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Vertigo: Hitched on Suspense

May 11, 2012

Hitchcock is universally known as “The Master of Suspense,” and the film title Vertigo sets the tone for this 1958 suspense and psychological thriller.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons.

In the opening scene, “Scottie” and a uniformed police officer chase a crook, jumping from rooftop to rooftop.  Suddenly, Scottie slips and hangs from the edge of a building.  The uniformed police officer tries to save him but falls to his death as Scottie watches.  From the very beginning, we understand the main character’s phobia, and this begins to establish the subtle suspense that builds throughout the film.

Hitchcock consistently takes the audience to new heights in Vertigo.  He creates the illusion of being elevated by introducing rooftops, the San Francisco skyline, the Golden Gate Bridge, Mission San Juan Bautista, the staircase in the church, and the San Francisco streets paved over high hills.  The high-angle camera shots of California Highway 1 that show Scottie following Madeleine are good examples of this.  The camera technique used when filming the church’s staircase also creates thrill, suspense, and maybe even, a little vertigo.

One of the most effective ways that Hitchcock raises the suspense in Vertigo is when the hotel clerk tells Scottie that the hotel room is empty after Kim Novak’s character, Judy as Madeleine, is seen entering the same room at the McKittrick Hotel. This scene implies that the antagonist may be a ghost or that the hotel clerk is lying, further complicating the plot.

In Vertigo, the character Midge Wood, played by Barbara Bel Geddes, is slightly mysterious.  Aside from being Scottie’s ex-fiancé, one wonders if Midge becomes evil toward the end.  Surprisingly, Midge exits the storyline as quickly as she enters it, as if trying to throw the audience off-track.

The suspense in Vertigo is at its highest point once the MacGuffin is revealed.  It is at this moment that Scottie realizes what role Judy plays in Madeleine’s death, and how the two women are connected.

The film Vertigo is based on a 1954 French crime novel D’entre les morts, or The Living and the Dead, by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac by the title of.  Contrary to the book, Hitchcock decided to reveal how Madeleine and Judy are related, with one-third of the film still remaining.  The novel, however, does not make this revelation until the end.

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