Vertigo Celebrates 60 Years!

Vertigo Movie Poster

The Making of Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo (1958)

CAST

James Stewart
Kim Novak
Barbara Bel Geddes
Henry Jones
(Click their name if you would like to know more!)

Vertigo is one of Alfred Hitchcock's most powerful, deep, and stunningly beautiful films. At the time of the film's release, it was not a box-office hit, but has since been regarded as one of the greatest films ever made. It is a film noir that functions on multiple levels and was filmed mostly in beautiful San Francisco. The work is a mesmerizing romantic suspense/thriller about a dance with death, romantic delusion and an extreme case of acrophobia.

If you are a Hitchcock Vertigo fan, you will enjoy these fun facts about the film:

1. ALFRED HITCHCOCK BLAMED JIMMY STEWART FOR VERTIGO’S FAILURE.

Marred by mixed reviews, the $2.5 million Vertigo did comparatively less than Hitchcock’s previous movies, and was widely a recognized failure. Frustrated with its reception, Hitchcock partly blamed star Jimmy Stewart’s aging appearance. At the time of filming, Stewart—who had starred in Hitchcock’s three previous films—was 50 years old which, according to the director, was too old to convincingly play then-25-year-old Kim Novak’s love interest.

2. EDITH HEAD USED COLOR TO HIGHLIGHT THE CHARACTERS’ STATE OF MIND.

When having costume disagreements with Kim Novak about her famous gray suit, Head “explained to her that Hitch paints a picture in his films, that color is as important to him as any artist”. After a discussion with the director when Head wouldn’t relent, Novak finally understood their creative choices, “I thought, ‘He knows my point of view, he must see a reason why that would work. He wants me to feel that discomfort as Madeleine. And, of course, she should feel that way because she’s actually Judy, playing the part of somebody, so that edge of discomfort will help me.’”

3. KIM NOVAK WAS ALREADY BEING CONSIDERED TO REPLACE VERA MILES, HITCHCOCK’S FIRST-CHOICE LEADING LADY, BEFORE MILES DROPPED OUT DUE TO A PREGNANCY.

According to Vertigo: The Making of a Hitchcock Classic, Hitchcock began to have doubts about Miles’s ability to be a breakout star when she showed signs of reluctance to be shaped by the director. Thus, Hitchcock sought a possible substitute. Author Dan Aulier writes, “A few weeks before Miles reported to Stage 5 at Paramount for hair, costume, and makeup tests, Hitchcock screened The Eddy Duchin Story, a biopic featuring an actress [Kim Novak] who was being molded by one of Hitchcock's crosstown rivals [Harry Cohn].”

4. HITCHCOCK EXPLORED NECROPHILIA WHILE SHOOTING THE FILM.

Hitchcock elaborated on the most perverse scene of Vertigo: the part in which Novak’s Judy dresses up as the dead woman with whom Stewart’s Scottie is obsessed. “I indulged in a form of necrophilia,”  In the scene, Scottie can’t bring himself to have sex with Judy until every detail matches his former lover, Madeleine.

5. AN UNCREDITED CAMERAMAN CAME UP WITH THE FAMOUS "VERTIGO EFFECT."

According to associate producer Herbert Coleman, it wasn’t Hitchcock who came up with the film’s famous camera technique (which essentially involves zooming forward while pulling the camera backward); rather, it was an uncredited second unit cameraman, Irwin Roberts. “He didn’t get screen credit on Vertigo because they gave the screen credit to another close friend, [Wallace Kelley] who did all the process work on the stage,”.

6. THE PRODUCTION CODE ADMINISTRATION POLICED THE MORALS OF THE FILM’S CHARACTERS.

Considering this was the 1950s, any kind of sexual activity was scrutinized. According to Auiler’s book on the making of Vertigo, the Production Code Administration, under the leadership of Geoffrey Shurlock, wanted to eliminate several scenes that contained illicit sex. This included, but was not limited to, discussions between Scottie and Midge (Barbara Bel Geddes) about her bra and her love life, and any underwear pictured during Madeleine’s suicide attempt.

7. THE FILM WENT THROUGH SEVERAL TITLE OPTIONS.

While the source novel’s literal translation was From Among the Dead, which is the title under which the film was cast and shot, it didn’t stick. A few Paramount execs weighed in with their suggestions, which included A Matter of FactThe Mad CarlottaFace in the Shadow, and Possessed by a Stranger.

8. A MUSICIANS GUILD STRIKE AFFECTED THE FINAL CUT.

In 1958, the same year Vertigo was in post-production, Hollywood's musical status quo changed drastically. Studios were dissolving their in-house music departments, so the industry’s composers, orchestra members, and musicians had to start working freelance or were out of jobs. According to a 1996 interview with Hitchcock’s daughter, Patricia, the union had a lot of things working against them: a leader who didn't look out for them, Hollywood using cheaper old recordings from Europe, and a tense intra-union split amongst members.

“Bernard Herrmann didn’t conduct himself,” said Patricia. “It couldn’t be done in Hollywood, so it was taken to London with Muir Mathieson conducting, and they did about a day and a half there, then the London orchestra went out in sympathy with the Los Angeles musicians. And the entire unit had to move to Vienna.” During the film’s restoration in the 1990s, each country’s recording ultimately aged differently, leaving the folks at Universal to remaster its sound.

9. ALFRED HITCHCOCK CHANGED THE SETTING FROM PARIS TO SAN FRANCISCO.

The French source novel, D'entre les Morts, was set in Paris, but Hitchcock believed that San Francisco was more interesting. With the city's vertiginous streets and hilly landscape, the location perfectly matched the film’s themes. In a city where there were such extreme physical highs and lows, awful for anyone with acrophobia, Scottie’s vertigo became a character in and of itself.

10. DESPITE HITCHCOCK’S TASKMASTER REPUTATION, KIM NOVAK GOT ALONG WITH HER DIRECTOR.

Happy to be on loan from Columbia, the Harry Cohn-run studio under which Novak was contracted, Novak reveled in her experience with Hitchcock. “I didn’t find him controlling whatsoever,” she told The Telegraph“I found him a joy.” She elaborated saying, “[Hitchcock] didn’t make me feel ‘less than.’ He never said, ‘You’re not doing it right…’  What I would do after a take is to look in Jimmy Stewart’s eyes … I used Jimmy to give me what I needed to keep going and to know that I was on the right path with it … So, Hitchcock wouldn’t say anything about my work in the movie but, on the other hand, he wouldn’t complain, either.”

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