Tuesday, February 5, 2008

I don't get Vertigo

I suppose it's nice to be able to climb up a ladder and not get an overwhelming sense of dizziness. :-) Of course, that's not really what I mean. Turner Classic Movies is airing the 1958 Alfred Hitchcock movie Vertigo Wednesday, February 6 at 8:00 PM ET. And I seem to be the one person who doesn't understand the greatness of this movie.

Now, I should point out here that I'm a huge fan of the movies of Alfred Hitchcock. Immediately preceding Vertigo on TCM, at 5:45 PM Wednesday, is Hitchcock's 1940 movie Foreign Correspondent, which I love. And Vertigo will be followed at 10:15 PM by Rear Window, another of Hitchcock's greatest movies. But I just can't help but find Vertigo terribly overrated.

James Stewart plays a San Francisco cop who develops a severe case of vertigo after he sees his partner fall to his death from a rooftop. He is then hired as a sort of private detective to follow around a woman who, her husband believes, is going insane. She dies by falling from a belfry after Stewart's vertigo prevents him from following her up the belfry. He then proceeds to meet a woman who looks suspiciously like the one who had fallen from the belfry....

The plot itself isn't that bad, but I can't get into the characters, or the direction. Stewart comes across as a frigid (or the male equivalent), heartless bastard, treating his caretaker (Barbara Bel Geddes) like dirt and spending much of the movie being totally unsympathetic. And he's supposed to be the good guy! Stewart is also a hard nut to crack in Rear Window, where he spends the entire movie laid up in a leg cast, but he's much more likeable in Rear Window: Hitchcock gives the audience reason to believe that Stewart is in the right, and we can understand why he acts the way he does even when nobody else believes him.

The woman Stewart is supposed to follow (played by Kim Novak) is little more than a walking mannequin with next to no character development, and the scenes of Stewart following Novak around are unbelievably slow to develop. Now, a lack of action isn't necessarily a bad thing. There isn't very much action in Hitchcock's earlier Notorious, but the plot is much superior, the characters are more interesting, and critically, the suspense is much better developed in Notorious.

But the folks at the AFI selected Vertigo as the #9 American movie of all time, higher than any other Hitchcock movie. So obviously, there's a fairly substantial consensus out that that Vertigo is this utter masterpiece. What is it about the movie that I just don't understand?

1 comment:

Ginger Ingenue said...

I honestly had to watch Vertigo about ten times before its greatness hit me on the head, and now I adore it! :)

The first time I saw it, though, I just shook my head, and admitted to no one, how I too just 'didn't get it'.

You could always keep trying. :)