As I write this it is currently half free in the morning. I can’t sleep and I probably won’t be sleeping anytime soon. So let’s talk about my problem with Vertigo.
The 1958 film is often considered one of Hitchcock’s best, up there with Psycho and Rear Window. It follows Jimmy Stewart’s character, a former cop suffering from vertigo after witnessing his partner fall off a roof during a pursuit. He’s hired by an old friend, who is now a successful business tycoon, to keep an eye on his wife as she may have lost her mind.
Stewart tails her for a few days, keeping well out of sight up until he has to get directly involved with preventing her suicide. The two then start having an affair which tragically ends with the woman (played by Kim Novak) dying. Or at least it seems.
Turns out Kim Novaks character is an actress hired by the business tycoon just so that he could be cleared of murder. Stewart would testify that the wife was insane, hence a clear motive for suicide and no sign of foul play.
It’s a weird movie. I mean, why doesn’t the business tycoon just divorce his wife? It’s not like he’s making $45,000 and can’t afford a good lawyer. He could fuck her up in a court of law. Then again this was 1958. Divorce was still taboo and only really performed in cases of provable domestic abuse or if both partners just wanted to tap out. And seeing how his wife probably didn’t want to separate, I think the business tycoon preferred the title of widower over divorcee.
Stewart mopes about the next ten minutes, depressed. That is until he meets a woman who looks just like your mans wife, also played by Kim Novak. Stewart has a few creepy interactions which miraculously sparks a relationship between the two. After their first meeting Novak has this inner monologue, revealing that she and the supposed dead girlfriend of Stewart’s are the same person- that she is an actress hired by the business tycoon in an elaborate plot of murder.
That’s my problem with the movie; that one goddamn internal monologue.
I mean putting aside the fact that stylistically the monologue just comes out of nowhere and creates this bizarre sentiment on screen, it totally ruins the intrigue of the plot.
After hearing this information, the audience is then presented with the rest of Novak’s and Stewart’s relationship which is…creepy. To say the least. He starts dressing her up in his old girlfriend’s clothes and even makes her dye her hair. All of this weirdness is dampened by the fact that we know that the two women are one and the same.
Upon finishing this film I imagined how better it would have been if we weren’t given that information via the internal monologue, like you just leave that part out and keep the movie the exact same.
You’d have yourself Jimmy Stewart, grief stricken and heart broken as he wanders the streets of San Francisco. He encounters this doppelganger and feels obliged to see her. Despite being a weird stranger, Stewart manages to get the woman out for dinner and develops a relationship with her.
Then things get weird. Jimmy starts dressing her up like his old girlfriend, which she is visibly not very enthused about. At this moment in time the film has stopped being a mystery and is now a descent into madness. The audience is left thinking “…what are you doing, Jimmy? This isn’t healthy” as they watch Stewart descend into even weirder and weirder territories.
Then, out of the blue, Jimmy and the audience are slapped in the face by the big fat dick of reality. They collectively realise after piecing together some clues that the two different characters are actually the same woman. Stewart’s weird behaviour is subverted by a major plot twist which dials the suspense up to eleven.
Gaining this new information, Stewart confronts his “new” girlfriend by dragging her up the same clock tower that his “old” girlfriend jumped off of. Along the way she confesses her crimes and to the conspiracy by the business tycoon. Stewart scares the shit out of her but of course the two reconcile. Unfortunately the film ends tragically when Kim falls to her death by accident, Stewart watching as she falls- ironically, he is now cured of his Vertigo.
It’s a strange yet compelling movie that really could have only been made in the golden age of Hollywood. Honestly, the only thing that surpasses my suspension for disbelief is that I cannot accept that any woman under forty would fuck a fifty year old Jimmy Stewart.
I mean, I imagine he was a nice guy but come on. He’s a middle aged man. He can only get it up two days out of a year and they’re both work days. It also doesn’t help that he has the least seductive voice known to man.
Either way, the film was good. But it could have been a hell of a lot better.