Monday, June 13, 2011


Title: Vertigo
Year: 1958
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Screenplay: Alec Coppel and Samuel Taylor
Source Material: The novel D'Entre Les Morts ('From Among the Dead') by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac
Running Time: 124 minutes

Monday 13th June, 9:00am
Here in Australia, it is 'Queen's Birthday' long weekend. I decided to take the Friday off as well so I could have four days of peace. I have to admit, now it's almost lunchtime on the final day, I have succumbed to some sort of cabin fever. I'm still in my PJs and feeling rather apathetic about most things.
However, I had to continue with the blog. My original intention was to get it out of the way on Friday... then Saturday.. then Sunday. Oh bugger. Well, it's done now and here I am typing it up.

John 'Scottie' Ferguson - James Stewart
Madeleine Elster/Judy Barton - Kim Novak
Marjorie Wood - Barbara Bel Geddes
Gavin Elster - Tom Helmore
Coroner - Henry Jones
Doctor - Raymond Bailey
McKittrick Hotel Manager - Ellen Corby
Pop Leibel - Konstantin Shayne
Car Owner - Lee Patrick

John Ferguson is a detective in San Francisco. After the death of a colleague during a rooftop chase, for which he feels responsible, John decides to retire and continues to battle with acrophobia and the subsequent vertigo. He is known to his friends as 'Scottie' and he hangs out with an ex-fiancée of his named Marjorie "Midge" Wood who designs lingerie.
He has a call from an old friend called Gavin Elster who works in the ship-building industry. Gavin wants Scottie to follow his wife - not for the usual reasons, but because he is curious to know where she has been. He seems to think she is being possessed by the spirit of another woman.
Scottie thinks it's all nonsense but is curious enough to agree to rendezvous at Ernie's restaurant that evening.
At Ernie's, he sees the beautiful Madeleine and there is something bewitching about her which makes him decide taht he will follow her as Gavin requested.

The next day, he follows her to a florist where she buys a bouquet; she visits the grave of a 'Carlotta Valdes' (Born December 3rd 1831 - Died March 5th 1857); then a gallery where she sits before a portrait of Carlotta - he notices the similar styled hair Madeleine has. Eventuially, he follows her to the McKittrick Hotel - he sees her enter and then spies her in the upstairs window. He goes to investigate but the manageress says that the woman who rents that room was not currently visiting.
He has lost her trail...

Scottie does some more investigating with the help of Midge and they visit the Argosy book store where Midge's friend gives some information about the late Carlotta Valdes who apparently killed herself after her life fell apart. Carlotta was also Madeleine's great grandmother.

Another day, Scottie follows Madeleine again - this to to Old Fort Point beneath the Golden Gate Bridge. He watches as she dismantles the floral bouquet and tosses it into the bay before throwing herself in after. He leaps in to save her and takes her back to his apartment to recover. She doesn't seem to remember much about what happened during her trance. She leaves without saying goodbye and he Scottie speaks to Gavin on the phone about the connection between Madeleine and Carlotta. Gavin is concerned;

"She's 26. Carlotta Valdes committed suicide at 26!"

Madeleine returns the next day to Scottie's apartment apologising for her sudden departure. He takes her for a drive and they talk about the recurring dreams she has which feel like premonitions. She wonders if she's mad. He takes her in his arms and kisses her.

Meanwhile, Midge has taken up painting again and, for a joke, paints a version of Carlotta's portrait but with her own face in place of the original. Scottie is less than impressed and Midge chastises herself for her foolishness.

Madeleine later tells Scottie about the Spanish villa she sees in her dreams - he realises it's not in Spain, but a Mission just south of San Francisco called San Juan Bautista. They go to see the museum and he confesses her love for her. She pulls away and races to the church - He follows, but then she dashes up the tower and due to his acrophobia, he cannot follow. He is appalled when he hears a scream and sees her body fall past the window. Her body is broken on the roof below.

A hearing is held and the jury conclude it was a suicide and Scottie is not to blame. Gavin is sympathetic to Scottie's plight and tells him that he is going to leave for Europe to start a new life.
Scottie starts having nightmares with visions of bouquets, Carlotta's necklace, her grave and the feeling of falling from great heights.
These dreams tip him over the edge and he is sent to an institution where Midge visits on a regular basis - but she feels he is lost for good. His doctor knows he is suffering from a severe guilt complex, but Midge knows it is worse because Scottie was in love with Madeleine.

Eventually, months later. Scottie returns to normal society, but he is still plagued by images. He obsesses over things that remind him of Madeleine and then, one day, he sees a brunette woman in the street who looks almost identical to Madeleine.
He follows her back to the Empire Hotel. He introduces himself to her, but she is a little scared. She tells him she is Judy Barton from Salina, Kansas. He convinces her that he is harmless and that he'd like to take her for a meal. She is reluctant at first, but then concedes. He says he'll return in an hour to pick her up.
This is when she panics.
In flashback we witness the truth...

When she ran up the steps of the tower as 'Madeleine', she went through the trapdoor where Gavin was waiting for her. He had the real Madeleine in his arms with a broken neck. He tossed her body out of the window. They waited for everything to die down before leaving again...

Back in the present moment, Judy starts to pack her bags, but then stops. She begins to write a note to Scottie...

"Dearest Scottie,
And so you found me.
This is the moment I dreaded and hoped for; wondering what I'd say and do if I ever 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 and you the victim of Gavin Elster's plan to murder his wife. He chose me to play the part because I looked like her. He dressed me up like her. He was quite safe because she lived in the country and rarely came to town. He chose you to be the witness to a suicide. 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'd never make it up the stairs to 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'd 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 don't know whether I have the nerve to try..."

With this final word, she stops and tears the letter up. She unpacks her case and decides to go on that dinner date after all.

Over a few days, Judy and Scottie spend a lot of time together. He pampers her and treats her well... until he starts buying clothes for her. He is insistent that she has the exact clothes that Madeleine used to wear. He makes her dye her hair blonde and forces her to pin it in the same way. She is disturbed by all this, but does as he asks. Then, one night, when she feels all is well, they plan to go out for dinner.
As he waits for her to finish making herself up, she puts on a necklace - it catches his eye. It's the same necklace Carlotta wore in the portrait.
He changes the plans for the evening and drives back down to San Juan Bautista. He has pieced it all together. He is fuming - almost deranged - he forces Judy to climb the steps within the tower, recreating the fatal night. He manages to make it all the way up to the crime scene. Judy, distressed and worn down, confesses to the truth and admits she was paid by Gavin to impersonate his wife - she was paid with money... and the necklace.
She also confesses how she had truly fallen in love with Scottie and that was why she was still there. They embrace in the tower, but the looming shadow of a nun (who had been concerned when she had heard voices) terrifies Judy and she screams, staggers backwards and falls from the tower to her death.
Scottie steps out onto the sill of the window and looks down...


Great Lines
During one of Madeleine's trances, she talks to the tree whose inner circles record a passage of time, touching the rings as she does so;

"Somewhere in here I was born... and there I died. It was only a moment for you. You took no notice."


Midge is distressed at Scottie's collapse and fears music therapy is not the answer;

"I don't think Mozart's going to help at all..."


Scottie points out Judy's downfall;

"You shouldn't keep souvenirs of a killing - you shouldn't have been that sentimental."

The final shot of Scottie standing at the top of the tower looking down is a clear sign that he has overcome his acrophobia - but at what cost.

There are a couple of unanswered questions. Firstly, does Gavin ever get caught for the crime? Secondly, why did the manageress at the McKittrick Hotel say Carlotta/Madeleine/Judy had not been in the hotel that day, when clearly she had? Was she on Gavin's payroll too?

Scottie's entropy into an obsessive and slightly deranged man is fascinating and a little disturbing. He becomes a modern-day Pygmalion, creating the perfect woman for his needs.

It would be folly to write about Vertigo and not mention the camera technique made famous by this film. Created by Irmin Roberts and used to great effect in this movie is the superb vision of the depth perspective zooming away from the point of view of Scottie when he is having his spells of vertigo. This is created by zooming in whilst pulling back (or vice versa) and is uncomfortable yet effective to watch. It has since been used many, many times in cinema, but it will be Vertigo for which it is best remembered.

The cast is relatively small and everyone plays their role beautifully. The two female leads are fantastic. Kim Novak is utterly convincing in her dual role and for first time viewers who aren't familiar with her work, they may be asking themselves if Judy Barton is indeed played by someone else - for at least a few minutes.
Barabara Bel geddes also does a superb job for she is in the role of the gooseberry. "Midge" is the character who shares our perspective. She is an outsider looking in and unable to help. She is both charming and endearing but also flawed, just as you or I would be. The last we see of her is a slow walk down a corridor at the institution where we can feel her despair as it echoes across the walls.

James Stewart is wonderful, as always. Enough said.

My Verdict
All other guides give Vertigo full marks and I feel like I am cheating Hitchcock if I do otherwise. It is an amazing film, but I just don't love it like I love some of his others (which is my issue more than anyone else's!)
Maybe one day I will figure out why, but until I do, I will do something I have not yet done in this blog. I will go decimal!

No comments:

Post a Comment