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31 Iconic Horror Films in October: Vertigo Review

Note: This is a series of 31 iconic horror film reviews I plan on doing throughout October. See the introduction post for more information and the list of films.

Despite being an Alfred Hitchcock “masterpiece” thriller, “Vertigo” does not belong in this post series of iconic scary films. First of all, while none of the films I’ve done so far have been truly scary there is literally nothing scary at all about “Vertigo.” Secondly, even though it’s supposedly a masterpiece and made the top 10 of AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies list (the 10th anniversary edition of the list, it was #61 on the original list), I found it boring and actually even bad. It replaces “Cat People” as the worst film I’ve reviewed this month.

“Vertigo” is a 1958 psychological thriller film starring James Stewart as John “Scottie” Ferguson, a former police detective who now suffers from acrophobia and vertigo after he failed to save a fellow officer who fell to his death. Scottie is hired by an acquaintance from college (Gavin Elster played by Tom Helmore) to follow his wife Madeleine (Kim Novak), who he thinks is possessed. Scottie doesn’t really believe Gavin but he reluctantly agrees to follow her. He follows her for what seems like half an hour of the film (this is really slow and boring by the way) and finds some clues that all add up to a woman named Carlotta Valdes, who committed suicide at a young age.

Gavin lets Scottie know that Carlotta is Madeleine’s great-grandmother, though she has no knowledge of it. One day Madeleine winds up jumping into the San Francisco Bay and Scottie, who continues to tail her, saves her life. The two become close and even fall in love until tragedy strikes. However, there may be more to the tragedy than originally thought. Any more detail would spoil the story.

I personally didn’t like much of anything about the film but the worst element is the story. The movie is 128 minutes long and it feels like half of it was spent watching Scottie follow Madeleine throughout her day. The pace is plodding and slow and the story isn’t even that great to begin with. I don’t think I cared about the characters or what happened once in the entire film. There is a pretty cool twist towards the end of the film but I don’t think it’s worth sitting through an hour and a half of boredom (in my opinion) to get there.

The other major problem is the complete lack of likability for the main character. I personally found Scottie to be an extremely boring character, and even worse, quite annoying and a huge misogynist in the second half of the film (obviously this was made in the 1950’s and attitudes towards women were unfortunately quite different back then but that doesn’t make it any easier to watch). I can’t really spoil why he’s a misogynist (it involves the twist) but he acts like a guy who thinks women are objects to be molded to the man’s desires. Again, I know this was filmed in a different era but it can get really uncomfortable to watch (and I’m a guy, I can’t imagine how hard it would be for a woman to watch). It’s also a little creepy that a guy in his 50’s is interested in a girl in her mid-20’s. The only character that is actually likable is Scottie’s friend and ex-fiancee Midge Wood (Barbara Bel Geddes), who doesn’t even get much time on screen.

With “Vertigo,” we are finally into the realm of the color film in this October post series. I don’t mind black and white but obviously prefer color. However, the video quality on the release I watched was really bad. There were a lot of problems with artifacts, colors being too dark at times, and odd colors at the edge of the screen. You can kind of expect some problems in a 50+ year old movie but these are really bad.

I’m sure from a technical and filmmaking standpoint, “Vertigo” is a pretty decent film. Alfred Hitchcock is known as one of the best directors ever for a reason after all and this is one of his most well-known films. However, the film is far too boring and the characters way too grating for me. The interesting twist in the last half of the film isn’t enough to save it. “Vertigo” is my least favorite film I’ve seen for this post series thus far and I regret putting it on the list. I didn’t expect to give out a 1-star rating to any film in this series but in my opinion, this movie is that bad. It was probably a lot better in its day but it’s outdated for today’s audience.