Scared of Falling - Top Ten Opening Sequences

Updated: Nov 12, 2019

Nominee #3 - Vertigo (1958)


A former police detective juggles wrestling with his personal demons and becoming obsessed with a hauntingly beautiful woman.

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Writers: Alec Coppel (screenplay by), Samuel A. Taylor (screenplay by) (as Samuel Taylor)

Stars: James Stewart, Kim Novak, Barbara Bel Geddes

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Alfred Hitchcock was a sadist. In the nicest sense of course. Who’d watch his movies otherwise if he was credited with saying ‘always make the audience suffer, as much as possible’ and adding for good measure ‘there’s no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it’. If you’re looking for tension, for suspense you naturally aim to get a decent dose of Hitchcock.

Thing is, Hitchcock doesn’t come in neat little capsules that you swallow after a meal before bedtime. He’s more like a colonoscope – you don’t see him coming (always from behind), and he somehow seems to get bigger, with each quiet scream you let out.

To put it mildly, with Hitchcock there’s no turning back (or behind).

Vertigo’s is the opening scene he put his mind to. And that’s saying something. The entire movie worships disorientation, giddiness, swirling.

The swirling music begins before you see anything on screen. Then it’s a bar (with clarity) the background a blur. You only guess that it’s night (or early morning). Then hands pale with tension.

You’re never quite sure how he makes you feel it, but you feel it – those hands are tense!

One hand, then another before the camera moves back and we see man crawling up on to a rooftop. That swirling music tells us everything Hitchcock wants to tell us – he’s running.

Vertigo’s is the opening scene he put his mind to. And that’s saying something. The entire movie worships disorientation, giddiness, swirling.

No, he’s not running for the local clean-the-beach charity – he’s running for his life. He’s being chased, he’s desperate. Then we’re told it’s cops behind him. The frame captures an entire city sleeping while this chase is afoot on rooftops – two men in black, only just behind one in white. Then the pivot for the whole scene. One particularly steep, sloping and jagged rooftop.

The camera stops its chase, while the first two men scramble past it. The camera’s more interested in the third (James Stewart) – a slacker? Someone over the hill? Either way, he just can’t make it, scrambles up, then down and finally hangs on for dear life from a piece of metal that, well, is also a slacker – it gives and gives barely holding him.

For the first time the camera shows us the height from which he’s hanging – several storeys up and the way he looks down in horror – first over his chest eyes wide open then hiding his face in his left hand eyes closed - shows us his horror isn’t just a fear of heights!

The other cop stops his chase and turns back ‘give me your hand’.

Seeing despair in Stewart’s eyes he stretches further and falls, screaming all the way down. Stewart, from all that way up, can see people rush to the dead man sprawled on the ground below – you see with Hitchcock there’s no turning back.

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