The most studied and analyzed film of Alfred Hitchcock’s career, Vertigo is on every level a masterclass in filmmaking. In 1958 Hitchcock worked with legendary actor Jimmy Stewart for the fourth and final time, and just like Rear Window, they succeeded in making a film that would enter the history books. We’re talking about a first-class thriller full of labyrinths and dead-ends, an expertly constructed puzzle suspenseful from the first to the last scene, but at the same time, on an entirely different level, it’s a meta-film of sorts, a film about Hitchcock’s filmmaking, a careful and wonderfully elliptic study of the master’s obsession with his female characters. Jimmy Stewart has perhaps never been this convincing, posing as yet another ordinary man driven by inescapable passion, a victim of his own desires, a pawn in a game we never agreed to play. Kim Novak stars as the object of his obsession and longing, a mysterious blonde who seems ice-cold at the first glance, but a complex woman who magnificently display a wide range of emotions, such as fear, love and child-like vulnerability. Alec Coppel and Samuel Taylor are two writers responsible for this delightful screenplay, playful and innocent at times, dark and unusually deep the very next moment. Bernard Herrman’s music, recorded in Europe due to a musicians’ strike in the US, is subtle and delicate, somehow moving in loops between tranquility and despair. Alongside the aforementioned Rear Window, Vertigo is without any doubt our favorite Hitchcock ever, and considering the unbelievable portfolio of one of the cinema’s greatest, this says quite enough on its own.
A monumentally important screenplay. Dear every screenwriter/filmmaker, read Alec Coppel & Samuel Taylor’s screenplay for Vertigo [PDF]. (NOTE: For educational and research purposes only). The DVD/Blu-ray of the film is available at Amazon and other online retailers. Absolutely our highest recommendation.
Now let’s take a deeper look at this chapter in the career of the screen’s reigning maestro of tension and terror, courtesy of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. This research shot of a redwood was used for Kim Novak’s haunted forest monologue in Vertigo.
This is just one of many concept drawings by Saul Bass which formed the basis for the striking main titles of Vertigo.
Hitchcock and Kim Novak share a light moment on the set while filming the aftermath of her dive into the water in Vertigo.
Art director Henry Bumstead conceptualized this church tower interior for the pivotal “suicide” scene in the middle of Vertigo.
Studio heads disliked the title of Vertigo, instead preferring to call it Face in the Shadow. Alfred Hitchcock begged to differ.
Numerous different titles were proposed by the studio for Vertigo, though the final one always remained Hitchcock’s top choice.
In France the title of the French source novel for Vertigo, D’entre les morts (From the Dead), was discarded in favor of Sueurs froides.
Seen on location in San Francisco, Kim Novak delivered not one but two haunting characters in Vertigo.
In this early Maxwell Anderson draft of Vertigo, James Stewart’s character was named Roger Kilrain instead of Scottie Ferguson.
Screenwriter Alec Coppel drafted the famous opening of Vertigo, in which James Stewart discovers his fear of heights at the worst possible moment.
The various drafts of the script for Vertigo featured different comic banter between James Stewart and Barbara Bel Geddes.
From cult French TV show Cinema Cinemas. Jimmy Stewart discusses his work with Alfred Hitchcock.
William Friedkin on Alfred Hitchcock and Vertigo.
A treasure trove called CineFiles contains scanned images of reviews, press kits, festival and showcase program notes, newspaper articles, interviews, and other documents from the PFA Library’s extensive collection. See also: The Hitchcock Zone.
“Of course, I enjoyed designing the church tower and steps leading up to the bell tower. You know you could never get Hitch to go and look at a set, and the bell tower was completed. So I asked Herbie Coleman [the associate producer] to bring Hitch over. Herbie asked Hitch to come over, and Hitch said, ‘Isn’t Bummy a professional? So why do I have to go look at it?’ Some mornings I was rather nervous because you would be waiting for Hitch to arrive and look at the set. All the driving scenes, for instance, we did in the studio with rear projection. You know how most directors now hate rear projection and want to be in a real car hanging on to the sides! But Bob Burks was such a good cinematographer that he really knew how to make those plates for the process shots. I always work carefully with a cameraman, the set dresser, and with the costume designer, Edith Head. I did about thirty films with her.” —Henry Bumstead, Storyboard for the bell tower scene in Vertigo
THE SOUND OF HITCHCOCK
Join Academy Award-winning sound designers as they reveal how Alfred Hitchcock employed sound to make audience members leap from their seats in fright or crawl under them from excruciating suspense.
PURE CINEMA: THROUGH THE EYES OF HITCHCOCK
Director Martin Scorsese is our guide into the power and mastery of Hitchcock’s visual style, breaking down landmark sequences from Vertigo, The Birds and Psycho.
IN THE MASTER’S SHADOW: HITCHCOCK’S LEGACY
Martin Scorsese, Guillermo del Toro, William Friedkin and many others celebrate the enduring legacy of the man many consider the greatest filmmaker the medium has yet produced. Discover why Alfred Hitchcock’s movies thrill audiences and inspire filmmakers, who continue to employ his cinematic techniques to this day.
Here are several photos taken behind-the-scenes during production of Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. Still photographers: Robert Coburn & G.E. Richardson © Paramount Pictures.
Get Cinephilia & Beyond in your inbox by signing in