Vertigo is unquestionably Alfred Hitchcocks darkest film. It is particularly grim and depressing in tone, not even leavened with Hitchcocks customary droll sense of humour. However, there is a magnificently subdued and brooding power to the film. There is a strong seductive thrill as we become involved in the unveiling mystery of Madeleines behaviour. One of the most mesmerising sequences is the half-hour pursuit of Kim Novak by James Stewart, which continues for long periods only to the accompaniment of Bernard Herrmanns sweeping, brooding score on the soundtrack. In these scenes, the locations almost become a third character in the film as Hitchcock takes us through a dream-like landscape of North California autumnal redwood forests, the Golden Gate Bridge in Technicolor splendour, old Spanish churches and turbulent shorelines covered with gnarled, twisted trees that sit like dark symbols in a dream. It is something that suggests no longer standardised American locations but an exotically beautiful Old World country hidden inside America.
Vertigo suffer from a miscalculation on Hitchcocks part. Namely, that he gives the twist ending away three-quarters of the way through, rather than leaving it to the end. After that point, one simply loses interest in the obsessiveness of James Stewarts character, a person who seems fairly obtuse and unsympathetic from the start anyway there seems no reason why the audience could not have made the discovery at the same his character did. Thereafter the film becomes less a thriller (of exceedingly contrived plotting) than it does a study in obsession. It is frustrating and hard to see why such a meticulous technician as Hitchcock could have miscalculated here. Hitchcock is not helped by unsympathetic performers. Kim Novak fails to bring any of the flirtatious coyness to the role that she also did in the same years Bell Book and Candle (1958) (where she also played opposite James Stewart). As a character, she is almost entirely opaque from us, while her secondary role as Judy has no depth to her whatsoever we never find a single thing out about her. The ending the film finally arrives at is an abrupt downer.
Vertigo has had an enormous influence on a number of other films. It appears to be Brian De Palmas favourite Hitchcock film Obsession (1976) is a virtual remake, while the obsession over a duplicate woman plot reappears in his Body Double (1984). Influences and quotes can also be found in Jonathan Demmes The Last Embrace (1979), Anthony Perkinss Psycho III (1986), David Lynchs Lost Highway (1997) and the Chinese thriller Su Zhou He (2000). The film was parodied in Mel Brookss Hitchcock spoof High Anxiety (1977).
Alfred Hitchcocks other films of genre interest are: The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1926), Elstree Calling (1930), Shadow of a Doubt (1943), Rope (1948), Strangers on a Train (1951), Psycho (1960), The Birds (1963) and Frenzy (1972). Hitchcock also produced, introduced and occasionally directed the anthology series Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1955-62). Hitchcocks life is depicted in the films The Girl (2012) and Hitchcock (2012).
The film was based on a novel by two popular French thrillers writers, Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac. Boileau and Narcejac also wrote the books that became the basis of the classic psycho-thriller Les Diaboliques (1955) and the transplanted limbs horror film Body Parts (1991), as well as the screenplay for the classic French mad surgeon film Eyes Without a Face (1959).