Vertigo
1958
One of Alfred Hitchcock's darkest and most compelling suspense films tells the story of police detective Scottie Ferguson (James Stewart), who has a crippling fear of heights -- and an all-consuming obsession with a married woman. When an old friend asks him to tail his wife (Kim Novak), Scottie is drawn into a vortex of deceit and murder. But that's only the beginning as a mesmerizing score draws Scottie to the film's haunting final shot.

Scott Hardie: “It ruled.”

On this DVD's surprisingly non-dull bonus documentary about the two-year restoration of "Vertigo," one of the project heads, who has undoubtedly seen it hundreds of times as a matter of necessity, remarks that he envies the new generations who will get to enjoy the film for the first time. I am one of the people of whom he speaks: For all the movies I've ever seen, I regretfully admit that not a single Hitchcock has been among them. It's an oversight I intend to correct in short order by renting his trifecta of greatest films, "North by Northwest," "Psycho," and first and foremost, "Vertigo."

I understand that the legendary status this film came to achieve with critics has to do with what it reveals about Hitchcock the man and director, what he thought about making fiction and what he thought about women. But, because this is my first Hitch, I can only express how thoroughly I enjoyed it as a gripping thriller. Jimmy Stewart's rusty voice may wear out its welcome early, but his effortless charm and sympathetic nature never do. It is simultaneously crucial and preposterous that a hardened man like him would fall so passionately in love for a mysterious woman in a matter of days, but Stewart nails the performance with carefully measured intensity and those big vulnerable eyes. At first he seems to keep the world at an arm's length because he disdains it, but through Stewart's performance we gradually come to recognize the easily wounded spirit he's protecting within, long before that part of himself is ripped open by Hitchcock's torturous plot twists.

And what a plot. Hitch's direction may seem boring and old-fashioned against today's genre pieces, but it proves how captivating a great thriller can be when it has a fantastic story and sticks to it with rapt attention, something that doesn't happen much any more. Whether or not there truly is anything supernatural happening is as unimportant as whether the kid in "The Sixth Sense" actually sees ghosts, when you consider that the tension would be just as high one way or the other. It's an engrossing tale, well told, that leaves you guessing till the breathtaking final shot; that is, if you're lucky enough not to have seen it yet. If so, don't wait a lifetime to change that; this is one classic mystery that will not disappoint.

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