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Year: 1958 
Running Time:
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 (XWide) 
Certificate: BBFC PG Cert – Parental guidance 
Subtitles: This film is not expected to be subtitled, though this cannot be guaranteed. 
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock 
Starring: James Stewart, Kim Novak, Tom Helmore, Barbara Bel Geddes.  
An image from Vertigo

Do you believe that someone out of the past - someone dead - can enter and take possession of a living being?

And with that, Hitchcock sets his protagonist Scottie on a mystery plot which spirals inwards into oblivion. The most perennially fascinating of his oeuvre, Scottie's journey is not a mere detective saga, but shifts gear into a Gothic romance about a man falling in love with a dead woman. A detective taking time off work to recover from an incident of trauma - and the vertigo it has plagued him with - Scottie is approached by an old friend to follow his wife Madeleine, whose wanderings and distant behaviour are becoming more disturbed. Though, as things take a turn for the criminal, it is Scottie who finds himself becoming more haunted by the past.

At least as much as his other films, Hitchcock appears to excise some pretty personal demons within Scottie - his obsession with an icy blonde; sartorial elegance; an exacting directorial eye. It remains an entirely bold move, and one that has since found Vertigo a source for examination of the implicit cinematic 'male gaze'. But more importantly, it will be a treat to see the work of photographer Robert Burks and composer Bernard Herrmann on the big screen; it is still amazing how the entire theme of romantic longing is distilled into a mere two chords.

Max King


While pursuing a suspect over rooftops, San Francisco police detective John 'Scottie' Ferguson (Stewart) misjudges a leap and ends up dangling from a gutter, over a hundred feet of air. A police colleague tries to retrieve Scottie from the ledge but, in doing so, tragically falls to his death. From this incident Scottie develops a paralyzing fear of heights and consequently is forced to retire from the police force. Early in his retirement, Scottie bumps into an old college friend, Gavin Elster (Helmore), who hires Scottie as a private investigator after reports that his wife Madeleine (Novak) is acting strangely and has grown obsessed with an ancestor of hers. The assignment draws Scottie out of his comfortable role as observer and into a complex web of intrigue, mingled with the detective's own fantasies and fears...

'The Master of Suspense' demonstrates yet again why he is considered one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, with his masterful job of blending different cinematic elements together. Accompanied by a memorable and haunting score by composer Bernard Herrmann, Vertigo also boasts an exceptional performance from Stewart as a disintegrating detective, while Novak, who was left largely undirected by Hitchcock, conveys a subtle and powerful psychological journey. Vertigo is Alfred Hitchcock's haunting and complex tale of deception, madness and death. It is a mystery whose continual narrative twists and turns make it an unforgettable movie-going experience.

Stephen Leach

Vertigo: A dizzying feeling, as if the ground is spinning and you are about to fall.

When the hand of his partner was reaching towards him, pleading for rescue from a deadly fall, Scottie's (Stewart) acrophobia set in. His debilitating fear of heights gripped him as his partner struggled and then fell to his death. He quits the police force soon after and begins working for Gavin Elster (Helmore), an old school friend, who asks him to investigate his wife Madeline (Novak). According to him she has been acting strangely, seeming almost possessed at times.

Scottie follows Madeline as she drives to an art gallery and stares at a particular painting for hours on end. Later she parks beneath the Golden Gate Bridge and throws herself into the water. Scottie pulls her out of the water and from there a relationship starts. Madeline tells him how she is haunted by memories that are not her own: an unhappy childhood, a life in Spain. Scottie recognises some of her descriptions from a Spanish open-air museum nearby. They drive there together and Madeline kisses Scottie passionately before running from him, and up the spiralling steps of the tall bell tower.

Allegedly it took Hitchcock a week to film the short scene of Madeline looking at the painting, he wanted to get the lighting just right. It is easy to believe, though, when you see just how well this film is put together. The script is good but the plot is brilliant, a real mystery expertly resolved. Spiral imagery subtly foreshadows the plot, letting us feel Scottie's fears with him.

Vertigo: A compelling mystery told by a dark genius in his prime. Why else do you think a fifty-year old film is on tonight?

Nick Grills

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Screenings of this film:

1997/1998 Autumn Term (35mm)
2009/2010 Spring Term (70mm)
2021/2022 Spring Term (35mm)