I cannot say why I haven’t yet watched Hitchcock’s Vertigo. Despite owning a copy, despite it being one of the cornerstones of cinema and despite it being recommended to me by two friends whose filmic acumen is beyond reproach, I have so far heroically failed to watch it. I could just get it over and done with, considering that it probably only lasts two hours and that I would most likely enjoy the experience. Or I could skip that part and review it anyway….
Hitchcock’s Vertigo is a troubling, tragicomical glimpse into the mind of a psychologically scrofulous mid-twentieth-century male. It features a barnstorming performance by James Mason, who wheezes in and out bars, barns and motels, puffing expressively on a cigarette that would be deeply, deeply phallic were smoke not coming out of the end of it. Following Mason’s character, a private eye by the name of ‘Nice Charlie’, we descend, like Dante, into a fiery crucible of dirty obsession, and watch Nice Charlie’s world fall apart as he becomes entangled in a love triangle in which he is destined to form the fourth corner.
Like many of Hitchcock’s films, Vertigo is superlatively Hitchcockian. In a nod to his later film ‘The Birds’, Hitchcock litters every scene with avian imagery. Likewise, nodding the other way, towards ‘Psycho’, there are at least three shower scenes in Vertigo. At one point, his two nods combine into a devastating sequence in which a puffin is unsentimentally garrotted in plain view of a shower curtain, poignantly symbolising Nice Charlie’s fear of castration. No-one does this stuff like Hitchcock.
The real stars of the show however are James Mason’s proud, graceful cheeks. When Nice Charlie is spurned by his lookalike lover, his cheeks swink and practically swivel with all of the resulting overwhelming emotional turmoil. When, in the final moments, Nice Charlie falls out of a window, the cheeks grow pale and effeminate like dying swans as Nice Charlie dies of vertigo.
Credit must also go to the cinematographer for his opaque, gristley shots, and his virile swishpanning; and to the composer for his use of sparing use of tinkling and banging sounds. If I have one reservation however, it is the superabundance of the word ‘hello’ in the script. It is not hard to see what Hitchcock is trying to do (and how!), but is it really necessary for every character to preface every exchange with the said greeting. It has the ring of untruth about it. Private eyes do not say ‘hello’, and they certainly didn’t when the film was made. They say things like ‘Just sit down Toots’ and ‘Hold the ice Bob’. But perhaps I am picking at straws.