Since 2012, when it knocked Citizen Kane from the top spot, Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo has been deemed “the greatest film of all time” in Sight & Sound’s authoritative poll of international film critics. From this weekend, British cinemagoers will have a chance to view the 1958 movie in a newly restored version.
The London-born, Jesuit-educated director’s film-making had three distinct phases. The innovative technique and storytelling in Hitchcock’s silent cinema of the 1920s was followed by a series of classic suspense-filled dramas in the 1930s, which set the template and introduced many of the recurring themes seen in his later work. Lured to Hollywood by the end of the 1930s, it was there that Hitchcock produced his most acclaimed films, starting with Rope (1948) and culminating in Psycho (1960).
It was during this period of Technicolor brilliance that Vertigo appeared. Hitchcock’s box-office successes of this era included gripping mysteries (Rear Window in 1954), playful capers (To Catch a Thief in 1955) and “man on the run” scenarios (North by Northwest in 1959). Vertigo belongs to none of these genres, however. It is a film about sexual obsession.
Many describe Vertigo as Hitchcock’s most personal film. To begin to understand this, one needs to fathom the on-screen “blonde” motif, commonly referred to as the “Hitchcock Blonde”. For Hitchcock, blondes represented the female ideal, never more effectively personified than in his fellow Catholic Grace Kelly. But no sooner had she appeared than she was gone, married to Monaco’s Prince Rainier.
Hitchcock never quite forgave her for this abandonment, while searching tirelessly for a replacement. Vera Miles came close to filling the void left by Kelly’s marriage. She was Hitchcock’s first choice for the female lead in Vertigo.
But just before production began, She announced that she was pregnant. Hitchcock did not forgive Miles for this either. Kim Novak was drafted in, and soon it became apparent that she was more than suitable for the part – once, that is, that her hair had been dyed blonde.
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