Directed By: Alfred Hitchcock

Starring: James Stewart, Kim Novak, Barbara Bel Geddes, Tom Helmore, Raymond Bailey, Ellen Corby, Henry Jones, and Lee Patrick

"Only one is a wanderer; two together are always going somewhere."
-Madeleine Elster (Kim Novak)

I hate it when film experts try to list the greatest films of all time.  Filmmaking is too diverse an art form for such subjective labelling, and it reflects the tastes of just a few.  Often, experts put too much emphasis on older movies.  Take the 2012 Sight & Sound poll and its choices for the ten greatest films of all time for example.  The most recent film on the list was released in 1964.  While I respect that these experts want to honor early influential films in which filmmakers pioneered many of the techniques we use to day, disregarding a half century of film afterward does nothing to honor the work of filmmakers who have expanded upon these techniques and elevated the art form to greater heights.  The number one movie on that list was Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo.  While this dreamy psychological thriller is a wonderful motion picture, it's hardly the "greatest of all time".

San Francisco police detective John "Scottie" Ferguson (James Stewart) has a severe case of acrophobia (fear of heights), and it costs a fellow police officer his life while chasing a perp across the rooftops of the city.  After the tragic incident, Scottie retires from the force and spends quite a bit of time with his ex-fiancée Midge Wood (Barbara Bel Geddes).  Sometime later, an old college buddy by the name of Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore) has a proposition that will get Scottie back in action.  Gavin needs Scottie to follow his wife Madeleine (Novak) because he fears for her life.  Scottie agrees to do this for his old friend and gets back into the life he left behind.  As Scottie tails Madeleine around various landmarks in San Francisco—the local art museum, the McKittrick Hotel, and the Golden Gate Bridge—he witnesses Madeleine's bizarre behavior and sees her as a risk to herself.  He doesn't understand why Madeleine is doing what she does, but Scottie knows that it has something to do with a dead woman named Carlotta Valdes who lived in nineteenth century San Francisco.

Vertigo is one of Alfred Hitchcock's most alluring films.  He gives this dreamy psychological thriller a romantic mystique that allows him to throw the veil over his audience's eyes and tell one twisted story.  With all the trademark elements of a Hitchcock film, the legendary director builds to a shocking tragedy and then completely flips the script afterward.  He does so with a rich score and the beautiful backdrop of San Francisco in the 1950s.  Hitch does it all with two charming leads in James Stewart and Kim Novak who light up the big screen with their romantic chemistry.  All in all, Vertigo is one hypnotic thrill ride and a fine piece of filmmaking.

The suspense and thrills of Vertigo are classic Hitchcock.  He creates this strange, almost supernatural mystery around Kim Novak's Madeleine Elster.  As the story continues to develop, Hitch focuses on Madeleine and her bizarre behavior to the point that nothing else matters.  He hypnotizes his audience with this eccentric storyline.  Meanwhile, he weaves a tale of deceit that will come to life in a surprising way later in the movie.  It's definitely one of Hitchcock's more unpredictable movies and a masterful exercise in suspense and thrills.

There's something that's absolutely engrossing about Vertigo.  When Hitch isn't ratcheting up the suspense, he's crafting a lovely romance between James Stewart and Kim Novak.  When the two leads are "wandering about" on screen, Hitch is giving them a helping hand.  With a lush melodic score, he perfectly accentuates their charming on-screen romance.  When Hitch uses 1950s San Francisco—the city skyline, the Golden Gate Bridge, and surrounding gorgeous landscapes—the romance between Novak and Stewart becomes that much more enchanting.  When Stewart and Novak are embracing one another as Hitch pumps up the music and waves crash on the beach, it's hard not to fall in love with Vertigo.

James Stewart and Kim Novak light up the big screen with their performances in Vertigo.  Stewart, a frequent collaborator with Hitchcock, undoubtedly has the gift of gab and puts it to good use as Scottie Ferguson.  Scottie is a caring lover in Madeleine's hour of need and a fierce advocate for justice whenever he senses any form of impropriety.  Stewart ultimately gives a passionate performance that strongly reflects both sides of his character.  As Madeleine Elster and Judy Barton, Kim Novak is endlessly charming.  She puts a unique twist on the traditional damsel in distress with her bizarre character but more importantly manages to imbue the movie with an incredible warmth.

The ending to Vertigo is arguably the best part of the movie.  Hitchcock makes it so definitive yet so inconclusive at the same time.  We see Madeleine's fate, but we don't know whether Scottie's finally free of the past.  With Scottie standing on the ledge of the church bell tower and looking a little froggy, it could go either way.  It's a potent conclusion open to so much interpretation.  It ultimately speaks to the power of a Hitchcock movie.  Vertigo gets a sober rating.  Check out this classic thriller if you're in the mood for a dreamy mystery with lots of twists and turns.