Vertigo movie poster

It makes a certain sort of sense that this movie is not routinely grouped with other private-detective cases, since the case per se makes no sort of sense at all; not the sort of sense, at any rate, that a detective would be expected to make of it. Hence, the people who rank it as one of Hitchcock's finest, or as one of anybody's finest, would contend that the detective plot doesn't matter; that it is just a vehicle; that what the movie is "really about" is an erotic obsession, illusion vs. reality, a range of neuroses extending beyond mere acrophobia to clinical nostalgia, necrophilia, and Pygmalionism; that its kinship is nearer The Collector than The Maltese Falcon. This other (higher) thematic level no doubt lessens the bothersomeness of the plot holes. But any limitations inside the genre must to some extent limit the movie outside as well — and to a greater extent than if the limitations in question were those of unimaginativeness or over-obviousness or some such timidity that would nonetheless not erode its solidness as a springboard. Its troubles are bigger than that, however, and Hitchcock accepts them. Accepts them, that is, not with reluctance and resignation, not with his mind engrossed in higher things, but rather with complete co-operation, with that same petty deceitfulness that so cripples lesser works like Suspicion and Frenzy. This spirit of acceptance keeps the movie at all times within, or within easy range of, the borders of the private-detective genre, and aficionados of the genre ought to be as eager to claim it for their own, faults and all, as are some Hitchcock partisans to fight such a claim. James Stewart, Kim Novak, Barbara Bel Geddes. 1958.

Duncan Shepherd

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