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When? 1958

What's it rated? PG

Where's it available? DVD

Of course, I've watched Alfred Hitchock's Vertigo, the ninth greatest movie of all time according to the American Film Institute, at least once before July 1, 2017, right? Wrong. I'm ashamed to admit it, but this was my first time seeing the flick. Any illusions that I'm some film buff with any shred of credibility to review movies for a newspaper are out the window, right? OK, that might be a little harsh.

For those who need a refresher, Vertigo is based on a 1954 French novel D'entre les morts (From Among the Dead), set in the ever-gorgeous San Francisco, and stars Hollywood icons James Stewart and Kim Novak. It's a psychological romance thriller. John Ferguson (Stewart) is a police detective who one day, while chasing a bad guy, witnesses his partner plummet to his death from atop a building. Ferguson develops acrophobia (fear of heights) and vertigo as a result and quits the police force.

But he's roped back into the detective game by an old college friend, Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore), who complains that his wife, Madeleine (Novak), is possessed by a dead woman's spirit. Elster wants Ferguson to follow her and find out more. While initially resistant, Ferguson becomes more and more entranced by Madeleine because she does appear to be overtaken by the spirit of a Carlotta Valdes, who committed suicide long ago. Ferguson begins to fall in love with Madeleine, as he follows her to some iconic locations in San Francisco: The Mission, Legion of Honor art museum, and Fort Point.

While slow-paced like many a movie from the '50s and before, Hitchcock puts his timeless magic touch on the way the film unfolds. There's the suspenseful orchestral music, the trippy camera tricks (it was the first film to use the dolly zoom to distort and disorient, mimicking vertigo), and the Hitchcock-ian twists, surprises, and psychedelic character building. The depiction of San Francisco is probably my favorite element of the film. The city is beautifully shot, with some excellent, artistic, and eye-pleasing sequences of Ferguson scouring the urban landscape for Madeleine. There's also fantastic sequences of 17-Mile Drive in Monterey and Mission San Juan Bautista in San Benito. As a feat of directing and cinematography, this film is up there for me.

Did my millennial attention span grow a little bored during moments of Vertigo? Definitely. But it felt to me like Vertigo holds up damn well 60 years later—a classic story, setting, and actors. (128 min.) Δ

—Peter Johnson


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