Movie Mirrors Index

Vertigo

(1958 c 129')

En: 7 Ed: 6

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock and based on a novel by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, a policeman suffers from acrophobia and retires but is hired to follow a beautiful woman and falls in love with her, finding that she is suicidal.

            John “Scottie” Ferguson (James Stewart) follows a policeman who chases a criminal at night across rooftops by a policeman. Scottie slides down a roof and hangs off the edge. The policeman reaches down for his hand but falls several stories.

            Scottie is sitting in a comfortable chair in an office with Midge Wood (Barbara Bel Geddes) who is working at a drafting table. He complains about his cane. She asks if he is going to quit the police force tomorrow. He says he had to quit because he has acrophobia, a fear of heights. He had a dream and says he gets vertigo which makes him dizzy when he looks down. She suggests he go away for a while. He asks about the brassiere, and she explains it works without straps. He asks about her love life, and she admits she was engaged for three weeks once. He says he is still available. He asks her about Gabin Elster who called him from the mission district. He asks her to go out for a beer, but she says she has to work. He asks what she meant about “no losing.” He has a theory that he could get used to heights a little at a time. He starts by standing on a little stool and looks up and down. She gets a high chair with steps, and he slowly goes up two steps and on to the seat. He looks up and down. Then he remembers a height and faints into her arms.

            In a fancy office Scottie asks Gabin Elster (Tom Helmore) how he got into the shipping business. Gabin says by marriage. He decided to come back to San Francisco which he says has changed. Gabin is sorry that Scottie quit the force and asks if he is disabled. Scottie says no and that he never married. Gabin asks him to follow his wife because he is afraid some harm may come to her from someone dead. Scottie suggests he send her to a doctor. Gabin thanks him for coming in but says he is not making it up. He explains her odd behavior. One day he followed her in her car to Golden Gate Park. She sat there a long time. Later he found out that she had driven 94 miles, but she did not say where she went. Scottie offers to get him a private eye, but Gabin wants him. Scottie says he is retired. Gabin invites him to a dinner so that he can meet her.

            Scottie is sitting at a bar in a plush restaurant and sees Gabin sitting at a table with Madeleine Elster (Kim Novak). He watches them walk out.

            Scottie is sitting in his car reading a newspaper when he sees Madeleine come out of an impressive building and get in a foreign car. He follows in his car. He follows it into an alley, and she gets out. He gets out and goes in the door of an old building. After opening another door, he sees her in a beautiful flower shop. A woman brings her a small bouquet. He goes back out the doors into the alley and gets back in his car. She comes out and gets in her car, and he follows her to Mission Dolores. He follows her through the church to the cemetery. He keeps out of sight as she walks back. He goes to where she stood and sees the gravestone of Carlotta Valdes who died on March 5, 1857 at the age of 25. He follows her car again to a grand museum. She sits looking at a painting of a Spanish woman who has a similar bouquet and hairstyle. He summons a guide and asks about the painting. The guide says that is Carlotta. Scottie follows her car to the old McKittrick Hotel which she enters. From outside he sees her take off her sweater by a window. He goes in, and a woman at the desk asks if she can help him. He asks about the woman on the second floor, but she says she cannot answer that because it is against the law. He asks if she has done something wrong. She says she has been there two weeks, and he asks if she sleeps there. The woman says no and says she has not been there today. He asks her to go up and look, and she goes upstairs. She asks the detective if he would like to look. She opens the door, and he looks out the window and says her car is gone. He drives back and sees her car.

            Scottie walks into Midge’s office and asks her who knows local history. She recommends Pop Leibel (Konstantine Shayne). He asks her to take him to him, and they go to his used bookshop. Scottie asks him about Carlotta Valdes. He says she came from south of the city and danced in cabarets. She had a house built and had a child. A man kept the child and took her away into a great house. He says her clothes became old and dirty. She asked people in the streets if they had seen her child. He says she died by her own hand. Scottie thanks him and leaves with Midge. She asks him to tell her about her, and he drives her home. She assumes it is about Elster. He says he told her what he thinks. She asks if she is pretty, and he says she is. Midge says goodbye and gets out of the car. He looks at the picture of Carlotta from the guidebook.

            Scottie asks Gabin in a club what he did not tell him about her. Gabin describes how she goes into the world of Carlotta. He says she never heard of Carlotta and that she is no longer his wife. He says her grandmother went insane and took her own life. Scottie says he needs the drink.

            Scottie follows her car to the museum again and watches her inside. He follows her car to the Presidio, and they drive along the bay to the Golden Gate Bridge. They get out, and he follows from a distance, watching her toss the flowers in the water. When he sees her jump in, he runs and jumps in after her and rescues her, carrying her unconscious body and putting her in her car. She opens her eyes but says nothing.

            At home Scottie puts wood on the fire. Her wet clothes are hanging in the kitchen, and she is sleeping in his bed. He is drinking from a cup and answers the phone. Madeleine wakes up. He says he will call back and asks if she is all right. He hands her a robe and leaves the bedroom, closing the door. Wearing the red robe, she opens the door. He invites her to get warm by the fire. She asks what happened, and he says she fell into the bay. He puts a pillow on the floor, and she sits. She asks if he fished her out and thanks him. He asks if she remembered where she was. She says she often goes to the Presidio. He asks where she was before, and she says her house. He gives her a cup. She asks what he was doing there, and he says he was wandering about. She asks where he was before, and he says he had been to the art gallery at the Palace of the Legion of Honor. She says she has never been inside there. She asks for something for her hair and for her purse. He gets them. She says he should not have brought her there. She thanks him, and they tell each other their names. She puts up her hair, and he implies he prefers living alone. He asks if this has ever happened to her before. She says she fell into water as a child. The phone rings, and he closes the bedroom door. He tells Gabin that she is all right and that he will bring her home. He says she doesn’t know what happened. Scottie hears a door close, and he sees she is gone. Madeleine leaves in her car as Midge arrives in hers and sees her. Scottie comes outside, and Midge drives off.

            Scottie follows Madeleine from the art museum again in narrow streets. She parks by an apartment building, and he talks to her by the door. He asks if she is all right. She says she is fine and says he was kind. She apologizes, but he says he enjoyed it. She enjoys talking to him. He uses his key to open his apartment. He reads her note and hopes they will meet again. She says they have and then says goodbye and gets in her car. He asks where she is going. She says she will wander, and he says he will too. She says he left his door open. He goes to close it.

            He is in her car as she drives on a country road. They stop in the redwood forest, and he says they are two thousand years old. She says she has never been there before. He says they are Sequoias and are evergreen. He shows her an exhibit of a cross-section of a tree with dates in history until it was cut down in 1930. She says that is the year she was born. She walks into the forest alone. He looks and then follows. She is leaning on a tree with her eyes closed. He asks where she is now and if she has been there before. He asks when she was born and where she goes. He asks why she jumped into the bay, and she denies she jumped. She asks him not to ask her questions, and he offers to take her home.

            They have parked by sea and by the shore she asks him why he ran. He says he is responsible for her now because he saved her life. She says she feels like she is walking down a long corridor to the darkness where she will die. He asks what she remembers. She says she remembers an open grave that is her grave. She recalls a tower with a bell in Spain. He asks if she sees a portrait, and she says no. She wonders if she is mad and runs down toward the water. He stops her, and they embrace. She says she is not mad, and he kisses her.

            Midge is painting in her office when Scottie comes in. She asks if he got her message, and he says he did. She says he is busy and asks where he goes. He says he wanders. He asks why she is desperate to see him. She is making drinks and hopes he will take her to a movie. She says she has gone back to painting, her first love. He looks at the painting and sees that it is Midge dressed like Carlotta. He is upset and leaves. She calls herself an idiot and paints a stroke.

            Scottie wakes up on his couch and answers the door. Madeleine comes in and says she had the dream again. He gives her a drink and says she is all right now. She says it was the tower again in a village square and describes the scene in detail. He asks if there was a saloon with low-hanging lamps, and she says yes. He says there is an old mission to the south like that. He says she has been there, but she denies that. He asks her to describe more of her dream, and she talks about the darkness. He says he will take her to that mission. He says he will take her home and come back about noon.

            Scottie drives Madeleine in her car to the San Bautista Mission. They enter the livery stable, and she sits in an old carriage. He tells her it is all real and asks her to think of when she was there. She seems to be in a trance as she describes where she was forbidden to play. He points out a model of a horse. He helps her out of the carriage and kisses her passionately, saying he loves her. She says she knows he does. He kisses her more, but she runs off. He follows her and takes her in his arms. She says no, it was not supposed to happen this way. She asks if he believes in her, and he says he does. She wants to go on loving him and kisses him. Then she turns and goes into the building with a tower. He runs after her and sees her hurrying up the stairs. He follows quickly and looks down, getting nervous. He hears a scream and sees her body fall on to a low roof. He sees two nuns walking on the ground. He is sweating and slowly descends. A priest climbs on the low roof.

            Police have arrived, and in a large room the coroner (Henry Jones) sits at a table and summarizes the case, referring to Mr. Ferguson and his vertigo and the husband Gabin who could have taken his wife to an institution. He says the husband has no blame, but Mr. Ferguson’s fear of heights made him powerless when he was needed. The coroner refers to when Mr. Ferguson allowed his police colleague to fall to his death. The coroner commends Mr. Ferguson for having saved her life before. He says Mr. Ferguson did not remain at the scene and later claimed that he had a mental blackout until he got home. He suggests what their verdict should be. The jury quickly votes and hands the verdict to the coroner, who says they found that Madeleine Elster committed suicide while of unsound mind. He dismisses the case. Gabin apologizes to Scottie for getting him involved. Gabin says he will go to Europe and not come back.

            Scottie in a cemetery visits Madeleine’s grave.

            At night in bed Scottie opens his eyes and sees the bouquet which moves. He is standing by Gabin and Carlotta. He is walking in a cemetery and sees an open grave. He fears he is falling down to the low roof and wakes up.

            The next day Scottie is sitting and staring while Midge talks to him about Mozart. She says she brought other things too. She kneels next to him and pleads for him to try because he is not lost. A nurse opens the door and says time. She asks if he wants her to shut the music off, but he says nothing. She turns off the music and says he does not even know she is there. She kisses his cheek and goes out. She walks down a hall and asks to see the doctor. He says it may take six months or a year. He is suffering from a guilt complex. Midge says he was in love with her, and the doctor says that complicates it. She does not think Mozart will help and walks off slowly.

            Scottie thinks he sees Madeleine come out of the art museum and walk to her car, but the lady explains how she bought the car. He apologizes.

            In the evening Scottie goes to the plush bar again and sees a woman who resembles Madeleine. He goes to the museum and sees a woman sitting by the Carlotta portrait. He looks at a similar bouquet in the flower shop. Outside he sees a woman with reddish hair who looks like the blonde Madeleine. He follows her from across the street and sees her go into the Empire Hotel. He sees her in the window and goes in the hotel. He knocks on a door, and she asks who he is. She tells him to beat it, and he says he will not hurt her. He asks if he can talk with her. She has heard men say they were reminded of someone. He persuades her to let him talk to her. She says her name is Judy Barton (Kim Novak), and she is from Kansas. She shows him her Kansas drivers license. She is perturbed and tells him to go even if he is not satisfied. She notices he is upset and assumes she must be dead. She shows him a photo of her parents and her. She says she has been there three years. He asks her if she will have dinner with him. She is suspicious but agrees to be picked up. They agree he will come back in an hour, and he leaves. She remembers climbing up the stairs in the tower and falling. Gabin is choking her in the tower. She gets a suitcase and begins packing. She touches the gray suit she was wearing that day. She writes a note to Scottie and says she wanted to see him again just once. She thinks he was the victim. She thinks Gabin chose her because she looks like Madeleine. She thinks Gabin planned it well, but she made a mistake by falling in love with him. She does not know if she has the nerve to try again. She rips up the note and puts her suitcase back in the closet, hiding the gray suit. She picks out a lavender dress.

            Scottie and Judy are dining in the plush restaurant. Scottie drives her home in his car and walks her to her door. She thanks him and says goodnight. He asks if he can see her in the morning. She says she has to go to work. He asks if he can take care of her, but she says no thanks. He says she does not understand. He wants to see a lot of each other. She does not like it that she reminds him of her. He wants to be with her, and she says she could phone the store and make an excuse. He goes out.

            In the morning they walk by Golden Gate Park. In a nice hotel they dance. He takes her to a flower shop and buys her an orchid corsage. They go into Ransohoffs and look at clothes being modeled. He says he wants a simple gray suit. She says she won’t do it, and he asks her to do it for him. He sees a suit and says he will buy it. They will make alterations and say he can have it that night. He asks for an evening dress. Judy wears a green skirt, and he says that is it. In her room she says she wants to be alone and tells him to go away. He says these are the first happy days he has had in a year. He says he likes her too, but she says he does not want to touch her. She says they had fun until he started in on the clothes. She asks him to like her. He pleads with her to wear the clothes. She asks if he will love her, and he says he will. He kisses her cheek, and she sits by the fire.

            At a beauty shop Scottie asks if the employee is sure about the color of her hair. He waits for her in the hotel with clothes boxes. He opens the door and looks in the hall. She arrives in the gray suit with blonde hair and comes in the room. She looks in the mirror and says the hair style did not suit her. She goes in the bathroom and comes back with her hair up. He sees her with glazed vision. She slowly approaches him, and he kisses her. He holds her as she kisses him, and he kisses her again. He caresses her and keeps kissing her.

            Scottie is sitting in her room and tells Judy who is in a black evening dress that he likes her. He notices that her necklace matches the one in the Carlotta portrait. She says she is ready and embraces him. He says they can drive down the peninsula.

            In his car she says they are going far. She asks where he is going. He says he has one final thing to do to be free of the past. They arrive at the mission, and she asks why they are there. He says Madeleine died there. He says he needs her to be Madeleine for a while and puts his arm around her. He tells how he kissed her for the last time. She said if you lose me, you will know that I love you. He said that he would not leave her. He says she ran into the church, and they go in. He said he followed her, but it was too late. Judy says she does not want to go in. He says she ran up the stairs. He tried to follow but could not get to the top. He wants a second chance with Judy. He tells her to go up the stairs, and he follows her. He looks down and follows near her. He asks if she remembers and says the necklace was a slip. He asks her who was up there. Was it Elster and his wife? He asks why she screamed. He says she tricked him, playing the wife. He says she jumped into the bay. He asks if he trained her and rehearsed her. He says she was an apt pupil. He asks why they set him up. He says he made it and makes her go up to the scene of the crime. At the top of the tower he says that is where it happened. He says they must have hid and sneaked out. He says Gabin ditched her and asks if he gave her anything. She says he did. He says he loved her so. She says when she saw him again, she loved him too. She hugs him and asks him to keep her safe. She kisses him. They hear footsteps, and a nun appears. Judy falls and screams. Scottie steps out on the ledge and looks down.

            This mystery explores a very unusual situation in which a beautiful woman is hired to impersonate a man’s wife and her death. When the retired detective finds her afterward, he is still in love with her; but strangely she is suspicious and tries to hide her identity. He is obsessed with the previous woman she played and accuses her of fooling him. They seem to love each other. Yet he is obsessed with the previous drama, and she having become lost in the role lets it take her life. The story could be explained by the effects of previous incarnations.
Copyright © 2012 by Sanderson Beck

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