Created by Samuel A. Taylor (1912-2000) & Alec Coppel (1907-72)
After Pierre Boileau (1906-88) & Thomas Narcejac (1908-98)
“Scottie, do you believe that someone out of the past–someone dead–can enter and take possession of a living being?”
— Gavin Elster:
(May contain spoilers)
Retired San Francisco police detective JOHN “SCOTTIE” FERGUSON (Jimmy Stewart) already has more than his fair share of problems, in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 classic, Vertigo. He has back problems, a morbid fear of heights that cost him his job (a colleague fell to his death during a chase), and he’s growing bored with his retirement.
With nothing better to do, he reluctantly agrees to follow Madeleine, the wife of wealthy Gavin Elster, an old college friend, who worries that his platinum blonde trophy wife (played by Kim Novak) is not quite right. She’s become obsessed with the past, or more specifically the past of Carlotta Valdes, her long-dead great-grandmother, whom Madeleine never knew and who committed suicide a long, long time ago. Is Madeleine being haunted? Or possessed? And why? Or is she just nuts?
Scottie agrees to take on the investigation (a private investigation, if you will), as much out of curiosity and boredom as loyalty, I suspect, and soon discovers he’s not impervious to Madeleine’s frosty but elegant charms. He follows her around town like a lovesick puppy (film critic Roger Ebert astutely noted the “less obvious ways that the movie sneaks in the concept of falling, as when Scottie drives down San Francisco’s hills, but never up”) and environs (which are not without charms of their own–the scenery in the film is absolutely gorgeous!), and eventually finds himself falling for her. Hard.
More surprising, though, is that the ice melts and she falls for him, as well. It’s yet another twist in a psychologically complex and at times eyeball-rolling plot that eventually leads to that damn San Juan Bautista mission bell tower… and Madeleine’s fall to her death.
And then, later, heart-broken John spots a woman on the street. It’s Judy Barton, who–despite her brunette hair and her working girl demeanor–is a dead ringer for Madeleine. They fall for each other. Or do they? Is it possible Scottie himself has become not quite right?
Now arguably considered Hitchcock’s masterpiece, the film did okay upon its release, but its stature has grown steadily over the decades, until it now hovers up there in the cinematic pantheon alongside Citizen Kane, Casablanca and a select few others. Recommended.
By the way, in the original 1954 novel, D’entre les morts, set in France, the main character wasn’t a former cop, but a Parisian lawyer named Roger Flavière. So John ‘Scottie’ Ferguson wasn’t really created by Boileau and Narcejac, but by Samuel A. Taylor and Alec Coppel, when they adapted the novel for the screen.
- “Boileau and Narcejac weave an increasingly clever suspense narrative with a truly inventive take on identity, obsession, and desire.
— Publishers Weekly on a reprint of the novel (September 2015)
- “YOU might say that Alfred Hitchcock’s latest mystery melodrama, “Vertigo,” is all about how a dizzy fellow chases after a dizzy dame, the fellow being an ex-detective and the dame being—well, you guess. That is as fair a thumbnail digest as we can hastily contrive to give you a gist of this picture without giving the secret away. And, believe us, that secret is so clever, even though it is devilishly far-fetched, that we wouldn’t want to risk at all disturbing your inevitable enjoyment of the film.If that recommendation is sufficient, read no further.
— Bosley Crowther (May 1958, The New York Times
- “It’s difficult to put into words exactly what Vertigo means to me as both a film lover and as a filmmaker. As is the case with all great films, truly great films, no matter how much has been said and written about them, the dialogue about it will always continue. Because any film as great as Vertigo demands more than just a sense of admiration – it demands a personal response.”
— Martin Scorsese
- D’entre les morts (1954; English title: “The Living and The Dead”)
- VERTIGO | Buy this DVD | Buy the Blu-Ray | Watch it now!
Working title: “From Among the Dead”
Based on D’entre les morts by Pierre Boileau & Thomas Narcejac
Screenplay by Alex Coppel and Samuel Taylor
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Produced by Alfred J. Hitchcock Productions/Paramount Pictures
Starring James Stewart as JOHN “SCOTTIE” FERGUSON
Also starring Kim Novak, Barbara Bel Geddes, Tom Helmore, Henry Jones, Raymond Bailey, Ellen Corby, Konstantin Shayne, Lee Patrick