At the very beginning of the movie, we see Scottie vaulting across rooftops, struggling to keep up with the policeman ahead of him as he realizes that he is afraid of heights. He is, of course, suffering from castration anxiety. The ability to chase down criminals is important to his work, which is tied directly to his role as a male, providing for himself. If he is unable to perform adequately, it will signify that he is impotent. When he fails to save the life of the policeman who is trying to save him, he is effectively castrated.1
Vertigo: The History
Vertigo was adapted from the French novel, The Living and the Dead (D’entre les morts) by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac. Paramount Pictures paid $25,275 for the book’s rights and Hitchcock commissioned the screen adaptation from playwright Maxwell Anderson, most famous for his Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Both Your Houses. When Hitchcock was unsatisfied with Anderson’s draft, longtime friend and collaborator, Angus MacPhail, was hired. Possibly due to the fact he was a raging alcoholic, MacPhail quit after completing only fifteen pages (Fun fact: Hitchcock biographer Donald Spoto credits MacPhail with coining the term “MacGuffin“). Alec Coppel was hired as the film’s third screenwriter, but Hitch rejected his work, too. Ultimately, Samuel A. Taylor wrote the final draft, with his most notable contribution outside of the source material being the Midge character. The final film credits both Coppel and Taylor after Coppel protested the Screen Writers Guild and the guild ruled in his favor.
Principal photography lasted an estimated sixty-eight days, from September 30 to December 19, 1957 and Vertigo was released less than five months later, on May 28, 1958 to lukewarm reviews. Initially, the film did not turn much of a profit, costing nearly $2.5 million to produce, which did not include the salaries (and undisclosed percentages on gross) for both Hitchcock and Stewart. At the end of its run, it brought in just $2.8 million in the United States. 2 However, the film has stood the test of time and is now considered by many as Hitchcock’s masterpiece, most recently knocking Citizen Kane down to number two on The British Film Institute’s The Top 50 Greatest Films of All Time. 3
After half a century of monopolising the top spot, Citizen Kane was beginning to look smugly inviolable. Call it Schadenfreude, but let’s rejoice that this now conventional and ritualised symbol of ‘the greatest’ has finally been taken down a peg. The accession of Vertigo is hardly in the nature of a coup d’état. Tying for 11th place in 1972, Hitchcock’s masterpiece steadily inched up the poll over the next three decades, and by 2002 was clearly the heir apparent. Still, even ardent Wellesians should feel gratified at the modest revolution – if only for the proof that film canons (and the versions of history they legitimate) are not completely fossilised.
VERTIGO: The Analysis
Above all else, Vertigo is a film about redemption. The prologue establishes a world where the bad guy gets away and the good guy gets his teeth kicked in. As a detective, Scottie doesn’t get his man. It’s survival of the fittest and he’s an older man, well past his prime. The accident reminds him nature doesn’t see things in terms of black and white, or good and evil. So, when he he’s forced into retirement from the accident, he feels no value in society. He didn’t get the bad guy, then fate stepped in and told him he won’t have the chance to redeem himself with the San Francisco Police Department. Did you ever ask yourself why Scottie and the officer were pursuing that suspect? Well, that guy must have done something bad, because they were shooting at him and he didn’t appear to have a weapon. That subtext is powerful. One simple question can open a door to the darkest corner of your mind. In those terms, Scottie solving the murder of Elster’s wife is his path to reestablishing his self-worth, but more important, its the path to his redemption.
The film literary beats the living hell out of Scottie, both emotionally and physically. He suffers from acrophobia, which triggers vertigo (today, he would most certainly be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder). The simple act of walking up a flight of stairs could trigger it. Think about that for a second. He lives in San Francisco. There are dangers everywhere, especially in a city with streets like Filbert between Leavenworth & Hyde. He has his career cut short by an unfortunate accident, falls for a woman that kills herself, suffers a breakdown as a result, and then meets a woman who looks just like the love he lost. Yeah, Scottie’s a fighter. I doubt just anyone could come through those kind of breaks triumphant.
Only in times of great stress is your character truly challenged
Scottie falls in love with the woman he’s hired to shadow, moreover, an old friend’s wife. Elster appears to Scottie as a man deeply troubled by his wife’s emotional state. There’s no ethical dilemma in Scottie’s decision to pursue Madeleine. He doesn’t think twice about it. Why? Because his passion for Madeleine is an escape from madness. He tosses aside his values to feel alive, but above all else, he wants to feel hopeful again. The irony, of course, is that he falls for a suicidal woman. But is it really that much of a coincidence? He feels that close to death himself. From that perspective, if he can slay Madeleine’s demons, he’s got a real shot at killing his, too. This addition to the story is one of many pieces that make Scottie one of the most compelling and unique characters ever put on film.
Vertigo: The Theme of Masks
When it comes to theme, this film can open up a wide range of topics. I discussed the theme of self-worth in the opening paragraphs, which is paramount in understanding Scottie’s arc, but this analysis wouldn’t feel complete without mentioning the theme of masks. Perhaps this is the reason Hitchcock chose to open on the face of a woman we never see again. In the first scene at Midge’s apartment, Scottie looks like a guy that’s got it together. Seemingly to terms the event that opens the story, he has a charming dry wit about it, saying, “Midge, do you suppose many men wear corsets,” but a few steps up the ladder and we can clearly see he’s teetering on madness.
JUDY BARTON / MADELEINE ELSTER
Judy, his object of desire, wears the mask of Elster’s wife. Push that idea a bit further and you could say she’s playing the part of a woman who believes she’s another person at times. That’s not much of a stretch for an actress of her caliber. In the end, you could go to the extent of saying it’s the perfect mixture of guilt and love for Scottie that has her put on a mask to reveal her true identity. Ironically, her fate was to die the way her subject was believed to have perished.
Elster represents himself a reputable businessman who fears for his wife’s safety, only to be revealed as the man who takes her life. His motive is established in his first scene. He married into money, but was forced into running his wife’s family shipping business. She has no more family left, so daddy’s little girl’s dependent on him and him alone. Elster dreams of living in a different time. It’s quite plausible his expectations of a life with money did not live up to the bitter truths. And he hides his true face from everyone, even his mistress, with whom he leaves a necklace, some money, and all the guilt. Even our detective doesn’t figure it all out until Elster’s safe, hiding somewhere in Europe.
MAJORIE “MIDGE” WOOD
Midge comes across as an independent woman with an impenetrable boundary on her relationship with Scottie. When she shows him her recreation of “Portrait of Carlotta” with her face, it offends Scottie enough to leave her apartment. Seconds later, Midge has a breakdown, displaying a hidden passion she would never dare reveal.
Vertigo: The Alternate Ending
I can see why Hitchcock contemplated using this. The ending is such a shock, a little more resolution may have felt right. In the end, I’m glad he cut it. The final shot of Scottie stepping out on the tower’s ledge signifies he’s not only cured of his acrophobia, but he’s redeemed his identity through solving the crime. No need to say anything else. Below you’ll find the original ending from the screenplay:
INT. MIDGE APARTMENT – (NIGHT)
Midge is huddled in a chair, listening to the radio. Beyond her, San Francisco at night.
-- was last hear of living, but is now thought to be residing somewhere in the south of France. Captain Hansen states that he anticipated no trouble in having Elster extradited once he is foud. Other news on the local front: in Berkeley three university of California sophomores found themselves in a rather embarrassing position tonight when they were discovered by Police Officer William Fogarty leading a cow up the steps of --
By now Midge has heard the NOISE outside, has uncoiled from the chair and shut the radio. She listens again for a moment, then moves quickly to the table on which are bottles, glasses and ice. She starts to mix a strong highball and does not turn as she hears the front door open. Scottie enters and closes the door behind him. His face is a mask. He moves slowly across the room and stands by the window, with the view of San Francisco beyond him, and looks straight ahead, thinking. Midge picks up the highball, glances over at him, picks up the bottle and pours in another slug. Then moves across the room and holds out the drink. Scottie takes it. Midge moves away, picks up her own drink, sits down, and looks across the room. Scottie stands quietly, immobile, then raises the glass and takes a long pull at the drink. He stares out at the city.
Vertigo: Hitchcock on Judy’s Transformation
Remember how I mentioned the power of subtext? Hey, look on the bright side: At least Hitchcock was classy enough to frame Stewart from the waste up.
Die-hard Hitchcock fans can listen to the entire interview between Hitchcock and Truffaut by following the links on Open Culture’s post. From their article:
Back in 1962, François Truffaut, the inspiration behind French New Wave cinema, sat down to talk with another legendary director, Alfred Hitchcock. Conducted with the help of a translator, Truffaut’s interviews worked systematically through Hitchcock’s life and vast filmography, moving from his early films shot it Britain (Blackmail, The 39 Steps, Secret Agent), to his later Hollywood productions – North by Northwest, Psycho and Vertigo. In total, the two filmmakers talked for over 12 hours, and, several years later, Truffaut published a now classic book based on these conversations: Alfred Hitchcock: A Definitive Study (1967).
Vertigo: The Story Map
PROTAGONIST: John “Scottie” Ferguson, 50-something retired detective
CHARACTERIZATION/MAIN MISBEHAVIOR: Suffers from acrophobia / Haunted by the past
EXTERNAL GOAL: To help Madeline / To transform Judy into Madeline / To solve the crime
INTERNAL GOAL: To reclaim his self-worth
MAIN DRAMATIC CONFLICT: Madeleine / Elster / Judy
THEMES: Identity in relation to self-worth / Masks
CENTRAL DRAMATIC QUESTION: Will Scottie solve the crime and regain his sanity?
ENDING: Scottie regains his identity as a man (detective) by solving murder of Elster’s wife and curing his acrophobia.
ARC: Scottie goes from a broken, haunted man, to a man who battles tremendous odds to regain his sanity and reclaim his self-worth.
Vertigo: The Story Engines
Detective John “Scottie” Ferguson pursues a suspect across the rooftops of San Francisco. He falls behind and is unable to make the leap between two buildings. As Scottie hangs from a flimsy gutter, a fellow officer falls to his death in an attempt to save him. For Scottie, it seems the only way out is down…
Scottie’s hired by an old friend, Gavin Elster, to investigate the strange behavior of his wife, Madeleine, whom he believes is having an emotional breakdown and is a danger to herself. Scottie soon uncovers Madeleine’s obsession with a dead woman.
Madeleine attempts to kill herself, but Scottie saves her. Scottie falls for Madeleine, his feelings outweighing any professional or personal relationship with her husband. He feels a great deal of personal responsibility for her safety and seeks to solve her mental issues.
Scottie attempts to help Madeleine cure herself through exposure to the reality of her dream. For the first time, Scottie battles his acrophobia in an effort to save her, but sadly, he loses and she kills herself. He then suffers a mental breakdown and is institutionalized. Upon his release, he meets a woman named Judy, who bears a striking resemblance to Madeleine, and asks her out on a date, which she accepts.
Obsessed with Madeleine, Scottie transforms Judy into her and exposes a clue that brings him back to reality: Carlotta’s necklace. Scottie makes the decision to relive the moment that destroyed his life, knowing to trigger an emotional shock will either fuel his redemption or his destruction. This scene pulls us full circle from the film’s prologue, where Scottie can regain his identity as a man (detective and police officer) by solving the crime and curing his acrophobia. He succeeds, but tragically, Judy falls to her death in the tower after being startled by a nun.
Vertigo: The Beats
Sequence I: Detective John “Scottie” Ferguson, the film’s protagonist, pursues a suspect across the rooftops of San Francisco with a fellow officer. He falls behind and is unable to make the leap between two buildings. When the officer attempts to save Scottie as he hangs from a flimsy gutter, the officer falls to his death. For Scottie, it seems the only way out is down…
1 – OPENING IMAGES: A woman’s face. The camera closes in on her eye as Vertigo appears on the screen…
4 – DETECTIVE JOHN “SCOTTIE” FERGUSON and an OFFICER chase a SUSPECT across rooftops of downtown San Francisco.
4 – The suspect and pursuing officer leap between two buildings. Scottie attempts, but lands awkwardly. He latches onto a flimsy gutter at the last possible second — the only thing between him and the pavement.
5 – The officer attempts to help, but falls to his death instead. Scottie’s helpless, paralyzed with fear. It seems the only way out is down…
Sequence I: Scottie quit the force as a result of his injuries from the accident that took the life of his fellow officer. His good friend Midge believes only another emotional shock could cure him of his acrophobia and vertigo.
7 – Sometime in the future, Scottie chats with MAJORIE “MIDGE” WOOD. Scottie has quit the force after the incident. He talks about his injuries (he wears a corset and walks with a cane), as well as his acrophobia and vertigo.
9 – SCOTTIE’S CURE SETUP: Scottie and Midge discuss curing his acrophobia…
Midge, what did you mean, there’s no losing it?
My ... the acrophobia.
I asked my doctor. He said only another emotional shock could do it, and probably wouldn’t. And you’re not going to go diving off another rooftop to find out.
I think I can lick it.
11 – Scottie stands on a chair. He looks out the window and his vertigo kicks in… he flashes back to the view from the rooftop incident and loses his balance. Midge catches him.
Sequence II: Scottie meets with an old college friend, Gavin Elster. Elster hires Scottie to shadow his wife, whom he believes is having an emotional breakdown and is a danger to herself.
12 – ELSTER’S MOTIVE SETUP: Scottie meets with his old college friend, GAVIN ELSTER.
How’d you get into the shipbuilding business, Gavin?
I married into it.
Scottie shoots him a small surprised smile of approval at his frankness, then looks out the window again.
No, to be honest, I find it dull.
You don’t have to do it for a living.
No. But one assumes obligations. My wife’s family is all gone; someone has to look after her interest.
14 – INCITING INCIDENT: Elster gets down to business: He wants Scottie to follow his wife. He believes she’s in danger from someone who is dead.
Scottie, do you believe that someone out of the past, someone dead, can enter and take possession of a living being?
If I told you I believe that this happened to my wife, what would you say?
I’d say you’d better take her to the nearest psychiatrist, psychologist, neurologist, psychoanalyst, or plain family doctor. And I’d have him check you both.
17 – Scottie apologizes. With one final plea for help, Elster convinces him to take the job.
Sequence III: Scottie follows Madeleine for the day and observes her visit a grave and a portrait in an art gallery. He discovers Madeleine visited grave of the woman in the portrait and has assumed this woman’s identity.
18 – At Ernie’s Restaurant, Scottie sees Elster’s wife, a beautiful blonde-haired woman in her mid-twenties.
20 – STRONG MOVEMENT FORWARD: Outside the Brocklebank Apartments, Scottie waits across the street for Madeline to leave. He follows her to an alleyway and watches her pass through a “decrepit-looking door.”
22 – After a few moments pass, Scottie enters behind her, only to discover it’s a flower shop. Madeleine buys a nosegay.
25 – Scottie follows Madeline through the Dolores Mission and into its graveyard, where he observes her gazing at a headstone. She leaves still carrying the nosegay.
EXT. GRAVEYARD – (DAY) – MEDIUM SHOT
Scottie quickly takes an envelope from his pocket and also takes out a pencil. He starts to write down something as he looks at the headstone.
EXT. GRAVEYARD – (DAY) – CLOSEUP
INSERT – The name on the headstone reads: Carlotta Valdes. Born December 3, 1831. Died March 5, 1857.
27 – Scottie follows Madeline into an art gallery. She sits on a bench, observing a portrait of a young blonde woman in a 19th century costume. Not only does Madeline carry the same nosegay in the portrait, but she also wears the same hairstyle.
28 – A gallery attendant tells Scottie the name of the painting is the “Portrait of Carlotta.”
29 – Madeline enters the McKittrick Hotel, an old home converted to an apartment hotel. Scottie observes her in the second floor window.
31 – END OF ACT ONE TURN: In the hotel lobby, Scottie questions the MANAGERESS regarding Madeline. After Scottie shows her his badge, she gives up the privacy of her resident, but refers to Madeline by another name: Carlotta Valdes.
She only comes to sit. Two or three times a week. And I never ask questions, you know. As long as they’re well behaved. I must say that I’ve wondered --
(Cutting her off)
When she comes down, don’t say that I’ve been here.
And he turns away to go, wondering.
Oh, but she hasn’t been here today.
32 – Scottie follows the manageress to the room and finds it empty. He looks outside and discovers her car is gone.
32 – Back at the Brocklebank Apartments, Madeleine’s car is parked with the nosey in plain sight, resting on the dashboard.
Sequence I: The danger escalates. If Madeleine believes herself to be Carlotta, will she attempt to kill herself as Carlotta did?
33 – Scottie asks Midge about San Francisco history. She recommends Pop Leibel, owner of the Argosy Book Shop.
35 – Scottie questions POP LEIBEL about Carlotta and discovers Madeleine’s rent house was built for Carlotta by a man named Ives.
I cannot tell you how much time passed, or how much happiness there was. But then he threw her away. He had no other children; his wife no children. He kept the child and thew her away. Men could do that in those days. They had power ... and the freedom. And she became the Sad Carlotta. Alone in the great house ... walking the streets alone, her clothes becoming old and patched and dirty ... the Mad Carlotta ... stopping people in the streets to ask, “Where is my child? ... have you seen my child? ...
36 – MADELEINE’S SUICIDE SETUP: Pop reveals Carlotta killed herself.
38 – Scottie drops off Midge, but before he can force her out of his car, she figures out their visit to Pop was in regards to Elster and his wife.
Sequence II: Carlotta is revealed to be Madeleine’s great grandmother. Elster reveals Madeleine’s behavior problems did not begin until she wore Carlotta’s jewelry. Scottie is perplexed. He doesn’t believe in the supernatural, but can’t put two-and-two together. Adding to the confusion, Madeleine doesn’t know her great grandmother’s background.
39 – Scottie meets with Elster. He reveals Madeleine inherited some of Carlotta’s jewelry and that her behavioral issues didn’t begin until she started wearing the pieces. Further, Elster reveals that Carlotta was Madeleine’s great grandmother.
Well, that explains it. Anyone could develop an obsession for the past, with a background like that.
But she doesn’t know about her background.
(As Scottie stares, narrowly)
She never heard of Carlotta Valdes.
40 – Elster reveals he received this information from Madeleine’s mother, before she died.
Why did she never tell her daughter?
Natural fear. Her grandmother went insane and took her own life. And the blood is in Madeleine.
Scottie, I ask you to watch her closely.
Scottie raises his glass and drinks slowly, thoughtfully.
Sequence III: Madeleine attempts to kill herself, but Scottie saves her.
41 – Scottie observes Madeleine at the art gallery again, studying her great-grandmother’s portrait with the nosegay in her hand.
43 – FIRST TRIAL: Scottie follows to the dockside below The Golden Gate Bridge and observes her toss the flowers from the nosegay into the ocean. He keeps his distance until she throws herself into the bay’s water. He quickly dives in and saves her.
Sequence IV: Scottie gets too close to his subject. It’s more than obvious he’s fallen for her and can’t be objective about the case anymore.
45 – Scottie takes Madeleine back to his apartment, where she sleeps naked in his bed. A phone call wakes her. Cutting his call short, he gives her a robe and some privacy.
46-50 – Madeleine believes she fainted when she fall into the bay. When Scottie brings it up, she reveals she’s never been inside the art gallery.
51 – Madeleine, a bit more at easy, begins to question Scottie, flirting with him a bit.
52 – Scottie takes a call from Elster. He tells Elster that Madeleine fell into the bay and assures him she is safe. Just as Elster reveals Madeleine is the same age as Carlotta when she took her life, Scottie hears his front door close.
53 – MIDGE’S MASK SETUP: Outside, Midge sees Madeleine leave Scottie’s apartment.
Sequence V: Scottie falls for Madeleine. His feelings for her outweigh any professional or personal relationship with her husband. He feels a great deal of personal responsibility for her safety and desires to help her solve her mental issues.
55 – The next day, Scottie follows Madeleine around the city. She drives a long time, finally ending up at Scottie’s apartment.
56 – Scottie approaches her, it’s quite obvious there’s a mutual attraction. She explains she simply dropping off a thank you note.
57 – Madeleine says goodbye. She gets inside her car and Scottie approaches, asking where she’s going…
I just thought I’d wander.
That’s what I was going to do.
Oh, yes, I forgot: It’s your occupation, isn’t it?
And she waits with a small smile.
Don’t you think it’s sort of a waste for the two of us to...
Wander separately? Ah, but only one is a wanderer. Two, together, are always going somewhere.
60 – Madeline drives Scottie to the Big Basin Redwoods State Park. They stop at large Sequoia…
EXT. THE REDWOODS – (DAY)
Madeleine and Scottie near the massive trunk of a tree. Beyond them, the small stream, bridged by a wide flattened redwood log.
Oh ... some, two thousand years, or more.
The oldest living things?
Scottie nods and watches her, wondering, as she looks about thoughtfully.
You’ve never been here before.
She shakes her head, lost in thought as she lets her gaze wander among the trees.
What are you thinking?
Of all the people who have been born ... and have died ... while the trees went on living.
Their true name is Sequoia Sempervirens: always green, ever-living.
I don’t like them.
Knowing I have to die....
60 – Madeline moves over to an exhibit of redwood tree cut in half, rings marked with dates to indicate what the tree lived through. Madeline traces her fingers over the rings…
Somewhere in here I was born ... and here I died and it was only a moment for you .. you took no notice ...
62 – Scottie attempts to question Madeleine regarding the incident in the bay, but she ignores his questions, pleading with him to not ask her about again. Scottie says nothing more. He takes her by the arm and leads her out of the forest.
63 – They pull in to Cypress Point. Madeline runs to the cliff’s edge. Scottie chases after her. She turns to face him as he approaches…
Why did you run?
He looks down at her searchingly.
I’m responsible for you now, you know. The Chinese say that once you have saved someone’s life, you are responsible for it forever. And so I’m committed. And I have to know.
And you’ll go on saving me? Again and again?
64 – Madeleine lets Scottie in, explaining visions of someone from the past that is her. Further, there is an open grave that is hers. The dream expands to a tower and garden. She believes it’s in Spain.
65 – MIDPOINT: Scottie takes Madeleine in his arms, reassuring her that she’s not mad and he’ll help her sort it out. They kiss.
Sequence I: Scottie’s relationship with Midge deteriorates. When Madeleine appears frightened at his doorstep in the early morning, she tells him of her nightmare. He believes, like Midge referenced with his acrophobia, exposure to the reality of her psychosis will provide the cure she needs.
68 – MIDGE’S MASK PAYOFF: Midge asks Scottie where he’s been spending his time, but he evades her questions. She then shows him a painting she’s made: a recreation of Carlotta’s portrait with Midge in place of Carlotta. Scottie doesn’t find it amusing and walks out on Midge.
70 – Scottie is woken in the early morning with Madeleine trembling at his door. She tells him of her nightmare.
72 – Scottie believes the location described in her nightmare is a an old Spanish mission, Mission San Juan Bautista. Madeleine assures him she’s never been there before. He tells her he’ll take her to the mission, she’ll remember she saw it, and then, she’ll be free from her terror.
Sequence II: Scottie takes Madeleine to the Spanish Mission she described in her dream. He professes his love for her, which she seems to reciprocate, but talks Scottie into letting her visit the church on her own. Scottie lets her go, but sees the church’s bell tower and realizes he’s made a terrible mistake. For the first time, Scottie battles his acrophobia in an effort to save Madeleine, chasing her up the bell tower staircase, but sadly, he loses and Madeleine kills herself.
75 – MADELEINE IS JUDY SETUP: At the Mission, Scottie assures Madeleine there’s an answer for everything in her dream. He professes his love for her, but for some reason, she believes it’s too late for them…
You believe that I love you?
And if you lose me, you’ll know that I loved you and wanted to go on loving you.
I won’t lose you.
Let me go into the church alone.
Please. Because I love you.
76 – Scottie lets Madeleine go into the church alone, but seconds later, he sees the church tower and puts two and two together. He chase after her…
77 – DECLARATION OF WAR: Scottie chases Madeleine up the bell tower staircase. He attempts to fight his vertigo, but it consumes him and he can’t catch her.
77 – MADELINE’S SUICIDE PAYOFF: Madeleine jumps from the tower and kills herself.
Sequence III: The Coroner’s Inquest rules Scottie and Elster were not responsible for Madeleine’s death. The official brings up the fact that Scottie used poor judgment in letting Madeleine go after knowing full well of her suicidal tendency. The guilt weighs on Scottie.
81 – At the Coroner’s Inquest on Madeleine’s death, THE OFFICIAL brings up Scottie’s history and the accident that took another officer’s life. He questions Scottie’s judgment to let her go after knowing of her suicidal tendencies. Further, he brings up the fact Scottie ran back to his apartment, claiming a mental blackout.
82 – The jury concludes Madeleine committed suicide while of “unsound mind.”
83 – Elster approaches Scottie after the jury’s verdict. Elster claims he’s leaving the country after he wraps up her affairs and won’t come back. He places no ill-will or blame on Scottie.
There was no way for them to understand. But you and I know who killed Madeleine.
84 – Scottie grieves for Madeleine at her grave.
85 – The infamous nightmare sequence. Scottie revisits the accident, Elster, Carlotta Valdes and his vertigo. He wakes from his nightmare in a panic.
Sequence IV: Scottie suffers a mental breakdown and is institutionalized. The doctor believes his recovery will be a long road.
87 – Midge visits Scottie at his sanitarium bedroom. She attempts to lift his spirits, but Scottie is expressionless, mute.
88 – Midge visits Scottie’s DOCTOR. The doctor believes Scottie’s road to recovery will take at least six months, perhaps a year. When Midge mentions Scottie was in love with Madeleine, the doctor’s reaction tells her there’s a long road ahead for him.
Sequence V: Upon his release from the institution, it is obvious Scottie still grieves for Madeleine. When he sees a woman who resembles her, he feels hopeful and asks her out on a date.
90 – Outside the Brocklebank Apartments, Scottie sees a woman that resembles Madeleine from a distance. He approaches as he sees her walk toward’s Madeleine’s green Jaguar, but quickly discovers it a woman who purchased her car from Elster.
91 – Scottie revisits Ernie’s Restaurant, the place where he first saw Madeleine. A woman walks towards him who looks just like her. The closer she gets, the resemblance fades.
92 – Scottie goes back to the art gallery at The Palace of the Legion of Honor and sees a woman observing the Carlotta painting.
92 – END OF ACT TWO TURN: Outside the flower shop, Scottie sees Madeliene’s nosegay in the display window. He turns to a group of showgirls approaching…
The one nearest to Scottie, seen in profile, might have the same features as Madeleine. He cannot be sure. This girl’s hair is dark, where Madeleine’s was light; her features on closer inspection seem heavier, and she wears much more makeup. And yet there is something about the way she carries herself. The other girls cross the street while the one nearest to Scottie goes on alone. He instinctively turns and follows.
93 – The woman arrives at the Empire Hotel. From across the street, Scottie sees her emerge in a third floor window.
94-96 – MADELEINE IS JUDY SETUP 2: Scottie knocks on the door of the woman. Her name is JUDY BARTON. She is hesitant to speak, but lets him in the room. Curiously, she’s defensive about her identity. Scottie’s too wrapped up in the moment. Her actions do not raise suspicion.
97 – Judy asks if she looks like a woman Scottie used to know. Digging a bit deeper, she asks if this woman is dead. Scottie confirms her guess. This puts her at ease and she becomes more receptive to Scottie.
98 – DECISION: Scottie asks Judy out to dinner…
Dinner ... and what else?
Because I remind you of her?
Because I’d like to have dinner with you.
Sequence VI: Bridge between Act II & III. Here, the audience is given information the protagonist is unaware of. Judy, in fact, was Madeleine’s double. She portrayed Madeleine in a complicated scheme for Elster to murder his wife. This guilt weighs on Judy, as she developed feelings for Scottie during their brief time together.
- Note: Hitchcock included this scene in the first preview, but cut it, believing it wasn’t necessary to understand Judy’s dilemma at this point in the film. It was Paramount Pictures’ President, Barney Balaban, who ordered the scene put back.
98 – Scottie leaves the room. Judy’s face reveals guilt she was hiding.
99 – JUDY IS MADELEINE PAYOFF 1: Payoff for audience, a flashback to the mission tower…
THE MOMENT IN THE TOWER OF THE MISSION. MADELEINE IS RUNNING UP THE STAIRS OF THE TOWER: SCOTTIE STRUGGLING DESPERATELY AFTER HER. SHE REACHES THE TOP, OPENS THE DOOR, DARTS INTO THE BELL TOWER, SLAMS THE DOOR BEHIND HER AND LOCKS IT. SHE TURNS. GAVIN ELSTER STANDS NEAR THE OPEN ARCH, HOLDING HIS WIFE FAST; SHE IS DRESSED IN A GREY SUIT EXACTLY LIKE THE ONE MADELEINE WEARS. HER BODY IS LIMP. SHE IS OBVIOUSLY DEAD ALREADY. ELSTER LOOKS AT MADELEINE, THEN PUSHES HIS WIFE OUT THROUGH THE ARCH. MADELEINE MAKES A FUTILE GESTURE TO STOP HIM, AND SCREAMS. ELSTER COMES TO QUICKLY, PUTS HIS HAND ACROSS HER MOUTH, AND DRAWS HER BACK INTO THE SHADOW BEHIND A MASONRY ABUTMENT. THEY ARE LOST FROM SIGHT...
101 – Judy pulls a suitcase from the closet. She stops in midst of packing and writes a letter to Scottie.
Dearest Scottie ... and so you’ve found me. This is the moment I dreaded and hoped for, -- wondering what I would say and do if ever I saw you again, I wanted so to see you again. Just once. Now I’ll go and you can give up your search.
I want you to have peace of mind. You’ve nothing to blame yourself for. You were the victim. I was the tool, you were the victim of a man’s plan to murder his wife. He chose me to play the part because I looked like her. He was quite safe because she lived in the country and rarely came to town. He chose you to be the witness. The Carlotta story was part real, part invented to make you testify that Madeleine wanted to kill herself. He knew of your illness; he knew you would never get up the stairs of the tower. He planned it so well; he made no mistakes.
I made the mistake. I fell in love. That wasn’t part of the plan. I’m still in love with you, and I want you so to love me. If I had the nerve, I would stay and lie, hoping that I could make you love me again, as I am for myself ... and so forget the other and forget the past. But I haven’t the nerve to try...
102 – Judy rips up the letter, places the suitcase and clothes back in her closet, and gets ready for her dinner with Scottie.
Sequence I: Scottie attempts to move on with Judy, but can’t get Madeleine out of his mind.
103 – At dinner, Scottie sees a woman that wears a suit similar to the one Madeleine wore on the day of her death.
105 – Scottie escorts Judy back to her room. He tells her of his feelings, of his desire to take care of her. She pulls away, but her guilt and love for him break down her strength, and she agrees to see him the following day.
105-107 – Their relationship evolves. Walks through Golden Gate Park. Slow dancing. Scottie buys her flowers.
Sequence II: Scottie becomes obsessed with transforming Judy into Madeleine. Initially, Judy rejects the idea, but her overwhelming guilt and love for Scottie has her concede to his demands. When she’s transformed into Madeleine, she exposes a clue that brings Scottie back to reality: Carlotta’s necklace.
108 – At Ransohoff’s, Scottie searches for grey tweed suit for Judy. Judy’s guilt shows, knowing full well Scottie’s searching for the suit Madeleine wore the day of the incident.
109 – Much to Judy’s protest, Scottie demands a dinner dress for her.
111 – Back at Scottie’s apartment, Scottie pleads with Judy to dress the way he wants.
Couldn’t you like me, just me, the way I am?! When we first started out it was so good! We had fun! And you started on the clothes! I’ll wear the darned clothes if you want me to! If you just like me!
They are face to face, and Scottie is studying her somberly. Beyond them, through the window, w can see that magnificent symbol, the Coit Tower.
The color of your hair...
Judy, please it can’t matter to you...
She shrinks a little, and is defeated.
The trouble is, I’m gone now. For you. And I can’t do anything about it. I want you to love me. If I let you change me, will that do it? If I do what you tell me, will you love me?
All right. Then I’ll do it. Because I don’t care about me anymore. I just want you to love me.
113 – As Judy has her hair and makeup done at Elizabeth Arden Salon, Scottie waits for her at her hotel room.
115 – Judy arrives at the hotel, looking just like Madeline. Scottie makes one last demand: Judy put her hair back like Madeleine. Judy agrees.
116 – Judy comes out of the bathroom and they embrace. The camera pans around them as they kiss, taking them from the hotel room to San Juan Bautista and back to the hotel room.
119 – MADELEINE IS JUDY PAYOFF 2: As they get ready for dinner, Scottie helps place a necklace on Judy. He realizes what it is — the necklace from Carlotta’s painting.
As he is fastening it he glances into the mirror and sees the necklace clearly for the first time. His eyes are immediately startled with the shock of recognition, and he stares, wondering why. The CAMERA ZOOMS IN to a closeup of the necklace in the mirror; then, with a click, the close changes to a closeup of the necklace painted on canvas. The CAMERA DRAWS BACK to show the necklace around the neck of Carlotta in the portrait, the same necklace. Now the CAMERA DRAWS BACK to show the Art Gallery, with the Portrait of Carlotta on the far wall. The scene click-changes to a BIG HEAD of SCOTTIE, staring, and during this we hear Judy chattering away.
Sequence III: Scottie makes the decision to relive the moment that destroyed his life, knowing to trigger an emotional shock will either fuel his redemption or his destruction. This scene pulls us full circle from the film’s prologue, where Scottie can regain his identity as a man (detective and police officer) by solving the crime and curing his acrophobia. He succeeds, but tragically, Judy falls from the tower after being startled by a nun.
120 – POINT OF NO RETURN: In the car with Judy, Scottie drives out of the city with a sense of purpose…
INT. SCOTTIE’S CAR – (MOONLIGHT)
Judy looking at Scottie, puzzled and slightly apprehensive.
Where are you going?
To complete my cure.
He glances at her and smiles nicely.
One final thing I have to do, and then I’ll be rid of the past, forever.
He looks ahead thoughtfully.
121 – They arrive at San Juan Bautista. Judy’s frightened with Scottie’s behavior.
No, I don’t want to go. I want to stay here.
I need you.
I can’t do it alone. I need you to be Madeleine for awhile. Then, when it’s done, we’ll both be free.
122 – Scottie pulls Judy into the church, walking through the day of the incident…
Judy is rigid with fright and the memory of that moment.
And I couldn’t follow her.
(He closes his eyes in the agony of remembering)
God knows I tried.
(He glances down)
One doesn’t often get a second chance. I want to stop being haunted. You’re my second chance, Judy.
123 – Scottie forces Judy up the stairs as he follows close behind…
124 – Scottie fights his vertigo on the way.
125 – Scottie finally lets Judy in, breaking down the crime as he pulls her up the stairs…
He starts to drag her up the stairs and she fights it, close to hysteria.
But you knew, that day, that I wouldn’t be able to follow you didn’t you. Who was at the top when you got there? Elster? With his wife?
And she was the one who died. Not you. The real wife. You were the copy, you were the counterfeit. Was she dead or alive when you got there?
Dead. He’d broken her neck.
Took no chances, did he? And when you got there, he pushed her off the tower, was that it? But you were the one who screamed. Why did you scream?
I wanted to stop it, I ran up to stop it --
Why? Since you’d tricked me so well up to then?!! You played his wife so well, Judy! He made you over, didn’t he? Just as I’ve done. But better! Not just the hair and clothes! the look! the manner! the words! Those beautiful phony trances! That jump into the Bay! I’ll be you’re really a strong swimmer, aren’t you! Aren’t you!!
The blind frantic nodding got her head as she struggles against him is his affirmation.
Did he train you? Rehearse you? Teach you want to say and what to do?
And you were such an apt pupil! What fun you two must have had, playing games with me! Why me? Why did he pick on me?!!
Ah, yes! I was set-up. I was the made-to-order witness. Where is he now?
I don’t know ... Switzerland?
We’ll find him.
They have reached the door to the tower and he stops, with a grim, almost triumphant smile.
I made it.
126 – CLIMAX & SCOTTIE’S CURE PAYOFF: Scottie makes it to the top of the tower. He has cured his acrophobia and solved the crime.
127 – Scottie drags Judy into the bell tower…
Did he ditch you?
An almost imperceptible nod from her. Scottie almost laughs.
Oh, Judy!! When he had all her money, and the freedom and the power ... he ditched you? What a shame! But he knew he was safe. You couldn’t talk. Didn’t he give you anything?
And the necklace. Carlotta’s necklace. That was your mistake, Judy. One shouldn’t keep souvenirs of a killing. You shouldn’t have been that sentimental.
128 – Judy pleads with Scottie to love her.
Love me ... keep me safe...
Too late ... too late ... there’s no bringing her back.
Suddenly Judy’s eyes, looking past him, go wide with horror.
FROM JUDY’S POINT OF VIEW
The figure of a woman draped in black stands motionless in the shadows by the door.
FROM JUDY’S POINT OF VIEW
The black figure moves forward, seems to merge with the shadow and become part of them.
Pulls out of Scottie’s arms and backs away, terrified.
No ... no...
She is backing perilously close to the edge of the drop below. Scottie stares at her for a moment, then swings around to see what she is looking at.
FROM SCOTTIE’S POINT OF VIEW
The black figure advances into a shaft of moonlight. It is a nun.
I heard voices...
There is a terrible scream.
Scottie swings around again, steps quickly to the edge and looks down. He backs away, his face tight with horror and holds the stonework for support. The nun comes into the SHOT. She steels herself to look below. She crosses herself.
God have mercy...
She reaches out for the bell cord.
128 – THE END.
Vertigo: The Downloadable Analysis
I’ve provided a downloadable analysis of Vertigo, which breaks down the protagonist’s characterization, misbehaviors, internal and external goals, theme, central dramatic question, story engines, plus a complete beat breakdown. This is based on Daniel P. Calvisi’s Story Maps method. Dan is a story analyst, screenplay consultant, author and screenwriter. If you’re serious about the craft of screenwriting, I highly recommend checking out Dan’s site, Act Four Screenplays, and his e-book, Story Maps: How to Write a GREAT Screenplay. You can purchase Dan’s book from Amazon.com or the iTunes Store.
- Wheeler, Jared. “A Freudian Analysis of Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo.” Moviegoings. N.p., 24 May 2004. Web. 11 Aug. 2012.. Link. ↩
- Block, Alex Ben., and Lucy Autrey Wilson. George Lucas’s Blockbusting: A Decade-by-decade Survey of Timeless Movies, including Untold Secrets of Their Financial and Cultural Success. New York: It, 2010. Print. Link. ↩
- Matthews, Peter. “The Top 50 Greatest Films of All Time.” British Film Institute. N.p., 1 Aug. 2012. Web. 11 Aug. 2012. Link. ↩