Vertigo (1958) is often counted today as one of Hitchcock’s greatest films, if not one of the greatest films ever. However, I have to disagree with modern reviews, and instead side with Variety’s 1958 review. For all of the exciting parts that are included in the movie, they are overshadowed by the boring, dragging chunks in between.
“Through all of this runs Hitchcock’s directorial hand, cutting, angling and gimmicking with mastery. Unfortunately, even that mastery is not enough to overcome one major fault, for the plain fact is that the film’s first half is too slow and too long.”
I couldn’t agree more. I really did enjoy some parts of the movie, especially the final scene, but the film overall felt like it fell short of Hitchcock’s skill. While some people get tired of predictable plot structures, the loose ends and wandering plot were very distracting to me. By the second half of the film, I felt it should have been over. We realized Scottie had lost his mind (unnecessarily), and that he had to re-enact his lover’s crime to have closure. Everything else was basically filler. The thing about suspense is that it relies on the basic, classic plot structure. The audience needs to be able to predict what will happen in order to feel that sense of fear of the inevitable. Instead, we get a confusing second half.
If I had to point out why the film is such a success today, I would say that the cinematography was fantastic (as it always is with Hitchcock). But more than that, the film was over-rated, in my opinion. Since it was taken out of circulation, newer generations hadn’t had a chance to really review it. Going off of what earlier critics said, which were mostly negative, they would have dismissed the movie. Older critics also saw Hitchcock more as an entertainer than an artist, so it was up to newer critics to reverse that image, even if it meant giving undue credit. I would probably put 39 Steps or Shadow of a Doubt highest in Hitchcock’s works. But, being one of my least-favorite Hitchcock films is still a great achievement in my book.