Alfred Hitchcock's mesmerizing Vertigo opens as a fairly down-beat mystery drama and progressively paces up, narratively as well as thematically, to a grand finale. In between the master of suspense manages to implement a narrative that functions on more levels than perhaps any of his movies. From an initial explicit occult theme springs a psychological study that precedes the genre of psychological thrillers.
The story spins around the brilliantly conveyed Jimmy Stewart character. A retired detective and a traditional loner who falls in love for the first time when stalking an old friend's possibly suicidal wife. Stewart's eventual obsession with her suggests elements of necrophilia and a 'lost love'-symptom that reminisce the self-explanation of Humbert Humbert in Nabokov's "Lolita". Jimmy Stewart makes one of the most challenging roles of his career, but Hitchcock's real genius with the Scottie character is the way he suddenly changes the movies point-of-view: When Judy Barton is introduced, Scottie moves away from us and becomes a man of mystique whose nature we can't quite fathom. It is an expertly executed and extremely effective twist, because it is a complete opposite development from what is usually seen in a protagonist.
The Kim Novak character is equally complex. Her emotional bond to the Jimmy Stewart character is based on a peculiar dependency funded in her fatal impersonation. Kim Novak (who got the part after Hitchcock favourite Vera Miles withdrew due to a pregnancy) does the role of her lifetime. She is puzzling, charming, frantic and sexy. The magnetism between her and Stewart, which at first seems unlikely, eventually seems inevitable. It is a love story that is anything but traditional, but its magnitude is unparalleled.
It is very rare that a murder (and the planning of it) isn't involved in Hitchcock's movies, and so is also the case here. The difference with Vertigo is that it isn't the solving of the murder that is the most important matter, but rather how two of the implicated handle it. It is essentially a romantic story, but it is wrapped in a multi-layered mystery, and presented in a visually unique way. The colours captured by Robert Burke isn't as smooth as he in Rear Window (although his 50s San Francisco is a unique environmental document) but they are equally more allegorical. In Stewart's inventive dream-sequence and in the famous stairway-scene, Hitchcock reaches his peak in visual effects (which wasn't actually something he usually paid much attention), and together with Bernard Herrmann's brilliant score, it makes Vertigo one of the most enthralling movies for all the viewer's senses.