Vertigo (1958)

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Released 2-May-2000

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Thriller Featurette-Making Of-Obsessed with Vertigo (29:20)
Audio Commentary-H Coleman (Ass Prod), R Harris (Rest), J Katz (Rest), et al
Production Notes
Biographies-Cast & Crew
Theatrical Trailer-2 - 1.85:1, not 16x9, Dolby Digital 2.0
Alternate Ending
Gallery-The Vertigo Archives
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1958
Running Time 124:15
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (65:44) Cast & Crew
Start Up Programme
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Alfred Hitchcock
Studio
Distributor

Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring James Stewart
Kim Novak
Barbara Bel Geddes
Tom Helmore
Henry Jones
Case Brackley-Trans-No Lip
RPI $36.95 Music Bernard Herrmann


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 1.0 (96Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 1.0 (96Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 1.0 (96Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 1.0 (96Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
French
Portuguese
Danish
Finnish
Czech
Swedish
Norwegian
German
Dutch
Polish
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Trivia buffs will probably know that From Among The Dead was the original title for the film that we now know as Vertigo. It raises the interesting question as to whether the film would have been quite so famous had it kept its original name. For mention of the name Vertigo certainly provokes inevitable images, none possibly more famous than those vertigo sequences. And quite what is that Paramount logo doing there you may well ask? Well, I certainly do not wish to delve into the complexities of the Hollywood studio system here, but yes indeed, this film was originally a Paramount release and since they are one of the two remaining major holdouts against Region 4 DVDs, I thought I might use the logo without fear of confusion.

    As we look back over the history of films during the Twentieth Century, the impact of Alfred Hitchcock is unlikely to be overlooked. Indeed, most Top 100 type lists seem to include a decent selection of his films and I suppose inevitably these boil down to a selection of four or so great films. My most recent look at the Internet Movie Database Top 250 reveals no less than four of Hitchcock's films in their top 50 films - Rear Window, Psycho, North By Northwest and Vertigo. However, there are plenty of other candidates, including Rebecca, The Birds, Strangers On A Train, The Lady Vanishes and The 39 Steps amongst several other great films, that could be included. If you have never really understood why there is a mystique about Alfred Hitchcock's work, then Vertigo is perhaps the film to turn to for an explanation. Whilst many directors have tried the suspense genre, many have failed because of one simple fact - the twist was about as obvious as an elephant's trunk: there is nothing quite so certain to sink a suspense film than a twist that was obvious from about five minutes into the film. Now take a look at this film, and the major twist comes so far out of left field that you might be excused for thinking that two different films got thrown together in the editing room. And that is not the end of it, by a long shot since this is after all an Alfred Hitchcock film! This film is the one amongst all of his films that really demonstrates Alfred Hitchcock's complete mastery of a genre. All the more reason then that his failure to win an Oscar for Best Director has to be considered one of the most glaring examples of ineptitude from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

    The problem of trying to provide a synopsis of an Alfred Hitchcock film is to do so without giving away the twist. So this synopsis is at best going to be brief and pretty inadequate, but you really need to see this film anyway. John "Scottie" Ferguson (James Stewart) is a detective with the San Francisco Police Department, who during rooftop chase suffers a bout of acrophobia that results in the death of a police officer trying to save him. Retiring from the force rather than suffer behind a desk, he finds himself with with little to do apart from spend time in the company of a former flame in Marjorie "Midge" Wood (Barbara Bel Geddes). So when a former college friend in Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore) makes an offer of a job, there is not too much to prevent Scottie from taking it, despite the unusual nature of the job. Gavin is just a little afraid that his rather gorgeous wife Madeleine Elster (Kim Novak) is going a tad astray, but not the usual way. He is disturbed by the way his wife disappears for hours on end and is unable to explain where she has been, leading him to believe that she may be developing some sort of psychological disorder. Although Scottie finds the request a little unbelievable, since it lacks any real substance, he nonetheless agrees to follow Madeleine. What follows is a rather nicely crafted leisurely stroll along a story line that leads to a series of rather abrupt and unexpected twists, and nothing really ends up being as it seemed. Suffice it to say, however, that Scottie is unable to resist the obvious physical charms of Madeleine and that forms the basis of much of the twisting and turning in the film.

    This is an absolute classic of a film, seen almost for the first time in many ways in this magnificent restoration job. The quality of acting is brilliant, with James Stewart leading the way as only he seemed to be able to do. Perhaps he did not attain the accolades he deserved during his working life, but one only has to look at his filmography to see the number of true classics listed there. But even he is upstaged here by the stunning Kim Novak, who plays a dual role in the film and excels; the distinctiveness of her performances as the almost split personality in Madeleine, and then as Judy is a treat rarely seen on screen and certainly to my recollection very rarely done as well as here. Add to the mix the wonderful Barbara Bel Geddes and the performances just exude class throughout the film. Naturally enough there are no qualms about the quality of the direction here and you could make very serious claims for this being Alfred Hitchcock's masterpiece.

    As much as it pains me to admit it, this is actually the first time that I have ever seen this film in its entirety. I have truly been missing something quite special. Whilst you can argue all you like about which is the best Hitchcock film, one thing is undeniable - this one demands a place in every true film buff's collection. And it certainly does have one of the more dramatic opening scenes in film history. Mind you the film also includes a couple of glaring bloopers, with two scenes where the car is shown as driving quite distinctly on the left hand side of the road! Maybe this was Hitch's English origins coming to the fore.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    Interestingly this was released in the same year as the last disc I reviewed, namely The 7th Voyage of Sinbad. It makes a most interesting comparison indeed. It should be noted that this is the restored version of the film that took two years to prepare, the restoration being handled by a team headed by Robert A. Harris and James C. Katz. If you recall, Robert A. Harris was the person responsible for the magnificent restoration of My Fair Lady and the eagerly awaited Lawrence of Arabia. By all accounts Vertigo had been poorly done by and the quality of the film stock was very poor indeed. The restoration has fixed nearly all of the resultant problems and the result is a film that probably looks as good as it did on its initial premiere - and maybe even better. However, its transfer onto DVD is a tad problematic.

    The video transfer is presented at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, and is 16x9 enhanced.

    Part of the problem here is that the first half of the film, prior to the layer change, seems to be noticeably better transferred than the second half of the film. The bit rate of the transfer up to the layer change seems to be consistently in the lower to mid 9.0Mb/s range, whereas for the second half of the film it barely gets above the 8.0Mb/s range and often is much lower. This is probably indicative of why the second half of the film seems a lot grainier in comparison to the first. The transfer is in general reasonably sharp and very well defined during the first half of the film, but this drops off noticeably in the second half and the last ten minutes of the film are very poor in comparison with an extremely diffuse image that lacks any sort of real definition. How much of this is due to poor compression and how much is due to problems in the source material that could not be rectified by the restoration I do not know. However, if the film was in as poor a condition as indicated by various sources, then even this is far better than we have seen before. The other problem though is the grain, and whilst it was never made the transfer unwatchable, it is somewhat worse than I was perhaps expecting here. The result is that what should have been in general a very nice and clear transfer overall ended up being not so clear in parts. Obviously the restoration could do little about the inherent shadow detail of the film and this in general demonstrates the age of the film, as at times there is something of a lack of good shadow detail. There was also a small patch of rather darkly transferred film, which suddenly and abruptly lightens at about 35:11 as if someone had just turned the lights on in the studio!

    One of the much acclaimed improvements of the restoration is that of the colours, which have been quite wonderfully restored. Quite a number of scenes show a magnificent richness of tone and colour that would rival many a more modern film. There was obviously a lot of work involved in restoring this vibrancy in the colours, even in the grays and darker colours. Whilst I would hesitate to call it a natural looking film, it is a lot closer to being so than previously judging by the before and after shots included in the featurette. Even the "false colour" sequences are handled quite wonderfully and do not descend into being unwatchable: it would be fair to say however that some of these sequences are just on the wrong side of being oversaturated, most notably between 80:30 and 81:30.

    There were no MPEG artefacts noted in the transfer, apart from some minor moire-like artefacting in the opening titles. Film-to-video artefacts were mostly absent from the transfer although there were some hints at shimmer at times, most notably in the columns of the art gallery between 38:50 and 38:58. In general however, these hints did not detract from the film in any great way. Whilst the restoration has removed many of the expected film artefacts, some do still remain although these really were not much of a distraction either.

    The disc is an RSDL format disc, with the layer change coming at 65:44. This is bang in the middle of a black scene change fade and is completely unnoticeable and non-disruptive to the film.

Audio

    Rather interestingly, the restoration work included a complete remastering of the soundtrack in DTS sound. Much to my annoyance, we do not get a DTS sound option here. The remastering of the soundtrack was apparently the most controversial part of the entire restoration - particularly as the foley work was redone.

    There are six soundtracks on the DVD: an English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, a German Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack, a French Dolby Digital 1.0 soundtrack, an Italian Dolby Digital 1.0 soundtrack, a Spanish Dolby Digital 1.0 soundtrack and an English Audio Commentary in Dolby Digital 1.0 sound. I listened to the default English soundtrack and the English Audio Commentary, with some very brief sampling of the other soundtracks. Note that the packaging claims that the German soundtrack is surround encoded, but this did not appear to be the case based upon my listening samples.

    Dialogue was clear and generally easy to understand at all times.

    There were no audio sync problems during the film.

    The music score comes from Bernard Herrmann, and is arguably one of the greatest movie scores ever composed. It is no doubt Bernard Herrmann's masterpiece and this film would have been nothing without the score. This is a magnificently evocative score that contributes enormously to the power of the film. This was one of the very best efforts to appear on the famed Mercury music label many years ago, and its compact disc reissue some years back is now quite valuable as it has been deleted by Philips -the rights were lost on restoration I believe and now are held by Varese Saraband, which is why it is a enormous shame that we do not get an Isolated Musical Score soundtrack on the DVD.

    Whilst the English soundtrack is a Dolby Digital 5.1 effort, you would be hard-pressed to notice it as there appears to be no use made of the rear surround or bass channels at all. The overall sound is very much frontally based and even then decidedly central, with minimal use of the front surround channels. This is not necessarily a bad thing as there is hardly a great need in the film for wide dynamic ranges and fully enveloping sound. After all, Hitchcock was the master of understated sound use - his motto must have been something along the lines of less is good. The remastering of the soundtrack has left a listenable soundtrack, free of the constrictions that would normally be expected in a film of this age and almost totally free of distortions too. About the only real problem noted with the soundtrack was some distortion between 101:30 and 101:32.

Extras

    Well, this is a package that befits the status of the film as a true classic.

Menu

Theatrical Trailers

    The first trailer is a 2:19 effort and is the original theatrical trailer, whilst the second is a 1:14 effort for the restoration re-release. Both are presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, are not 16x9 enhanced and with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. Obviously the original trailer has some inherent problems due to age, but generally the quality here could perhaps have been just a little better.

Audio Commentary - Robert A. Harris (Restoration Team), James C. Katz (Restoration Team) and Herbert Coleman (Associate Producer) with others

    Even by my low standards for such things, this is not a great effort. Given the fact that it is a true film classic and there must have been enormous problems and delights in the restoration, the fact that the commentary ends up being so d*** dull is a monumental disappointment. Part of the problem is Herbie Coleman, who simply is an uninspiring raconteur even when they could get him to talk. You would have thought that a man so closely associated with some of the great films from Alfred Hitchcock would have been a fountain of wonderful stories, but apparently not.

Featurette - Obsessed With Vertigo (29:20)

    This is a made for television documentary, presumably for a series on cable television, made in 1997. Quite an interesting effort really, with some interesting interview stuff from some of the surviving cast and crew. Presented in full frame, not 16x9 enhanced and with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. A nice inclusion in the package.

Biographies

    The usual comprehensive efforts that we have come to expect from Universal, comprising the five main cast members and Hitchcock himself.

Production Notes

    Again the usual comprehensive effort that we have come to expect from Universal.

Alternate Ending

    Not mentioned on the packaging nor in the menus, this is actually tacked onto the end of the featurette and can only be accessed from the chapter selection listing for that. This was the ending that Alfred Hitchcock hated but was requested to provide by foreign distributors as a way of tidying up the loose ends in the film. Guess what? It didn't and really is an abomination to the film. Still it makes an interesting inclusion here. It is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, is not 16x9 enhanced and comes with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound.

Gallery - The Vertigo Archives

    Again not mentioned on the packaging nor in the menus, this is also tacked onto the end of the featurette and can only be accessed from the chapter selection listing for that. This is a rather extensive collection of stills that can be broadly split into five categories:     Quite a few things stand out here. Firstly, the storyboards have detailed notations attached to them (unlike any I have seen before) indicating that Alfred Hitchcock had very definite ideas of the film's construction and composition well before filming began - and there is little variance between the storyboards and the actual film in many respects. Secondly, in general all suffer quite badly from cross colouration, but most especially the photographs and the production notes. The production notes are rendered virtually illegible due to the problem, given that the font is quite small to begin with. Which is a great shame as they are quite clearly enormously detailed. Whilst you can cheerfully keep pushing the skip button or right arrow button on your remote to move onto the next still, this is quite an exercise as there must be about 100 stills. If you feel lazy, don't worry as if you do not do anything the stills automatically flip to the next one after about fifteen seconds. A damned nice inclusion ruined by the cross colouration problems.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 4 version misses out on:     The Region 1 version misses out on:     This would seem to suggest a no-brainer decision in favour of Region 4, although none of the available reviews of the Region 1 version mention any problems with cross-colouration in the extras.

Summary

    Obviously Vertigo is a true classic film and the restoration has brought the film to an almost better than new state. Universal have given the film a package that is far better than we have any right to expect for a film that is over forty years old and one that was in a pretty poor condition, notwithstanding my qualms about certain aspects of the video transfer. Just get it, as it has never looked this good for years and the film is one that you can watch again and again.

    A good video transfer for its age.

    A good audio transfer for its age

    A very good collection of extras, at least in quantity.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ian Morris (Biological imperfection run amok)
Friday, May 05, 2000
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-515, using S-Video output
DisplaySony Trinitron Wega (80cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationYamaha RXV-795
SpeakersEnergy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL

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Comments (Add)
Audio Commentary is Excellent! -