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Universal Studios Home Video presents
Vertigo (Hitchcock Masterpiece Collection) (1958)

"You remind me of somebody."
- Scottie (James Stewart)

Review By: Jon Danziger   
Published: November 28, 2005

Stars: James Stewart, Kim Novak, Barbara Bel Geddes 
Director: Alfred Hitchcock

MPAA Rating: PG
Run Time: 02h:09m:34s
Release Date: October 04, 2005
UPC: 025192834622
Genre: suspense thriller

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

The contrarian in me can find a raft of reasons to run down this movie, and its place in the Hitchcock canon—it's not as elegantly constructed as Rear Window, nor as flat-out loopy and fun as Shadow of a Doubt, nor is it the apotheosis of a Hitchcock suspense picture, as is North By Northwest. But it's more shot through with pain and anguish than any of the director's other films—it's almost as if the mask has come off for this one, that here Hitch isn't keeping us at a bemused and clinical distance. Add to that the unbelievably accomplished technical values of the film, and you've got a movie that routinely and rightly shows up on lists of the greatest movies ever made.

James Stewart's performance in the central role is in some respects the glue that holds the movie together, and watching him become unhinged, then paralyzed, then manic with passion and regret, makes this one of the finest turns by a great film icon. Stewart plays John Ferguson, known more familiarly as Scottie—an awful accident while he was on the San Francisco police force sent a uniformed cop plunging off a building to his death, and left Scottie with such an acute case of acrophobia that he was forced to turn in his badge. His one great pal is Midge, played by Barbara Bel Geddes, and Scottie is alternately oblivious to and willfully ignorant of her great love for him, content to swing by her apartment for the occasional cocktail and bit of banter. All this is quickly undone by a phone call from an old college friend—Gavin Elster, who has married well and is prospering in the shipping business, is fearful for his young wife. Gavin hires Scottie on to keep tabs on the lovely Madeleine, and to see about keeping her out of harm's way.

Scottie's relationship with Madeleine is where the juice of the movie is, and it's a psychoanalyst's cornucopia of riches. She's fixated on an ancestor, named Carlotta Valdes, to whom she bears a striking resemblance—Carlotta met with an unhappy end, a suicide, and Madeleine seems almost possessed by the spirit of her forebear, fated to re-enact Carlotta's untimely demise. She's beautiful and tragic, and of course she pushes all of Scottie's buttons—how he wrestles with his demons, and with hers, is what gives this movie so much of its resonance.

It's an astonishingly well-made movie, especially when shot on location—at times it's like Hitchcock's sad little love poem to San Francisco, and the use of color is just eye-popping, especially in this restored version. It's hard not to read the storyline as a parable of Hitch's relationship with Grace Kelly, and to imagine just how heartbroken he was when she ditched their professional partnership for love and riches with Prince Rainier of Monaco—Hitch had a thing for blondes before, and would spend subsequent years exacting an indirect sort of revenge. Let me do a little naysaying now, for there are some aspects of Vertigo that even its most ardent admirers would have to admit are a little ungainly. The first is Kim Novak, as Madeleine—she isn't in truth a very good actress, even as a Grace Kelly manquée; perhaps her very ordinariness is crucial to Scottie's irrational obsession (is there any other kind of obsession?), but, without given much to say, she's asked to shoulder a lot of the load here, and she doesn't always get the job done. She's not helped much by some exposition that's downright painful—one voice-over in particular, late in the story, is necessary to keep the audience clued in, but dramaturgically, it's really kind of hideous. Also, a transitional dream sequence doesn't feel like a dream at all—it's too arty, more of a self-satisfied collage than a dip into the unconscious.

But Vertigo is a triumph nonetheless—the longing in Scottie's eyes, the consistently riveting use of döppelganger figures, the strong commitment to following through on the theme of the piece, and the devastating finale give the movie a cumulative power that will leave you breathless, and that will resonate whenever your thoughts return to a lost or an unrequited love.

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: A previous stand-alone release of the title looked fair enough, but lacked an anamorphic transfer—Universal has now righted that wrong, and this transfer is amazingly lush and rich. The only quibble—and it's a slight one—is that the handsome restoration has made Hitch's weakness for rear-projection shots seem that much more a fault, for, especially compared to the Northern California location shooting, these sequences are wanting.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The audio may not draw the gasps that the picture does, but the balance between the dialogue and Bernard Herrmann's haunting score is just fine, and there's not a bit of hiss to be heard.

Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 35 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish, French with remote access
2 Original Trailer(s)
1 Alternate Endings
Production Notes
1 Documentaries
1 Feature/Episode commentary by restorers Robert A. Harris and James C. Katz, and associate producer Herbert Coleman
Packaging: Box Set
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. archive of storyboards and sketches
Extras Review: The film's restorers, Robert A. Harris and James C. Katz, preside over a commentary track; sometimes they talk about their restoration work, and at others function as interviewers with Herbert Coleman, a producer on the movie, who remembers details of the shoot with a fair amount of clarity. It's not a revelatory track and it's got its blank patches, but there's a good amount of information there, some of which is duplicated in Obsessed with Vertigo (33m:14s), produced in 1997 for AMC. It includes Martin Scorsese singing the praises of the movie, along with recollections from Novak, Bel Geddes, and screenwriter Samuel Taylor, and relates that, were it not for her pregnancy, Vera Miles would have starred in the movie rather than Novak.

An alternate ending (02m:10s), demanded by foreign censors, is pretty preposterous, and undercuts the movie's climax terribly. Production notes are brief but informative; one trailer is from the original release of the film, the other from the theatrical run of its restoration. Also worth more than a casual glance are The Vertigo Archives, crammed with production designer Henry Bumstead's lush and lovely sketches and storyboards, and with occasional simple pencil drawings by Hitchcock.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

If you've not seen it before, it is hard to shut out the hype, but Vertigo is really as masterful as everyone says, and it's one of those films that only seems richer upon consideration and re-viewing. This box set brings us the long-anticipated anamorphic transfer, so you can have your heart break all over again in VistaVision and Technicolor.


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