Vertigo Beat Sheet
Writen by Alec Coppel and Samuel Taylor
Based on the novel “D’Entre Les Morts” by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Running time: 128 minutes
Basic 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.
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.
Full Beat Sheet
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
Sequence I: The danger escalates. If Madeleine believes herself to be Carlotta, will she attempt to kill herself as Carlotta did?
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.
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.
Sequence III: Madeleine attempts to kill herself, but Scottie saves her.
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.
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.
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.
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 haunts Scottie.
Sequence IV: Scottie suffers a mental breakdown and is institutionalized. The doctor believes his recovery will be a long road.
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.
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.
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.
Sequence I: Scottie attempts to move on with Judy, but can’t get Madeleine out of his mind.
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.
119 – MADELEINE IS JUDY PAYOFF: 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.