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Dial M For Murder (1954)
Vertigo (1958) - Selected Alfred Hitchcock
169    Dibyendu Banerjee    16/05/2024

Vertigo (1958), a complicated psychological thriller directed by Alfred Hitchcock, is considered by many as the best work of the director and a masterpiece of the thriller genre. The classically crafted movie, with a perfect balance between a harrowing mystery and a beautiful love story through a succession of twists, ultimately leads the audience to a shocking, unexpected and unrelenting ending, which is typical of Hitchcock's work. Alleged to be too long, complicated and perplexing that needs to be explained, the film received a lukewarm reception upon its release, but with the passing of time, it slowly ascended the ranks of Hitchcock’s filmography and ultimately became a cult and a critically acclaimed film.

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The film, a riveting noir thriller shot beautifully on location in San Francisco, is now commonly ranked among the greatest movies ever made and repeatedly appears in polls of the best films by the American Film Institute.

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Virtigo follows Detective John Scottie Ferguson, who was forced to retire from the police force, as he developed acrophobia, a great fear of heights, after he slipped and found himself dangling from the gutter of a tall building, while pursuing a criminal across the rooftops and had to watch the terrible sight of one of his colleagues falling to his death in an attempt to rescue him. However, as Midge, his ex-fiancée, suggested that another severe emotional shock may be the only cure, Scottie reluctantly decides to come out of retirement, when an acquaintance from college Gavin Elster, requests him to trail his wife Madeleine to ascertain the purpose of her recent puzzling activities. Gavin Elster strongly believes that she is possessed by the spirit of her great-grandmother Carlotta Valdes, who committed suicide at age twenty-six, which is Madeleine’s current age, apprehending that Madeleine also has suicidal tendencies.

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After initial doubts and hesitation, Scottie begins to follow the beautiful and mysterious Madeleine in her wanderings around the Mission San Francisco de Asís, the grave of Carlotta Valdes, the Legion of Honor art museum, where she kept on gazing at the Portrait of Carlotta and also tracked her to the McKittrick Hotel, where he learns Madeleine spends time under the name Carlotta Valdes.

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Eventually, Scottie and Midge learn from a bookstore owner and local historian Pop Leibel, that the McKittrick Hotel is in fact the former home of Carlotta Valdes, who was the mistress of a wealthy married man, borne his child and ultimately committed suicide.

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Next day Scottie trailed Madeleine to reach under the Golden Gate Bridge, where she threw herself into the San Francisco Bay. Nevertheless, Scottie dived in and rescued the unconscious Madeleine and drove her to his apartment and laid her to the bed. However, after she came to her senses, she claimed not to remember anything about her suicide attempt. They decide to spend the next day wandering together, travelling to the Sequoia forest at Big Basin, when Madeleine recounts a nightmare and describes a place in her dreams, which Scottie identifies as Mission San Juan Bautista, Carlotta's childhood home and resolves to take her to the spot in an attempt to explain her strange obsessions as a repressed memory of the time she spent at the mission. By that time, Scottie became obsessed and infatuated with Madeleine and when they arrived at the destination, Madeleine recognized it all and expressed her love for him.

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After that, she suddenly rushed towards the bell tower and headed up the spiral staircase with Scottie in hot pursuit. But Scottie had to stop near the top of the tower, as acrophobia strikes, but watches through the open window Madeleine’s body hurtle down to the rooftop of an adjoining building.

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At the coroner’s inquest, Gavin Elster was cleared of all responsibility for his wife’s death, but wracked with guilt and grief, Scottie became clinically depressed and had to spend the next year in a sanatorium, where Midge tried to bring him back to reality. However, after his release from the sanatorium, he again starts roaming the streets of San Francisco and finds hints of similarity of Madeleine in everyone. Finally, believing a woman looks almost like Madeleine, he follows back to her apartment and feverishly questions her about her identity and after she identifies herself as Judy Barton, from Kansas, working in a department store, Scottie invites her to dinner. However, after his departure, Judy drafted a letter to Scottie, in which she divulged that she had been hired by Gavin Elster to play the role of Madeleine in a plot to murder his wife. In her letter, she also disclosed that, Gavin was waiting there with the already-dead body of his wife, dressed identically to Judy, when she got to the top of the bell tower and taking advantage of Scottie's acrophobia, he hurled out the window for Scottie to witness the fall of the body. Although she ended her letter by admitting her love for Scottie, she tore up the letter after a moment of hesitation.

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Soon it becomes evident that Scottie's interest in Judy is only due to her resemblance with Madeleine, as he insists Judy to dye her hair blonde and wear clothing identical to that worn by Madeleine. After initial resistance when for the sake of his love, she returns from the beauty parlour with complete transformation, Scottie kisses her passionately. However, after that, when before going out to dinner, Scottie notices that the necklace Judy puts on is Carlotta’s necklace, which Madeleine wore the day she died, he realizes the truth about Judy’s identity, the truth that Judy and Madeleine are the same person and Judy, impersonating Madeleine, was Gavin's mistress before being cast aside. As Scottie begins driving towards San Juan Bautista, Judy becomes increasingly hysterical as she realises that Scottie suspects her secret, while Scottie tells her that he must re-enact the event that led to his madness. As Scottie drags Judy up the steps of the tower, leading to the top, confronting her with her deception, she admits her guilt, confesses that Gavin paid her to impersonate a possessed Madeleine and begs for his love and forgiveness, when he embraces her intimately. However, their moment of intimacy is interrupted by the shadowy figure of a nun, appearing from the tower's trapdoor to investigate the reason for the noise in the otherwise calm area. But the sudden appearance of the ghostly figure, as if from nowhere, startles Judy so much that she screams, lunges backward and accidentally falls from the tower to her death, leaving Scottie all alone in the tower, bereaved again, but cured of his acrophobia, while the nun rings the mission bell.

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Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo (1958) is the cry from a wounded heart, who has fallen in love with a woman who does not exist and also cries out harshly against the real woman who impersonated her. Devastated by Madeleine’s death, Scottie obsessively remakes Judy Barton in the image of the dead Madeleine, but he does not realize that Judy already knows him because she had pretended to be Madeleine, hired by Elster to cover up his wife’s murder. In the film, James Stewart appearing in the role of Detective John Scottie Ferguson, played the most complicated role of his career, portraying a man driven to the edge of insanity by his obsession with a woman he fears he can never have, while Kim Novak, the epitome of the Hitchcockian icy blonde, played stunningly in the double roles of Madeleine Elster and Judy Barton, replacing Vera Miles due to pregnancy. Considered as Hitchcock’s most personal film, Vertigo was one of the first 25 films selected by the Library of Congress in 1989, for preservation in the United States National Film Registry, for being culturally, historically, or aesthetically. Significantly, in the Sight & Sound Greatest Films of All Time poll of 2012, it replaced Citizen Kane (1941) as the greatest film ever made and came second in 2022.

Dial M For Murder (1954)
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Author Details
Dibyendu Banerjee
Ex student of Scottish Church College. Served a Nationalised Bank for nearly 35 years. Authored novels in Bengali. Translated into Bengali novels/short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Eric Maria Remarque, D.H.Lawrence, Harold Robbins, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and others. Also compiled collections of short stories from Africa and Third World. Interested in literature, history, music, sports and international films.
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