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Vertigo (1958)

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Alfred Hitchcock engulfs you in a whirlpool of terror and tension!
director Alfred Hitchcock
producers Herbert Coleman
Alfred Hitchcock
writers Alec Coppel & Samuel Taylor
starring James Stewart
Kim Novak
Barbara Bel Geddes
Tom Helmore
original music Bernard Herrmann
cinematographer Robert Burks
editor George Tomasini
running time 128 minutes
colour colour (Technicolor)
sound mix mono (Westrex)
aspect ratio 1.85:1 VistaVision
studio Paramount Pictures
availability DVD & Blu-ray


San Francisco police detective Scottie Fergusson develops a fear of heights and is forced to retire when a colleague falls to his death during a chase. An old college friend (Gavin Elster) hires Scottie to watch his wife Madeleine who has reportedly become possessed by her ancestor's spirit named Carlotta. Scottie follows her around San Francisco and is drawn to Madeleine and her obsession with death. He unwittingly becomes a figure in a complex plot, and is determined to discover the truth behind it all. (© IMDB)


The success of director Henri-Georges Clouzot's 1955 film Les Diaboliques introduced Hitchcock to the French crime fiction writing team of Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, who wrote the source novel "Celle Qui N'Était Plus" that the film was based on.

From Among the Dead

Keen to potentially acquire the film rights to any future Boileau-Narcejac stories, Paramount sourced their 1954 novel D'Entre les Morts before it had been translated into English and, after reading the studio's outline, Hitchcock instructed Paramount to purchase the rights. After negotiations, the film rights were secured for $25,275 in April 1955.[1]

The synopsis of the novel is essentially the same as the final film:

A prosperous shipbuilder hires a former detective who suffers from vertigo to tail his wife Madeleine who is acting strangely. The detective falls in love with the shipbuilder's wife but is unable to stop her committing suicide by jumping from a tower. Haunted by her death, he sees a woman who bears a strong resemblance to the dead woman, however, his attempts to get closer to this doppelgänger ultimately result in tragedy.



Despite objections from producer Herbert Coleman, Hitchcock initially approached playwright Maxwell Anderson in June 1956 to create a first-draft screenplay from the novel. Anderson submitted his screenplay — titled Darkling, I Listen — in September, by which point he had been paid $35,000. However, according to Coleman, Hitchcock was so disappointed with Anderson's work that he told the producer to "burn it".[2][3]

Hitchcock next turned to his old friend, Angus MacPhail, who had recently collaborated with the director on the aborted Flamingo Feather film. Despite his initial enthusiasm, MacPhail was battling chronic alcohol addiction and felt unable to fully tackle such a large project. In correspondence with Herbert Coleman, he wrote, "It is a fascinating story of course [...] but it needs a real big imaginative contribution — which I simply couldn't provide just now." This would be the last screenplay MacPhail worked on before his death in 1962.[4]

Vertigo publicity still of Hitch and Alma

The third screenwriter to work on From Among the Dead was Australian born Alec Coppel. According to Dan Auiler's book about Vertigo, it is unclear exactly why Coppel was chosen, but some sources state that he had briefly worked with Hitchcock providing uncredited contributions to To Catch a Thief. Coppel was hired in late September on a salary of $1,500 per week.[5]

Hitchcock and Coppel worked for the remainder of the year and Coppel's completed draft was submitted at the end of November. Amongst the contributions made towards the final film were:[6]

  • An opening rooftop chase that ends with a uniformed officer falling to his death, which causes the hero's acrophobia — initially he is named "Kilrain" and then later, when James Stewart became attached to the project, "Jimmy".
  • Use of the Palace of the Legion of Honor as a key location.
  • Madeleine and Jimmy's first kiss staged on a windswept shoreline.
  • Madeleine's fall from the tower at Mission San Juan Bautista followed by Jimmy leaving the Mission without aiding the recovery of the body.
  • Jimmy's nightmare which results in his nervous breakdown.
  • Jimmy's makeover of Renée (Judy in the final film) and the memorable 360 degree kiss.
production drawing by [[Henry Bumstead]]

Despite the earlier screenplay issues, Hitchcock then approached Maxwell Anderson and summarised Coppel's latest draft, asking for his input. According to Dan Auiler, Anderson was unwilling to contribute further and negotiated with Herbert Coleman to end his involvement with the project. After arguing with Anderson's agent, Irving Lazar, Coleman eventually paid a final $15,000 to the writer.[7][8]

During December 1956, Hitchcock, Coleman and James Stewart carefully studied Coppel's screenplay but found it lacking — in particular, certain elements were too fantastical and unreal. By the end of the year, a fourth and final writer was approached — Samuel Taylor had been recommended to Hitchcock by agent Kay Brown due to Taylor's knowledge of San Francisco. Taylor was given a copy of Coppel's draft and story notes.[9]

Taylor began working on the screenplay in January 1957, although script meetings with Hitchcock were disrupted by a series of illnesses that saw the director hospitalised and then confined to bed for periods between January and April.

Taylor's knowledge of San Francisco helped to add authenticity to the developing screenplay and, by the end of May, all of the locations were finalised. By July, Hitchcock was dividing his time between final script meetings with Coppel and initial ones with Ernest Lehman at MGM where the director was planning to film The Wreck of the Mary Deare. Taylor's final shooting script was dated 17 September 1957 — just two weeks before filming began in San Francisco.

Given the organic nature of the screenplay's development with multiple writers, the Writers Guild was required to adjudicate on the screen credit after Coppel pushed to have sole credit and Coppel then objected. The decision of the Guild was that the credit should read "screenplay by Alec Coppel & Samuel Taylor".[10]


Mission San Juan Bautista (c) Helen Carruthers

With San Francisco decided as the location early on in the screenplay development, producer Herbert Coleman travelled to the city to scout locations during the summer of 1956. Hitchcock's second home in Scotts Valley was close enough to the city that he and Alma regularly dined at Ernie's, Jack's and Ondine, and he provided Coleman with a list of locations, including Muir Woods, Ernie's and the Spanish Mission in Carmel. Fittingly, Coleman then hired a retired San Francisco detective, Morrie Reardon, to act as a location guide and advisor.[11]

Both Muir Woods and the Mission in Carmel proved problematic as locations — the woods were too dense to accommodate filming equipment and the Mission in too busy an area — and Coleman selected Big Basin Redwoods and the Mission San Juan Bautista as replacements.[12]

By September 1956, Hitchcock had joined Coleman on a tour of the potential locations and initial decisions were made as to which interiors could be used for filming and which would need to be recreated on the Paramount soundstages.


Vera Miles' costume test

Both Vera Miles, who had starred in Hitchcock's previous film The Wrong Man, and James Stewart were attached to the project at an early stage and Stewart became a financial partner, sharing in any profits the film made. However, Stewart wasn't the first name linked to the film and initial press reports in October 1955 stated that Hitchcock was keen for Cary Grant to play the lead role.[13]

Although commonly reported that Miles' pregnancy was the sole reason she was dropped from the film, author Dan Auiler has claimed that both Hitchcock and Stewart had reservations about her ability to make an impact in the role and were considering alternative actresses as early as November 1956, whilst Miles was undergoing makeup, hair and costume tests for the role of Madeleine. Ultimately, the delays to the start of filming date meant that Miles' pregnancy would be too obvious and, as soon as she pulled out in March 1957, Kim Novak was announced as her replacement and no other actresses were considered for the role.[14]

Kim Novak's film career had risen quickly during the mid 1950s after she signed to Columbia and her casting was seen was regarded as a major box office draw. After negotiations with Harry Cohn at Columbia, it was agreed that Novak would star in the Paramount film for $250,000 if Stewart would then make a film for Columbia with Novak — this latter film would be Bell, Book and Candle (1958), directed by Richard Quine.[15]

For the character of Midge, created by Samuel Taylor, the writer had envisaged his friend Barbara Bel Geddes in the role and Hitchcock had been agreeable.[16] English actor Tom Helmore, who had minor roles in two of Hitchcock's British films and who had become a regular actor in American TV dramas, was cast as Gavin Elster.

Principal Photography


[[Peggy Robertson]] and Novak

According to producer Herbert Coleman's biography, the original start date for filming had been mid-October 1956, but this was pushed back to January the following year due to a combination of script delays and a request from James Stewart to be allowed to take a holiday before starting a new film.[17]

Production was then pushed back to March when Hitchcock was rushed to hospital with colitis and a navel hernia, and Samuel Taylor was hired to revise the screenplay. Shortly before production was due to begin in March 1957, Hitchcock was rushed into hospital again, this time to remove obstructing gallstones — with a new start day of June, the pregnant Vera Miles was replaced by Kim Novak. Next, Novak insisted on taking a six-week summer holiday that was allowed under her Columbia contract and, when she returned, she held out for a higher salary from the studio.[18][19]

Second Unit Filming

Whilst the formal production date slipped due to the delays, a second unit team, headed by assistant director Daniel McCauley, began filming backgrounds (for use in rear projection scenes in the studio), establishing shots of the city and various street scenes, along with test footage of the main filming locations. McCauley returned to San Francisco in August 1957 to film the remaining second unit footage and the backgrounds for use in the film's many driving scenes.[20]

Location Filming

Hitchcock and Novak

Delayed by nearly 12 months, principal photography on Vertigo finally began on 30 September 1957 at the Mission Dolores Church and Cemetery. The location filming, detailed extensively in Dan Auiler's Vertigo: The Making of a Hitchcock Classic, proceeded relatively smoothly and was completed on 15 October.

Sound Stage Filming

Without taking a break from the location filming, studio-based filming began on 16 October and was completed by 19 December, in time for the Christmas holidays.

Although some interiors were filmed on location — including the Podesta Baldocchi florist shop, Carlotta's portrait at the Palace of the Legion of Honor and the McKittrick Hotel — the majority of the interiors were studio sets designed by Henry Bumstead.

One of the last scenes to be filmed was Hitchcock's cameo appearance, with the Paramount lot's paint shop standing in for the exterior of Gavin Elster's shipyard.[21]

According to Dan Auiler, within 48 hours of filming being completed, the Hitchcocks, along with Lew Wasserman and his wife, were on their way to Jamaica for a month's long vacation.[22]

Post Production

During the Christmas period, editor George Tomasini assembled a rough cut of the film which was screened in New York for Hitchcock, Wasserman, Tomasini and Peggy Robertson. As well as noting parts of the film which required further work, the director made extensive dubbing notes.[23]

Early on in the post production process, Hitchcock dropped the tacked on ending which had been filmed to placate the Production Code Administration. Included on DVD and Blu-ray releases of the film, the ended shows Scottie in Midge's apartment, listening a radio broadcast reporting on Gavin Elster's imminent arrest in Europe.[24]

Throughout the remainder of January 1958, Hitchcock worked with Tomasini to tighten the editing of the film and building up the soundtrack whilst composer Bernard Herrmann commenced work on the score.[25]

Hitchcock and Herrmann

The Score

According to Dan Auiler, composer Bernard Herrmann visited Hitchcock during studio filming. When Herrmann fell asleep, associate producer Herbert Coleman quickly arranged a photograph before the composer woke up.[26]

Hitchcock had wanted Herrmann to study Norman O'Neill's score for J.M. Barrie's 1920 play Mary Rose and Paramount staff went to great lengths to track down the only remaining vinyl recording in England. However, it remains uncertain how much, if it all, Herrmann listened to the recording but a definite influence on the score was the "Liebestod" from Wagner's Tristan and Isolde.[27][28]

Speaking later, Herrmann felt that Hitchcock had used the wrong city for the film:

They should never have made it in San Francisco [...] It should have been left in New Orleans, or in a hot sultry climate. When I wrote the picture, I thought of that.[29]
Herrmann's Predule for Vertigo

Herrmann's contract began on 6 January 1958 and he progressed quickly, completing the memorable score by 19 February. He fee was paid $17,500.[26]

Although Herrmann had intended to conduct the recording of the score, an unexpected musician's strike and the need to release the film on time necessitated an overseas recording in London, conducted by Muir Mathieson. Part way through the recording session in early March, the London Symphony Orchestra walked out in support of the American strike, forcing Herbert Coleman to hastily arrange for the remainder of the score to be recorded in Vienna.[30]

The Single

Envisaged as promotional tool for the film, singer Billy Eckstine recorded a Jay Livingston and Ray Evans composition entitled "Vertigo" with Hal Mooney and His Orchestra. According to Dan Auiler, Hitchcock decided not to use the song.[31]

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Release & Reception

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5411.gif Vertigo (1958) - Universal (Blu-ray, 2012)
as part of the box set: Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection - Universal (Blu-ray, 2012)


5410.gif Vertigo (1958) - Universal (UK, 2008)
5409.gif Vertigo (1958) - Universal (USA, 2008)
5408.gif Vertigo (1958) - Universal (UK, 2007)

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Notes & References

  1. Vertigo: The Making of a Hitchcock Classic (1998) by Dan Auiler, pages 28-30
  2. The Man Who Knew Hitchcock: A Hollywood Memoir (2007) by Herbert Coleman, pages 243 and 246-47. Coleman seems to have been unimpressed with Anderson's work on The Wrong Man and when Hitchcock asked Coleman to approach the writer to work on "From Among the Dead", Coleman told him, "I'm not willing to risk that much of Paramount's money on Anderson." Hitchcock then apparently went behind Coleman's back to have Anderson hired.
  3. Vertigo: The Making of a Hitchcock Classic (1998) by Dan Auiler, pages 32-43
  4. Vertigo: The Making of a Hitchcock Classic (1998) by Dan Auiler, pages 34-35
  5. Vertigo: The Making of a Hitchcock Classic (1998) by Dan Auiler, page 36
  6. Vertigo: The Making of a Hitchcock Classic (1998) by Dan Auiler, pages 38-44
  7. Vertigo: The Making of a Hitchcock Classic (1998) by Dan Auiler, page 48
  8. The Man Who Knew Hitchcock: A Hollywood Memoir (2007) by Herbert Coleman, pages 250-51
  9. Vertigo: The Making of a Hitchcock Classic (1998) by Dan Auiler, pages 48-49
  10. Vertigo: The Making of a Hitchcock Classic (1998) by Dan Auiler, pages 61-62
  11. Footsteps in the Fog: Alfred Hitchcock's San Francisco (2002) by Jeff Kraft & Aaron Leventhal, pages 271-74
  12. The Man Who Knew Hitchcock: A Hollywood Memoir (2007) by Herbert Coleman pages 243-45. Coleman's daughter, Judy, who was studying at nearby San Jose State, suggested Mission San Juan Bautista as a good location.
  13. See, for example, Hedda Hopper's column in Los Angeles Times (28/Oct/1955) and "Cary Grant Sought for Hitchcock Film" in Los Angeles Times (07/Dec/1955).
  14. Vertigo: The Making of a Hitchcock Classic (1998) by Dan Auiler, pages 20-23. Hitchcock watched a screening of The Eddy Duchin Story, starring Novak and Tyrone Power, on October 25th 1956.
  15. Vertigo: The Making of a Hitchcock Classic (1998) by Dan Auiler, pages 23-24
  16. Vertigo: The Making of a Hitchcock Classic (1998) by Dan Auiler, pages 51-52
  17. The Man Who Knew Hitchcock: A Hollywood Memoir (2007) by Herbert Coleman, page 253. Coleman estimated this delay would cost the picture over $100,000.
  18. The Man Who Knew Hitchcock: A Hollywood Memoir (2007) by Herbert Coleman
  19. Vertigo: The Making of a Hitchcock Classic (1998) by Dan Auiler, pages 70-71
  20. Vertigo: The Making of a Hitchcock Classic (1998) by Dan Auiler, page 70
  21. Vertigo: The Making of a Hitchcock Classic (1998) by Dan Auiler, pages 123-4
  22. Vertigo: The Making of a Hitchcock Classic (1998) by Dan Auiler, page 124
  23. Vertigo: The Making of a Hitchcock Classic (1998) by Dan Auiler, pages 127-28
  24. Vertigo: The Making of a Hitchcock Classic (1998) by Dan Auiler, page 130
  25. Vertigo: The Making of a Hitchcock Classic (1998) by Dan Auiler, pages 127-136
  26. 26.0 26.1 Vertigo: The Making of a Hitchcock Classic (1998) by Dan Auiler, page 137
  27. Cineaste (2001) - An Old Master's Unheard Cri de Coeur: Alfred Hitchcock's Mary Rose
  28. Wagner's "Liebestod" was also used in Luis Buñuel's surrealist comedy film L'Age d'Or (1930).
  29. Hermman quoted in A Heart at Fire's Center: The Life and Music of Bernard Herrmann (1991) by Steven C. Smith
  30. The Viennese recordings took place between 14 to 18 March 1958. Vertigo: The Making of a Hitchcock Classic (1998) by Dan Auiler, pages 142-43
  31. Vertigo: The Making of a Hitchcock Classic (1998) by Dan Auiler, pages 145-46

Hitchcock's Major Films
1920s The Pleasure Garden · The Mountain Eagle · The Lodger · Downhill · Easy Virtue · The Ring · The Farmer's Wife · Champagne · The Manxman · Blackmail
1930s Juno and the Paycock · Murder! · The Skin Game · Rich and Strange · Number Seventeen · Waltzes from Vienna · The Man Who Knew Too Much · The 39 Steps · Secret Agent · Sabotage · Young and Innocent · The Lady Vanishes · Jamaica Inn
1940s Rebecca · Foreign Correspondent · Mr and Mrs Smith · Suspicion · Saboteur · Shadow of a Doubt · Lifeboat · Spellbound · Notorious · The Paradine Case · Rope · Under Capricorn
1950s Stage Fright · Strangers on a Train · I Confess · Dial M for Murder · Rear Window · To Catch a Thief · The Trouble with Harry · The Man Who Knew Too Much · The Wrong Man · Vertigo · North by Northwest
1960s Psycho · The Birds · Marnie · Torn Curtain · Topaz
1970s Frenzy · Family Plot
view full filmography