A Brief Read on “Vertigo” (1958) and “Diabolique” (1955)

I didn’t think it possible but Vertigo (1958) is even more impressive on a 4k TV.

“Vertigo” (1958)

I never liked James Stewart much as an actor before seeing him in this film, Rear Window (1954), and Rope (1948). Vertigo took a few viewings for me to fully appreciate, but it truly is a movie that only gets better with time.

“Rear Window” (1954)
“Rope” (1948)

It is interesting to view Vertigo as Hitchcock’s answer to Clouzot’s brilliant thriller Diabolique (1955), in fact, Clouzot is largely referred to as “the French Hitchcock” because of Diabolique and other white-knuckle thrillers from his canon like The Wages of Fear (1953). The source novel for Diabolique was so exceptional that Hitch tried to buy it himself, in fact he went to great lengths to do so, but he lost out at the last minute to Clouzot. That is probably a good thing too, because with the puritanical Hays Production Code still in force in the US (granted in it’s last days), there’s much that Hitch would have had to gut from the story line to get Diabolique made in the US. Clouzot did not have those issues with the much looser French production standards. Still, it is interesting to speculate on what a Hitchcock directed Diabolique would have looked like.

“Diabolique” (1955)

It is speculated by many film historians that Hitch really felt that loss of Diabolique and basically that Clouzot stole some of the great director’s thunder for a while. Luckily, Hitch was able to buy the second book by the author of the Diabolique source novel. “D’entre les Morts” (“From Among the Dead”) would be filmed as Vertigo.

The thing that always gets me about Vertigo is the way that the dual identity of Kim Novak’s character is portrayed. She is shown as merely a shadow of a woman, a waif, a psychological archetype, and in that last vein, this film is very susceptible to psychoanalysis. It is also very dream like while never totally escaping the confines of what is truly believable. In that way I think Hitchcock laid a very elegant groundwork for what cinematic “suspension of disbelief” really means. He also did alot to lay a foundation for later films like Mulholland Dr. (2001).

Kim Novak as Madeleine Elster before she transforms into the Judy Barton character.
Kim Novak after transforming into the Judy Barton character.