Picks and Pans Review: Vertigo

updated 01/09/1984 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/09/1984 AT 01:00 AM EST

Some still think of Alfred Hitchcock as merely a maker of thrillers, good for a few chills and little more. They are wrong. The film that best makes the case for Hitchcock's genius is this masterpiece, released in 1958 and now enjoying its first national revival. It stars James Stewart and Kim Novak, hardly darlings of the high culture set. But Vertigo is as complex, mesmerizing and memorable as anything from Bergman, Fellini or Renoir. Such fine directors as Francois (The Bride Wore Black) Truffaut, Brian (Obsession) DePalma and Robert (Still of the Night) Benton have tried unsuccessfully to re-create its spell. Set in San Francisco, the film casts Stewart as a detective with a fear of heights. He's trailing a rich client's wife—an elegant blonde named Madeleine (played by a stunning Novak), who seems preoccupied with death. For most of the film Hitchcock employs little dialogue, just Bernard Herrmann's haunting score, as Stewart follows Madeleine through an art gallery, a church and a graveyard. The effect is hypnotic. When he sees Madeleine jump from a church belltower, Stewart, paralyzed by vertigo, is powerless to help her. Later, he meets a trashy shopgirl (Novak again, this time in a brunet wig) and tries to recreate her in Madeleine's image. There is no trick surprise ending; the director unravels the mystery two-thirds of the way through the film. Hitchcock's concern is obsession, the romantic's insistence on imposing illusions on reality. (Hitchcock himself, deserted by Grace Kelly when she became a princess, vainly tried to fashion other actresses in her image.) Vertigo, a neurotic dream world profoundly visualized, is Hitchcock's most personal, disturbing film and, not coincidentally, a work of art. (PG)

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