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Vertigo (1958) - Blu-ray Review [Region-free]

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Vertigo - Blu-ray Review

5 stars

There are plenty of examples in film history of now revered classics not finding their audience upon first release. With so many ‘top’ lists having Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo in them, and the reverence it has received for at least the last 30 years, it’s difficult to believe that this 1958 murder mystery masterpiece was met with a colder reception than its subject matter.

Based on the French thriller novel D'entre les morts by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, this melancholic assault on the senses is the story of former detective John ‘Scottie’ Ferguson, retired early from the force due to a fear of heights and vertigo. He kind of falls into a private investigator role when an old chum asks him to tail his wife, whom he believes may be possessed. Scotty becomes enamored by Madeleine, and they end up professing feelings for each other… and then Madeleine seemingly commits suicide from a high bell tower. Mentally fractured, Scotty takes a long time to recover from the incident, but as he starts to try and reenter his life, he begins to see a woman with a striking resemblance to Madeleine. As he gets closer to this new woman, Judy, the truth about what really happened is revealed, and culminates in a deadly confrontation, back at the top of the tower, that proves disastrous for all.

This is a master class in how to write tension. The moral ambiguities of these characters, the subtle nuances achieved to mislead, to question Scotty’s sanity, his perceptions, is about as good as it gets. This is a post noir era film, but it belongs to that pantheon, along with The Maltese Falcon, and equals it in quality. Dialogue is snappy, musical in its effect and impressive in its brevity. But the factor that sets this apart from many is you know the twist with a third of the film left to go; the tension makes through how it will affect some very damaged people—what it will make them do. It transcends the conventions of plot to immerse and empathize with these people, and be on edge as to what these turns will make them do. That its best tension derives from character not plot contrivance is why this film is so successful emotionally.

This is my favorite Jimmy Stewart performance. His likeability had him so often portraying a benevolent lead, and although his Scotty is certainly likeable, there is a self-destructive streak in him that he portrays with nuance and pathos unseen in most of his other leading roles: it’s hard to take your eyes off him.

All the cast in this movie are superb; Kim Novak, who replaced a pregnant Vera Miles, gets to play the many faces of the femme fatale, and inhabits each permeation with ease. Barbara Bel Geddes, who most would know as Miss Ellie from Dallas, also delivers a solid turn as yet another emotionally damaged woman.

The cinematography of a 50s San Francisco by Robert Burks is an impressively contradictory animal. Colors are bold, striking, from the actor’s eyes, to the ‘Frisco’ vista, which might denote warmth. But this is a cold and ominous world, and every frame, with its high contrast and amped color suggests it.

Bernard Herrmann gives one of his best scores with Hitchcock in this film, delivering an atmospheric and repetitious accompaniment to a man who can’t escape his cycle of self-destruction.

This was one of Hitchcock’s favorite offerings, and 60 years later this reviewer doesn’t find it hard to see why. This is a true example, in this day and age, of taking something that had at the time been done to death, and making it better. Unmissable, in this reviewer’s opinion.

Vertigo - Blu-ray Review

 MPAA Rating: PG.
Runtime:
129 mins
Director
: Alfred Hitchcock
Writer:
Alec Coppell
Cast:
James Stewart, Kim Novak, Barbara Bel Geddes
Genre
: Mystery | Classic | Drama
Tagline:
A tall story about a pushover.
Memorable Movie Quote: "Only one is a wanderer; two together are always going somewhere."
Distributor:
Paramount Pictures
Official Site:
Release Date:
May 28, 1958
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
September 23, 2013
Synopsis: A retired San Francisco detective suffering from acrophobia investigates the strange activities of an old friend's wife, all the while becoming dangerously obsessed with her.

Vertigo - Blu-ray Review

Blu-ray

Blu-ray Details:

Available on Blu-ray - September 23, 2013
Screen Formats: 1.85:1
Subtitles
: English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, German, Cantonese, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Icelandic, Italian, Korean, Mandarin (Traditional), Norwegian, Swedish
Audio:
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (48kHz, 24-bit); French: DTS Mono; Italian: DTS Mono; German: DTS Mono; Spanish: DTS Mono; Japanese: DTS 5.1
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Single disc (1 BD)
Region Encoding: B/A

From all accounts, by the mid-nineties, this film’s original negatives and source materials were in catastrophic condition. Robert A. Harris and James C. Katz took it upon themselves to salvage it and create a new 70mm master print in 1996. Having seen the comparison, they have done an excellent job in the restoration, but one wonders what might be accomplished with the current level of technology? This is a film that deserves another pass. The 1080p VC-1 encode is the best we’ve ever seen the film, but there are some distinct print flaws on show, mostly from fading or inconsistent source material that color correction or the techniques at the time haven’t solved. It is a truly impressive picture, so much so one begs for it to be just that inch closer it needs for perfection.

Sound is a controversial topic, as some of the sound sources were corrupted beyond use and new foley had to be made to complete the mix. You can’t tell; this is not some over the top rambunctious modern bastardization. The 5.1 DTS-HD lossless mix is more immersive than many mixes from that period of film, dialogue is clean and crisp. It’s a great mix. Purists will have a stab at the offering, because the mono mix, approximating the original soundtrack, is not lossless. Over all it is a solid effort.

Special features include 20 year-old documentaries about the 1996 restoration and making of the film. Considering this film’s pedigree, Universal should have thrown some new HD material together to celebrate this release. Perhaps they well, when inevitably some whiz bang edition is struck from their mint.

Supplements:

Commentary:

  • None

Special Features:

  • Obsessed with Vertigo: New Life for Hitchcock's Masterpiece
  • Partners in Crime: Hitchcock's Collaborators
  • Hitchcock / Truffaut Interview Excerpts
  • Foreign Censorship Ending
  • The Vertigo Archives
  • Feature Commentary with Director William Friedkin
  • 100 Years of Universal: The Lew Wasserman Era
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Restoration Theatrical Trailer

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