Why Vertigo is so horrifying today

Source: BBC News

By Nicholas Barber

Vertigo gets better with age. Alfred Hitchcock’s mind-bending mystery wasn’t a critical or commercial hit when it was released 60 years ago, and in an interview with Francois Truffaut in 1962, Hitchcock himself classed it as “a failure”. But few failures have gone on to be so successful. In the critics’ poll conducted once a decade by Sight and Sound magazine, Vertigo was ranked, in 1982, as the seventh best film ever made. By 1992, it had crept up to fourth place; by 2002 it was second only to Citizen Kane; and in 2012 Vertigo overtook Orson Welles’ masterpiece to take the top spot.

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Why has its reputation climbed to such dizzying heights? One obvious reason is that the film drips with the kind of toxic cynicism which appeals to critics in retrospect more than it does to Saturday-night cinema-goers. In a canon not short of gruesome murders and cruel betrayals, Vertigo stands out as Hitchcock’s most mercilessly bleak work. Two women die horribly, the hero’s sanity is shattered, and there is no indication that the urbane villain will be punished. You can see why it frustrated viewers who were in the mood for a Jimmy Stewart adventure yarn in 1958.

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