast.
by John M. Miller
Pop Culture (6/18 & 12/3) - VERTIGO
Trivia (6/18 & 12/3) - VERTIGO
For his traditional director cameo, in Vertigo Alfred Hitchcock can be seen at roughly eleven minutes into the film, walking past Gavin Elster's shipyard wearing a grey suit and carrying a small horn case.
Perhaps as a visual clue to the audience that color design was to play an important role in the movie, Vertigo begins in black-and-white. The Paramount logo and mountain and the VistaVision logo appear first in black-and-white, then a woman's face can be seen in monochrome in Saul Bass' titles up until the fourth credit line. Color first appears with the title of the movie as the woman's face becomes awash in red and the spiral effect appears in her eye.
Some of the most identifying images of Vertigo are the spinning spirals which are prominently featured in the advertising, titles, and actual film. While today's computer technology renders such effects passé, they were a new sight to 1950s mainstream movie audiences. They were the work of an avant-garde animator/filmmaker/musician named John Whitney, who had set about creating 16mm films that combined abstract animated visuals and music. With his brother James he created a revolving animation stand using war surplus turrets built for airplane machine guns. With these he could animate exposed light directly onto film in a variety of geometric patterns. Saul Bass spotted his work and saw that the spiral images perfectly mirrored the spiral visual motifs in Hitchcock's film.
The overall production design, and particularly the color design, is some of the most intricately detailed and executed in motion pictures. The red, gold, and green color palette is boldly manipulated throughout to visually cue the characters' thoughts, motivations, and fixations. The specialty designs of the credits, special effects, and dream sequences are all brilliantly conceived and add to the richness of the film. Some of the effects and visuals were completely new to pictures and would be adapted by other filmmakers for years.
San Juan Bautista, the Spanish mission that features so prominently in the film, never had a bell tower. At one time it had a small steeple, but this was demolished due to dry rot some time before filming. The bell tower exterior as seen in the film was created by models and matte paintings.
The vivid and unforgettable nightmare sequence in Vertigo was actually developed quite early in the production process. It is described in detail as early as Alec Coppel's draft of the script. Hitchcock enlisted Modern artist John Ferren to storyboard the sequence, which was followed faithfully in filming. Ferren's credit in the film is an ambiguous "Special Sequence By."
Movie posters for Vertigo primarily featured the striking graphics by Saul Bass. The spiral design seen in the film's opening titles and dream sequence is repeated here, and we also see the abstracted figures of a man and woman, seemingly in freefall as the man reaches out toward the female. One poster tagline reads, "Alfred Hitchcock engulfs you in a whirlpool of terror and tension!" Most posters had a simpler tagline, hyperbolic at the time, which has since proven to be prophetic: "Alfred Hitchcock's Masterpiece!"
Vertigo was one of five films that reverted to Hitchcock's ownership in 1973. He had them pulled from circulation and they were set aside as assets for his estate (i.e. his daughter Pat) to inherit upon his death. Vertigo, along with Rope (1948), Rear Window (1954), The Trouble with Harry (1955), and The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) were unavailable for television broadcast or film rental for several years. During this period the critical reputation of Vertigo only increased, along with the mystique of a film that was literally inaccessible. Finally, the five films were reissued by Universal in 1983, with the greatest acclaim saved for Vertigo.
In the mid-1990s, film restoration experts Robert Harris and James Katz took on the task of restoring Vertigo. They went to the original VistaVision elements and made their transfers to the very similar aspect ratio to be found on 70mm film. The soundtrack was mixed in digital Surround, although to do so they had to recreate the Foley sound effects for the film. The restoration was a great success, particularly in reviving the intricate color schemes devised for so much of the film.
by John M. Miller
Famous Quotes from VERTIGO
Scottie (James Stewart): I'm a man of independent means as the saying goes. Fairly independent.
Midge (Barbara Bel Geddes): Hmm hmm. Well, why don't you go away for a while?
Scottie: You mean to forget? Oh now, Midge, don't be so motherly. I'm not going to crack up.
Scottie (pointing to a bra hanging in her work area): What's this doo-hickey?
Midge: It's a brassiere. You know about those things. You're a big boy now.
Scottie: I've never run across one like that.
Scottie: Don't you think it's a waste, to wander separately?
Madeleine (Kim Novak): Only one is a wanderer. Two together are always going somewhere.
Scottie: What are you thinking?
Madeleine: Of all the people who've been born and have died while the trees went on living.
Scottie: Their true name is Sequoia Sempervirens, 'always green, ever-living.'
Madeleine: I don't like it.
Madeleine: Knowing I have to die.
Madeleine (looking at a giant redwood cross-section representing thousands of years in time): Somewhere in here I was born, and there I died. It was only a moment for you, you took no notice.
Scottie: Will you have dinner with me?
Judy (Kim Novak): Why?
Scottie: Well, I just feel that I owe you something after all this.
Judy: No, you don't owe me anything.
Scottie: Well, will you then, for me?
Judy: Dinner and what else?
Scottie: Just dinner.
Judy: Cause I remind you of her?
Scottie: Because I'd like to have dinner with you.
Judy: Well, I've been on blind dates before. Matter of fact to be honest, I've been picked up before.
Scottie: Judy, I just want you to look nice. I know the kind of a suit that would look well on you.
Judy: No, I won't do it.
Scottie: Judy, Judy it can't make that much difference to you. I just want to see you...
Judy: No, I don't want any clothes. I don't want anything. I want to get out of here.
Scottie: Judy, do this for me.
Scottie: The color of your hair;it can't matter to you.
Scottie: I have to go back into the past once more, just once more for the last time.
Judy: Why? Why here?
Scottie: Madeleine died here, Judy.
Judy: I don't want to go. I'd rather wait here.
Scottie: No, I need you.
Scottie: I need you to be Madeleine for a while. And when it's done, we'll both be free.
Compiled by John M. Miller
Trivia (6/18 & 12/3) - VERTIGO
The Big Idea (6/18 & 12/3) - VERTIGO
French writers Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac had a worldwide bestseller with their first novel Celle qui n'etait plus (The Woman Who Was No More) in 1952. This book was filmed by Henri-Georges Clouzot and released as Les Diaboliques, starring Simone Signoret, in 1955. It was noted by many at the time that the resulting movie was very "Hitchcockian." In fact, the film rights for the writers' next novel, D'Entre les Morts , was purchased by Paramount for Hitchcock before it had even been translated to English (as From Among the Dead). The film rights cost $25,275.
Hitchcock first engaged famed playwright Maxwell Anderson to adapt the novel, with the immediate assignment to change the setting to San Francisco. For a hefty fee of $65,000, Anderson returned a first draft script entitled Darkling, I Listen which was deemed practically unfilmable. Hitchcock's friend Angus MacPhail was brought on next, but bowed out of the assignment, so the next serious stab at a screenplay was undertaken by Alec Coppel. It was at this point that Hitchcock was able to spend time and enjoy his favorite collaborative methods when fashioning a film: leisurely daily meetings during which Hitchcock himself contributed major material in terms of story structure, characterization, pacing - enough, in fact, to qualify as a co-writer.
Coppel's draft of the script carried the title From Among the Dead. It contained many important scenes that would carry through to the final film, such as the rooftop opening, the dream sequence, and the two scenes at the Spanish mission. Hitchcock was still unhappy, though, as was James Stewart, now attached to the project and armed with script approval. A new writer, San Francisco native Samuel Taylor, was brought in. He worked closely with Hitchcock until the director was sidelined by a medical emergency - a gallbladder operation. While Hitchcock convalesced from March to May of 1957, Taylor humanized the Stewart character, added Midge, and decided to reveal Madeleine's secret to the audience two-thirds of the way into the film rather than at the end.
Taylor claimed that he wrote his drafts only from Hitchcock's notes, never reading Alec Coppel's script or the novel. He petitioned the Screen Writers Guild to have sole credit for the screenplay. Reviewing the evidence, the Guild assigned credit to both writers. Principal photography on Vertigo was set to begin in August, 1957.
by John M. Miller
The Big Idea (6/18 & 12/3) - VERTIGO
Behind the Camera (6/18 & 12/3) - VERTIGO
While James Stewart had been an early and solid choice for the male lead in Vertigo (1958), (it helped that he and Alfred Hitchcock had the same agent, Lew Wasserman), the casting of the female lead went through a major change. Hitchcock had been grooming the actress Vera Miles for stardom for several years. She had appeared on his television series and in the unglamorous role of Henry Fonda's wife in The Wrong Man in 1956. Vertigo was to have followed it as Miles' star-making vehicle, but there were many production delays caused by script development and by Hitchcock's hospital visits. During this same time, Miles became pregnant and had to drop out. Some have also suggested that Hitchcock was disappointed in her work for The Wrong Man while other reports suggest that Miles was simply unwilling to become the director's new blonde creation.
Harry Cohen, head of Columbia Pictures, had been grooming Kim Novak for stardom. She was proving her box-office worth, and was a natural to step into the role when Vera Miles was unable to do Vertigo. In fact, she did not even screen test for it. She felt the part immediately, saying later, "when I read the lines, 'I want you to love me for me' I just identified with it so much...it was what I felt when I came to Hollywood as a young girl. You know, they want to make you over completely."
Novak already had a reputation for being difficult, so perhaps it was not a surprise when she refused to show up for work on the Vertigo set in August, 1957. She was striking for more money from her home studio Columbia, who was paying her $1,250 a week even though they were receiving $250,000 for her loan-out for Vertigo and one more picture. The ploy worked and Novak got a raise.
Background plates and second unit work had been done in San Francisco much earlier in the year during the production delays. Shooting with the main cast began on September 13th. Famous sites in the city were beautifully captured on film: Mission Dolores, Lombard Street, Fort Point near the Golden Gate Bridge, the Empire Hotel on Sutter, The Palace of the Legion of Honor - all of which are popular stops on any self-guided "Vertigo tour" of the city today. As with most Hitchcock movies, the filming went relatively smoothly. The director avoided surprises, preferring to have every detail planned out in advance. Extensive storyboarding of most sequences assured that his trusted production staff would know what was expected of them.
After additional location shoots at the Big Basin Redwoods State Park and the Spanish mission San Juan Bautista, the cast and crew settled in at Paramount Studios soundstages for two months of filming. In the studio, Hitchcock was in his element and could exert absolute control though he had his share of creative challenges. One very striking sequence is the kissing scene that occurs when Scottie has finally made Judy over as Madeleine. As the couple kiss, the background slowly swirls, and we lose equilibrium as we see Judy's apartment become the livery stables of San Juan Bautista, setting for an earlier emotional scene between Scottie and Madeleine. The shot was achieved with rear projection of the background plates; the camera tracking slowly back, then forward; and with Stewart and Novak revolving on a circular platform. These simultaneous movements were very difficult to coordinate, and to pull off without the actors getting dizzy - in one take Stewart fell and was slightly injured. Principal photography was completed three days after this shot, just before Christmas, 1957.
The postproduction period in early 1958 was consumed with retakes, editing, and the creation of special effects shots involving models and matte paintings, particularly of the all-important bell tower.
For Vertigo, Bernard Herrmann wrote a brilliantly evocative and emotional score - one of the greatest scores for any motion picture. Ironically, though, he was not able to conduct it himself. A musician's strike halted recording in the U.S. so an overseas recording was necessary. The London Symphony began to record in March, 1958 with Muir Mathieson conducting. Halfway through the recording, the British musicians also went on strike, forcing completion of the score in Vienna. Vertigo premiered in San Francisco on May 9th, 1958.
by John M. Miller
Behind the Camera (6/18 & 12/3) - VERTIGO
The Critics Corner (6/18 & 12/3) - VERTIGO
"The measure of a great director lies in his ability to inspire his associates to rise above their usual competence and Hitchcock exhibits absolute genius in doing this in Vertigo ...Stewart gives what I consider the finest performance of his career as the detective. He portrays obsession to the point of mania without the least bit of hamming or scenery chewing. The skill with which Alec Coppel and Samuel Taylor constructed their screenplay, proves two things - 1) that an audience will buy any startling change in human behavior if you give it time (with montages and subtle buildups) to believe the transitions and: 2) that a murder mystery can be the greatest form of emotional drama if one concentrates on the feelings of the characters rather than the plot mathematics - Vertigo is one of the most fascinating love stories ever filmed." - Jack Moffitt, The Hollywood Reporter, May 12, 1958.
"Vertigo is prime though uneven Hitchcock. James Stewart, on camera almost constantly, comes through with a startlingly fine performance as the lawyer-cop who suffers from acrophobia. Kim Novak, shopgirl who involves Stewart in what turns out to be a clear case of murder, is interesting under Hitchcock's direction¿ Unbilled is the city of San Francisco, photographed extensively and in exquisite color. Through all of this runs Alfred Hitchcock's directorial hand, cutting, angling and gimmicking with mastery. Unfortunately, even that mastery is not enough to overcome one major fault --- that the film's first half is too slow and too long. This may be because: (1) Hitchcock became overly enamored of the vertiginous beauty of Frisco; or (2) the screenplay just takes too long to get off the ground. By [the end] Vertigo is more than two hours old, and it's questionable whether that much time should be devoted to what is basically only a psychological murder mystery." - Variety, May, 1958.
"Hitchcock has dabbled in a new, for him, dimension: the dream - but he has taken too long to unfold it. The twice-told theme, hard to grasp at best, bogs down further in a maze of detail; and the spectator experiences not only some of the vertigo afflicting James Stewart, the hero, but also - and worse - the indifference." - Phillip K. Scheuer, Los Angeles Times, May 29, 1958.
"Alfred Hitchcock, who produced and directed this thing, has never before indulged in such farfetched nonsense." - John McCarten, The New Yorker, June 7, 1958.
"Unfortunately, the story, as adapted for the screen comes off less praiseworthy, for most of the time the picture is not a little confusing. The story line is not easy to follow...Vertigo is technically a topnotch film. Story wise, little can be said. Hitchcock does as well as he can, considering the script, in a directorial capacity. Vertigo is not his best picture." - The Los Angeles Citizen-News, May 29, 1958.
"Brilliant but despicably cynical view of human obsession and the tendency of those in love to try to manipulate each other...The bleakness is perhaps a little hard to swallow, but there's no denying that this is the director at the very peak of his powers, while Novak is a revelation. Slow but totally compelling." - Geoff Andrew, TimeOut Movie Guide.
"Why has a film dismissed by the keenest minds of 1958 become an icon of modern cinema? Were they crazy or are we? Or is it simply that Vertigo defines the concept of art that is ahead of its time, a motion picture whose virtues resonate much more strongly with contemporary viewers than they could have done four decades past...what connects most impressively to today's audiences is the strange darkness of Vertigo's themes, its moments of obsessive eroticism, its tipping of the hat to sadism, masochism, fetishism, necrophilia, and more garden-variety neuroses. The film's continued ability to unsettle and disconcert without resorting to graphic visuals underlines how modern and timeless its themes and execution remain." - Kenneth Turan, The A List: The National Society of Film Critics' 100 Essential Films.
"What attracted Hitchcock to the project is that Scottie wants to indulge in necrophilia by resurrecting a dead woman and making love to her. He's also showing through Scottie how many directors can turn a simple girl like Kim Novak into a haunting screen presence. Hitchcock sets up distinctions between elegant Madeleine and Judy and between Madeleine and Midge (Barbara Bel Geddes), the pert, down-to-earth fiancée whom Scottie dumps for Madeleine. Hitchcock states that, given a choice of women, men are so weak they'll always pick the helpless over the independent, the attractive over the plain, the frigid over the accessible, and the illusionary over the real." - Danny Peary, Guide for the Film Fanatic.
"¿this is certainly one of Hitchcock's most poetic films, a meditation on the destructive power of romantic illusion." - Georges Sadoul, Dictionary of Films
"Less a performance than a helpless confession of herself, Novak's contribution to [Vertigo] is one of the major female performances in the cinema. Among its many themes, Vertigo is about a rough young woman who gives a superb performance as a kind of Grace Kelly blind to being watched, and then finds herself trapped. The "Judy" in Vertigo loves Scottie, but it is her tragedy that she can only meet his desire for her by returning to the dream woman, "Madeleine." Vertigo contains a very subtle analysis of the ordeal and the self-obliteration in acting, and it works all the better because Novak was so direct, unschooled, and slavelike." - David Thomson, The New Biographical Dictionary of Film.
"It's remarkable that, considering all its plot twists, Vertigo should work even better after a first viewing. Once the secret's out, it's a completely different film, and a better one - no longer a harrowing ghost story, it is a profound study of sexual obsession, tied together by the city which best displays the essential acrophobic metaphor." - Scott Simmon, The International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers.
"A film as unsettling as the phobias it deals with, keeping its audience dizzy and off balance throughout." - Halliwell's Film & Video Guide.
Awards and Honors
Vertigo received only two Oscar® nominations in 1959. They were for Best Sound and for Best Art Direction - Set Decoration. Hitchcock was also nominated for the Best Director award by the Directors Guild of America.
Not given its due reward at the time of release, Vertigo has received the highest of praise in recent years. It was placed on the National Film Registry in 1989, and in 2002 it was named the 2nd best film ever made (behind Citizen Kane, 1941) on Sight and Sound's every-ten-year survey of international film critics.
Compiled by John M. Miller & Jeff Stafford
The Critics Corner (6/18 & 12/3) - VERTIGO
Vertigo, concerning a retired detective who becomes possessive of a young woman, was partially inspired by another film's success. Two French novelists, Thomas Narcejac and Pierre Boileau, had written the source novel for Henri-Georges Clouzot's Les Diaboliques (1955), a very successful international thriller and a little too close to Hitchcock's style for the director's comfort. When Narcejac and Boileau published their next novel, D'Entre les Morts (From Among the Dead), Hitchcock made sure Paramount bought the rights for him before someone else made it into a Hitchcock-style thriller.
Hitchcock's first alteration from the original story was to change the locale from Paris to San Francisco, sending the detective, suffering from a fear of heights, up and down the steep inclines of that California city's streets. The second, and most controversial, change was to reveal the novel's twist ending two-thirds of the way through the movie. Hitchcock later explained to director Francois Truffaut that the change was made to highlight suspense over surprise. What will the detective do when he finally discovers the truth we already know?
Hitchcock went through several screenwriters before finally accepting a script by Samuel Taylor under the title, supplied by Hitchcock, "From the Dead, or There'll Never Be Another You." For the cast, Hitchcock wanted James Stewart as the detective from the beginning of the project. Vertigo would be the fourth Stewart film directed by Hitchcock; it would also be the last. Hitchcock would later complain that Stewart, at 49, may have been too old for the role. Kim Novak, as the object of the detective's obsession, was a late addition. Vera Miles, later to play Janet Leigh's sister in Psycho (1960), was to have played the role but bowed out after she became pregnant.
Principal photography began in San Francisco in September 1957 and the movie would ultimately make landmarks of many of its locations: Ernie's Restaurant where Stewart first sees Novak, The Palace of the Legion of Honor where he follows her, and Fort Point where Stewart rescues Novak from the waters below Golden Gate Bridge. Those fans who travel 90 miles south of San Francisco to see the bell tower at the mission at San Juan Bautista, where Vertigo's stunning ending takes place, will find the mission but not the tower; it was only a model matted onto the image of the original building.
Vertigo was not as successful at the box office as the three Hitchcock films that followed, North by Northwest (1959), Psycho and The Birds (1963) but, as Hitchcock's reputation as an artist increased over the 1960's, Vertigo was often given by Hitchcock's champions as his most artistic work. Just as Hitchcock's standing reached its peak in the early 1970's, Vertigo was pulled from release. The combination of the reputation of this now highly regarded film and a lack of access whipped up enthusiasm among movie lovers for the masterpiece they were denied. This could have led to disaster when Vertigo was finally re-released in 1984 but, for once, expectations of greatness were confirmed on the screen. In 1996 the film was extensively restored, given a new Dolby Surround soundtrack, and re-released to even greater acclaim.
Perhaps Alfred Hitchcock was only a showman; certainly that's always how he saw himself. However, Vertigo, of all his movies, makes the greatest case that a showman can sometimes reach heights rarely achieved by even the loftiest artists.
Director and producer: Alfred Hitchcock
Screenplay: Samuel A. Taylor and Alec Coppel, based on the novel D'Entre Les Morts by Thomas Narcejac and Pierre Boileau
Cinematography: Robert Burks
Editor: George Tomasini
Music: Bernard Herrmann
Cast: James Stewart (Det. John 'Scottie' Ferguson), Kim Novak (Madeleine Elster/Judy Barton), Barbara Bel Geddes (Midge Wood), Tom Helmore (Gavin Elster), Henry Jones (Coroner).
C-130m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.
by Brian Cady
Give me your hand. Give me your hand.- Cop
Here I was born, and there I died. It was only a moment for you; you took no notice.- Madeleine
What's this doohickey?- Scotty
It's a brassiere! You know about those things, you're a big boy now.- Midge
I've never run across one like that.- Scotty
It's brand new. Revolutionary up-lift: No shoulder straps, no back straps, but it does everything a brassiere should do. Works on the principle of the cantilevered bridge.- Midge
It does?- Scotty
Only one is a wanderer; two together are always going somewhere.- Madeleine
He did nothing. The law has little to say on things left undone.- Coroner
Hitchcock originally wanted Vera Miles to play Madeleine, but she became pregnant and was therefore unavailable.
The costume designer and Hitchcock worked together to give Madeline's clothing an eerie appearance. Her trademark gray suit was chosen for its color because they thought it seemed odd for a blonde woman to be wearing all gray. Also, they added the black scarf to her white coat because of the odd contrast.
San Juan Batista, the Spanish mission which features in key scenes in the movie doesn't actually have a bell tower - it was added with trick photography. The mission originally had a steeple but it was demolished following a fire.
Hitchcock reportedly spent a week filming a brief scene where Madeleine stares at a portrait in the Palace of the Legion of Honor just to get the lighting right.
Uncredited second-unit cameraman Irmin Roberts invented the famous "forward zoom and reverse tracking" shot (now sometimes called "contra-zoom" or "trombone shot") to convey the sense of vertigo to the audience. The view down the mission stair well cost $19,000 for just a couple of seconds of screen time.
Among the many working titles of this film were From Amongst the Dead, From Among the Dead, From the Dead, Among the Dead, Confessions on Tower and Darkling I Listen. According to information contained in the Paramount Production Records and the Alfred Hitchcock Collection, both located at the AMPAS Library, Paramount officials were nervous about producer-director Alfred Hitchcock's final choice of the title Vertigo, as they feared that potential moviegoers would not know what it meant. The studio finally agreed to use the title Vertigo with the stipulation that the advertising department would use unique art, and that Hitchcock's name would be featured as prominently as the film's title.
The film's unusual and prize-winning opening titles, created by Saul Bass, begin with the Paramount logo, seen in black-and-white, then move to the image of a woman's face. As the credits begin and the image gradually becomes color, the camera zooms in on her eye and a series of swirling Lissajous spirals (invented by a nineteenth-century French mathematician), animated by artist John H. Whitney, appear in a series of different colors. At the end of the opening credits, the camera appears to zoom back out so that the woman's eye is again seen, with the words "directed by Alfred Hitchcock" coming out of her eye.
Several major differences occur between the film and the book, which is set in Paris just before and after World War II. In the book, the detective, Roger Flavières, really believes that "Madeleine" is the reincarnation of her ancestor and that "Renée Sourange" [Judy Barton] is the reincarnation of Madeleine. At the end of the novel, when Renée confesses her part in the crime to kill her lover's wife, Flavières strangles her to death. Neither the detective nor the reader learns of the scheme to commit the murder until the very end of the novel. Also, in the book, Gévigne, Madeleine's husband and Renée's lover, is killed during the war.
Although only Alec Coppel and Samuel Taylor receive onscreen credit for the film's screenplay, studio records report that Maxwell Anderson worked on the script from June 1956 to February 1957. Angus McPhail was signed to work on the screenplay in September 1956, but his contract was canceled "due to illness." Although studio records indicate that McPhail did not complete any work on Vertigo, some modern sources assert that he did turn in a brief outline, including the critical opening scene in which Scottie attempts to save a fellow police officer and fails. According to scripts in the Alfred Hitchcock Collection, however, Coppel wrote the rooftop chase sequence, which was not in the original novel. A February 22, 1957 partial screenplay by Taylor, entitled From the Dead or There'll Never Be Another You, included, as a joke, the name of noted satirist Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914) as the co-author. The studio records add that Hitchcock also did considerable work on the film's screenplay. The Paramount Collection contains information that Coppel had to petition the Writers Guild to secure his onscreen credit, because Taylor attempted to obtain sole credit.
On July 11, 1956, Hollywood Reporter's "Rambling Reporter" column stated that Hitchcock originally wanted to cast Lana Turner as "Madeleine Elster/Judy Barton," but she "wanted too much loot" and was dropped from consideration. Vera Miles was then cast in the part, but after the production was delayed a number of times for various reasons, including two emergency gastronomical operations needed by Hitchcock, she became pregnant and had to give up the role. A handwritten note from associate producer Herbert Coleman, included in studio records, indicates that Jean Wallace May have been under consideration for the part. In mid-November 1956, "Rambling Reporter" announced that Joseph Cotten and Lee J. Cobb were "neck-and-neck" for the role of "Gavin Elster," and a modern source reports that Everett Sloane was also under consideration for the role.
Kim Novak was borrowed from Columbia for the production, in exchange for a payment of $250,000 by Paramount to Columbia and the agreement that James Stewart would co-star with her in the 1958 Columbia release Bell, Book and Candle. Novak resented how much her home studio was profiting from her loanout, according to modern sources, and refused to show up for the beginning of filming of Vertigo. After Novak's salary was re-negotiated to her satisfaction, production finally began. Location shooting featuring the principal actors began on September 30, 1957, with several second units shooting location footage both before and after principal photography.
When Daily Variety first reported the purchase of Thomas Narcejac and Pierre Boileau's novel for Hitchcock in October 1955, it was announced that "much of the filming will be done on location in Louisiana." Vertigo became famous for its use of San Francisco locations, however, and tours of the areas in which the film was shot are still conducted. Studio records list various buildings in San Francisco, Mission Dolores, San Juan Bautista Mission, the Big Basin Redwoods State Park and Watsonville, CA as being among the locations used. Although Ernie's, a famed San Francisco restaurant, was especially chosen by Hitchcock for its evocative atmosphere, no filming was done in the actual restaurant; instead, both the exterior and the entire interior, with its signature red-flocked walls, were reproduced at Paramount Studios. According to studio press releases, Roland and Victor Gotti, the co-owners of Ernie's, and maître d' Carlo Dotto were flown down from San Francisco to appear in the sequence during which "John `Scottie' Ferguson" sees Madeleine for the first time.
The interior of the famed San Francisco department store Ransohoff's was also recreated on the Paramount lot. As pointed out by contemporary studio records and modern sources, the actual San Juan Bautista Mission does not have a bell tower. According to a March 31, 1958 studio memo, the bell tower "was painted in
on glass for the exterior shots [of already shot footage of the existing mission] and the interior of the Tower was built on the set." A July 1982 article in San Francisco magazine reported that the tower mock-up was seventy feet tall.
According to studio records, Italian artist Manlio Sarra painted the "Portrait of Carlotta" used in the film. Photographs of actress Joanne Genthon were sent to Sarra with specific instructions as to how her hair and attire should be depicted, so that they could be duplicated for the appearance of Madeleine. Sarra painted the portrait from transparencies of the photographs of Genthon. [Although studio records indicate that Jacqueline Beer May have played "Carlotta" during the nightmare sequence in which Scottie briefly sees Carlotta at the inquest, other sources report that it was Genthon.] One modern source claims that John Ferren painted the portrait of Carlotta. An early version of the portrait, in which Vera Miles posed as Carlotta, was prepared before she dropped out of the film, but it has not been determined by whom it was painted.
Ferren, who had worked with Hitchcock on the 1956 film The Trouble with Harry, helped to design the nightmare sequence. In the sequence, Scottie's disorientation, terror and guilt are enhanced by a distinctive use of color, as are the disturbing images of him falling down into an empty grave and from the mission bell tower. According to studio papers, Hitchcock specifically ordered that Ferren's onscreen credit read "Special Sequence by," in order not to give away the nature of the sequence. In the 1983 theatrical re-issue, however, the credit was changed to "Dream Sequence Designed by." As described by modern sources, the "vertigo effect" was achieved by building a one-tenth scale model of the interior staircase of the bell tower, laying it on its side and having the camera zoom in on the stairs as it physically tracked backward. The famous "360-degree kiss" between Scottie and Judy in Judy's hotel room was filmed by putting the actors on a turntable, with specially shot transparencies rear-projected and revolving around them.
According to information in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, the PCA responded to a July 1957 screenplay from Paramount with concerns about the implied illicit relationship between Scottie and Judy, and asserted: "It will, of course, be most important that the indication that Elster will be brought back for trial is sufficiently emphasized." A "coda" was written in which, shortly after Judy falls to her death, "Midge Wood" hears on the radio that Elster is about to be arrested for his wife's murder. After Midge turns off the radio, Scottie enters and she silently fixes him a drink. Although the footage was deleted by Hitchcock after his first viewing of the rough cut, and was not included in the original 1958 picture, it was included in 1990s laser disc and DVD releases of the picture. According to an October 1996 SF Weekly article, San Francisco radio personality Dave McElhatton originally supplied the voice of the radio announcer, but when the footage was included as supplementary material, his voice was replaced by the restoration team (see below) "in order to minimize" the importance of the scene.
Some modern sources state that initially Hitchcock included voice-over narration by Scottie, but then dropped it, and point out that the "flashback sequence," in which Judy reveals, via her letter, her participation in Elster's murder of his wife, was a major source of contention for Hitchcock. After the film's first preview in early May 1958, Hitchcock decided to delete the scene and five hundred prints of the picture without the scene were prepared and shipped to exhibitors, but Barney Balaban, head of Paramount, insisted that the sequence be reinstated, which it was before its release.
Because of a musicians' strike in Hollywood, composer Bernard Herrmann could not conduct the score he had written, as he usually did. According to both contemporary news items and modern sources, part of the score was recorded in London by the London Symphony, until the English Musicians' Union decided to support the American studio musicians' strike and refused to continue. The rest of the score was then recorded in Vienna. Muir Mathieson was the conductor both in London and Vienna. According to a June 1958 Hollywood Reporter news item, the film's exhibition in Los Angeles was picketed by the still-striking musicians, who were protesting it having been scored overseas.
Herrmann's score for Vertigo, along with his music for Hitchcock's 1960 film Psycho, is considered to be his finest work by modern scholars. Because of legal prohibitions against using the Vienna-recorded music, contemporary soundtrack albums from Vertigo featured only the music recorded in London, and it was not until 1996, when a newly recorded version of Herrmann's score, played by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, was released that the entire score was available. Studio records indicate that Jay Livingston and Ray Evans were paid for a title song for the film, which modern sources report was commissioned by Paramount in an effort to explain the word vertigo. The song was not used in the film, however. According to contemporary news items, Paramount hosted an elaborate, two-day press preview of the film in early May 1958 in San Francisco. One hundred journalists were flown to San Francisco from around the country to attend the preview, a banquet and tours of the filming locations used in the city.
The film received mixed reviews upon its initial release, with many trade paper reviewers praising it extensively, especially its use of color, locations and music, but other reviewers finding themselves unsettled by the unusual mystery and love story. Although Bosley Crowther of New York Times called the film "devilishly farfetched," he also carefully revealed only a few details of the plot in order not to disturb moviegoers' "inevitable enjoyment" of it. Numerous other reviewers also noted that it would be unfair to reveal the picture's ending. Pronouncing Vertigo "one of the most fascinating love stories ever filmed," the Hollywood Reporter critic deemed that it was "a picture no filmaker [sic] should miss-if only to observe the pioneering techniques achieved by Hitchcock and his co-workers." Time, on the other hand, famously referred to the film as "another Hitchcock-and-bull story," while the New Yorker opined that the director had "never before indulged in such farfetched nonsense." Motion Picture Herald Prod Digest predicted that the film would be "an odds on bet" in the "blockbuster sweepstakes," but while it was not a flop, neither did it perform notably well at the box office. The picture had its first theatrical rerelease in 1963.
Modern sources add Isabel Analla and Jack Ano to the cast, and note that Polly Burson served as Novak's stunt double for the scenes in which she jumped into the San Francisco bay and from the bell tower. Hitchcock makes his customary cameo by walking past Elster's shipbuilding office just before Scottie enters. Vertigo marked the fourth and final film collaboration between Hitchcock and Stewart.
Vertigo received Academy Award nominations for Best Art Direction and Best Sound, and Hitchcock received a DGA nomination for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures. In 2007, the film was ranked 9th on AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies-10th Anniversary Edition list of the greatest American films, moving up from the 61st position it occupied on AFI's 1997 list. Vertigo was also on both AFI's 100 Most Heart-Pounding Movies list and the 100 Greatest Love Stories. In 1989, the film was added to the National Film Registry and in 1996, was named the Most Distinguished Reissue by the New York Film Critics Circle.
As with five other films directed by Hitchcock and released by either Warner Bros. or Paramount (Rope, Rear Window, The Trouble with Harry, the 1956 version of The Man Who Knew Too Much and Psycho, see entries above), the rights to Vertigo reverted completely to Hitchcock eight years after its initial release. Hitchcock sold the rights to Psycho to Universal but kept the other films, which were rarely screened during the 1970s and 1980s. Some modern sources have speculated that Hitchcock deliberately withheld them from exhibition in order to increase their value, while others state that Vertigo in particular was such a personal project for the director that he did not want it shown anymore. After Hitchcock's death in 1980, litigation held up the distribution of the pictures until 1983, when all five films were leased from the Hitchcock estate and released as a package by Universal Classics. Although the 1983-84 releases occasionally featured newly struck prints, they were made from the existing, deteriorating negatives. In 1993, Los Angeles Times reported that the theatrical and video re-releases of the films had earned Universal approximately fifty million dollars, thirty percent of which went to the Hitchcock estate, overseen by Hitchcock's daughter Pat.
In the early 1990s, James C. Katz, former head of the by-then defunct Universal Classics, along with producer and film historian Robert A. Harris, began restoring Vertigo for Universal. Their efforts to find, clean, restore and digitize the various components of the film and create new negatives in 35mm and 65mm took approximately thirty-six months, according to a April 22, 1997 The Times (London) article. Their efforts resulted in film and sound elements being found in the U.S., Germany, Italy and Spain, according to other 1990s sources. The team was so determined to recreate the original film as closely as possible that they even obtained a sample of the original paint used for the green Jaguar driven by Madeleine in order to match its color. In interviews, Katz and Harris relayed that because the score and dialogue were remastered in digital stereo, the accompanying Foley track (ambient noises such as footsteps, bells, bird calls, etc.) had to be re-recorded, with a few additions to cover portions of the soundtrack that could not be restored to a pristine state. They were guided in recreating the sound effects track by Hitchcock's dubbing notes from the 1950s, and also received help from associate producer Herbert Coleman.
According to several interviews with Katz, although Vertigo was shot in VistaVision, it was "reduction-printed" to widescreen 35mm for exhibition, and therefore had never been shown in its proper format. Presented for the first time in Super VistaVision 70mm and DTS digital stereo, Vertigo was shown at exclusive engagements in eight U.S. cities in 1996-97, including as a special presentation at the New York Film Festival on October 4, 1996. Novak and Pat Hitchcock toured extensively with the preserved film to promote it, both in the U.S. and Great Britain. According to a October 7, 1996 New York article, the restoration cost more than $1,000,000, and other sources noted how successful the reissue was, both at the box office and with fans and critics. Subsequently, special video and DVD collector's versions of the film were released, featuring the restored print. A thirty-minute documentary about the restoration, entitled "Obsessed with Vertigo," was broadcast on the American Movie Classics channel in 1997.
Vertigo, which received lavish critical praise upon its 1983 and 1996 re-releases, is considered by many modern scholars to be Hitchcock's "masterpiece," and has influenced numerous filmmakers. The many pictures bearing a resemblance to Vertigo include productions as disparate as the 1961 French film Last Year at Marienbad, directed by Alain Resnais, the 1969 François Truffaut-directed The Mississippi Mermaid (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1961-70), Brian De Palma's 1976 Obsession, which featured a score by Herrmann, and the 1977 spoof of Hitchcock films, High Anxiety, directed by Mel Brooks.
Winner of the 1996 award for Distinguished Re-Issue from the New York Film Critics Circle.
Released in United States 1996
Released in United States 1997
Released in United States 2013
Released in United States August 16, 1985
Released in United States February 1997
Released in United States May 1958
Released in United States November 1971
Released in United States on Video December 1988
Re-released in United States May 1988
Re-released in United States November 1, 1996
Shown at "Truffaut Plus", a Film Society of Lincoln Center Retrospective August 16, 1985.
Shown at Berlin International Film Festival (special screening) February 13-24, 1997.
Shown at New York Film Festival (Special Festival Events) September 29 - October 13, 1996.
Shown at Wellington Film Festival in New Zealand July 16 - August 2, 1997.
Formerly distributed by Paramount Pictures and MCA Home Video.
James Katz and Robert Harris received a special citation (1996) for their "Vertigo" restoration from the National Society of Film Critics.
Selected in 1989 for inclusion in the Library of Congress' National Film Registry.
Released in USA on laserdisc December 1988.
Released in United States 1996 (Shown at New York Film Festival (Special Festival Events) September 29 - October 13, 1996.)
Released in United States 1997 (Shown at Wellington Film Festival in New Zealand July 16 - August 2, 1997.)
Released in United States 2013 (Special Screenings)
Released in United States February 1997 (Shown at Berlin International Film Festival (special screening) February 13-24, 1997.)
Released in United States May 1958
Re-released in Toronto (York) October 25, 1996.
Re-released in United States May 1988
Released in United States August 16, 1985 (Shown at "Truffaut Plus", a Film Society of Lincoln Center Retrospective August 16, 1985.)
Released in United States November 1971 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (The Alfred Hitchcock Marathon) November 4-14, 1971.)
Re-released in United States November 1, 1996
Released in United States on Video December 1988