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The Times (11/Apr/1958) - Mr. Hitchcock and the Simenon Touch: Vertigo

(c) The Times (11/Apr/1958)

Mr. Alfred Hitchcock and the Simenon Touch


Suspense is, of course, the first quality to be looked for in the films Mr. Alfred Hitchcock directs. The word attaches itself to him automatically, as "pessimism" does to Hardy, yet suspense is not the beginning and the end of Hitchcock. He is a cunning director who sets his scene with a precision and economy that recall Simenon. He plays as fair (or nearly) with his audience as that writer does with his readers, and he requires, in his turn, concentration from it — at one point in Vertigo a split second of inattention would lead to complete confusion as to what was going on in the last third of the film. Vertigo, which is now at the Odeon Cinema, Leicester Square, is not an important film or even major Hitchcock, but it entertains and is admirably photographed.

For the ingenuity of the story, the authors of the novel D'Entre les Morts, on which the film is based, must have a considerable share of the credit; and ingenious, over-ingenious, as some may think. Vertigo certainly is. "Scottie" Ferguson (Mr. James Stewart) resigns from the police force in San Francisco because he cannot trust himself to chase malefactors over roof tops — he is, in other words, a victim of vertigo. He is engaged by Gavin (Mr. Tom Helmore), who is an old friend of his and who has married the rich Madeleine (Miss Kim Novak), to follow her, not for the purposes of procuring evidence for divorce but because she seems to be living in the past rather than the present. She appears to be obsessed by the personality of her Spanish great grandmother, a woman who had a tragic and eventful life culminating in suicide.

In the course of carrying out his duties, "Scottie" falls in love with Madeleine, but is not able to save her from throwing herself off a church tower that haunts her dreams. At least that is how it looks at the time. "Scottie" then has a nervous breakdown and afterwards meets Judy, a working girl who wonderfully resembles Madeleine, which is not surprising since she, too, is played by Miss Novak. The pattern begins to repeat itself, and the top of that church tower comes once more into the picture.

It would not be fair to say more, but the glimpse and feel of the supernatural are resolved at the end into the mechanics of crime, far-fetched though these may be. Mr. Stewart is at his best in his light, offhand moments with the commercial artist Midge (Miss Barbara Bel Geddes), who, with humorous resignation, dotes on him — nervous breakdowns and long, passionate kisses do not suit his casual style. Mr. Hitchcock tries hard to make Miss Novak act and, at moments, succeeds.