Filmsite Movie Review 100 Greatest Films
Vertigo (1958)
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Plot Synopsis (continued)

While at dinner at Ernie's (where he first saw Madeleine), Scottie ignores Judy when he is distracted by the sight of a gray-suited woman who looks like Madeleine. After dinner, Scottie says goodnight to Judy at her door and asks to see her the next morning. Judy explains that she can't leave her job, joking: "What'll I live on, my oil wells in Texas?" but Scottie assures her that he will take care of her. She politely refuses: "Thanks very much, but no thanks...Why I understand, all right. I've been understanding since I was 17. And the next step is?" Scottie wishes to be with her to see her as much as he can: "We could just see a lot of each other." Silhouetted in the bluish-green light from the neon sign of the hotel, Judy wonders whether he will fall in love with her as Judy, and not as Madeleine:

Judy: Why? Because I remind you of her? It's not very complimentary. And nothing else?
Scottie: No.
Judy: It's not very complimentary either.
Scottie: I just want to be with you as much as I can, Judy.

Judy relents after his persistence and sincerity, and decides that she could phone the store the next day with an excuse to miss work.

Trying to relive his experiences with Madeleine through Judy, an almost complete confusion of dream and reality, Scottie - with Judy - visits the places he followed after Madeleine. The next day, they walk around the exterior grounds of the Palace of Fine Arts, and by the water and pillars of the Portals of the Past described by Elster. On the lawn, Judy notices a couple kissing (a contrast to their own platonic relationship - she later tells him: "You don't even want to touch me"). That evening, they go dancing at a nightclub. The following day, Scottie buys Judy a corsage, and then suggests that they go to buy her some clothes at Ransohoffs, an expensive salon on Post Street. Falling in love with her, he suggests clothes - the gray suit - like Madeleine wore. He obsessively tries to mold, remake and groom Judy into the dead woman's image. [Elster was the first to manipulate and remake Judy into a fraudulent Madeleine in a parallel manner.]

Knowing exactly what he wants to re-create Madeleine's look (on the day that she 'died'), Scottie becomes preoccupied with her clothing and appearance. He displays a detailed knowledge of women's clothing - even the saleslady remarks about his incredible attention to detail. His desire to design and make her into his idealized image of Madeleine becomes a fetish. Judy protests that some of the clothing that he is choosing is not to her liking (because it might help him learn the truth, but she can't tell him that Madeleine never existed!). In front of the store's mirror, their images are doubled as they argue about his demands to remake her. Exasperated by his strict demands for specific items, she clearly understands his motives and fights against his demands to see her as someone else, but naively hopes to win him on her own and make him love her for herself (rather than as Madeleine again):

Judy: You're looking for the suit that she wore for me. You want me to be dressed like her.
Scottie: Judy, I just want you to look nice. I know the kind of a suit that would look well on you.
Judy: No, I won't do it.
Scottie: Judy, Judy it can't make that much difference to you. I just want to see you...
Judy: No, I don't want any clothes. I don't want anything. I want to get out of here.
Scottie: Judy, do this for me.

Just then, the sales lady finds the exact gray ladies suit he has been asking for. She finally agrees to his demands (and thereby denies her own identity) when she gives in and wears what he requests - after he pleads with her to make him happy. After trying more clothes - a dinner/evening dress ("short, black, with long sleeves and a kind of a square neck") and brown shoes - they return to his place.

In Scottie's apartment, Judy appears frightened that Scottie loves his lost-love Madeleine more than herself, the real-life Judy Barton. She pleads with him to love her for who she is and to stop manipulating her and psychologically stripping her of her own identity ("what good will it do?"). Judy insists on not being a reminder of his lost love, also fearing that she will become the Madeleine of the deadly plot and may be recognized. Pathetically, she finally gives in, allowing him to exploit her and change her appearance. Anguished, she agrees to fulfill his dream if he'll love her:

Judy (crying and with tears in her eyes): Why are you doing this? What, what good will it do?
Scottie: I don't know. I don't know. No good, I guess, I don't know.
Judy: I wish you'd leave me alone. I want to go away.
Scottie: You can, you know.
Judy: No, you wouldn't let me. And I don't want to go.
Scottie: Judy, Judy, I'll tell you this. These past few days have been the first happy days I've known in a year.
Judy: I know. I know because, 'cause I remind you of her and not even that very much.
Scottie: No, no Judy, Judy, it's you, too. There's something in you...
Judy: You don't even want to touch me.
Scottie (turning away): Yes. Yes, I do.
Judy: Couldn't you like me, just me the way I am? When we first started out, it was so good. We had fun. And then you started in on the clothes. Well, I'll wear the darn clothes if you want me to - if-if you'll just, just like me.

[Through this and the next sequence, Bernard Hermann's soundtrack plays, heavily reminiscent of Wagner's "Liebestod" from Tristan and Isolde (1865), a dissonant, mournful, bittersweet musical piece.] In front of his picture window, Scottie focuses obsessively on her hair color and wonders about changing its color to blonde. She cries out, anxiously: "Oh no!" He pleads with her to make him happy by again doing what he requests:

Scottie: Judy, please, it can't matter to you!
Judy: If, if I let you change it, will that do it? If I do what you tell me, will you love me?
Scottie: Yes, yes.

To pacify him, she obeys his wishes to be transformed. She agrees to the hair color change, as they move over to the fire.

At the beauty salon the next day, he discusses the hair color and styling changes with the beautician, and Judy also has her nails and makeup redone - to match Madeleine's. He prowls around in her hotel room waiting and longing for her transformative arrival. When she emerges in the corridor of her hotel room and enters her room [she is resurrected from the end of the corridor this time!], she is wearing all the proper clothes and has the matching hair color, but she has persisted in retaining her own identity by wearing her hair down. Scottie criticizes her hairdo: "It should be back from your face and pinned at the neck. I told her that. I told you that." He begs again for Judy to pin her hair the way Madeleine did: "Please Judy." Angry with him, but resigned to this final change [one that signals the death of 'Judy'] because she loves him, she goes into the bathroom to fix this last detail - to make herself look exactly like his memory of someone else!

In a memorable sequence, when Judy has finally made the full transformation into Scottie's image of Madeleine, the camera focuses on Scottie pacing around before she emerges from the bathroom. He is both hopeful, fearful, doubtful, and yearning for his dream persona to become real. Slowly, the bathroom door opens, and we see Scottie turn from having his back to the camera, then to a profile view, and then to a straight-on view. His hopeful eyes are filled with wonder and emotion in an unforgettable image, as he (and the viewer) sees the reborn reincarnation of his lost love. [Her appearance approximates the exact way Madeleine emerged from his bedroom door in his apartment.] Anxious to please him because of her love for him, Judy slowly walks toward him like Madeleine would have. She assumes the actions, expressions and movements of "Madeleine" in order to please him and have him want her - she is the fabricated image of a woman created as a hoax by Elster to masquerade a murder plot.

We see from Scottie's point of view - the ghostly figure appears bathed in the eerie green-tinged neon light [created by a special diffusion camera filter] reflected from the hotel sign outside the window. Her metaphysical, spiritual figure assumes solid shape as she moves out of the ghostly green light and crosses the floor to him, to surrender to him. They embrace and kiss passionately. The camera pans and swirls completely around them as they kiss, causing the walls of the room to appear to turn and change. Their background surroundings dissolve and place them in the past - in the dark livery stable in Scottie's subjective imagination - the location at San Juan Bautista where he had attempted to cure Madeleine's hallucinations. [The sensation must be the same distorted, dizzying but gratifying feelings Scottie is experiencing - vertigo.] Completely lost in the dream, overlapping fantasy and reality as Judy becomes one with Madeleine, Scottie also surrenders to her and she clings to him. The loving couple continue kissing passionately in front of the pale, greenish haze of the window.

Later (after consummating their love?), they are sitting together and relaxing in her hotel room. They have a planned dinner at Ernie's once again ("after all, it's our place," she reminds him and she's "suddenly hungry"). Scottie has in mind kissing her, but she puts him off a little while with an ironic choice of words: "Oh no, you'll muss me...It's too late. I've got my face on." Judy is dressed in her new black evening/dinner dress - she is completely submerged within Madeleine's identity. She accepts her fate as the living memory of Scottie's past love. The magical spell and transformation are broken when Judy fatally asks Scottie to link her necklace/locket around her neck ("Help me with this, will you?"), but forgets that the red ruby heirloom - naturally part of the Madeleine character - was pictured in the Carlotta portrait in the museum and had once belonged to Madeleine.

While attaching the locket, he asks: "How do you attach this thing?" And she asks: "Can't you see?" Obviously, Scottie does see - after a close-up view of him in profile - he notices the necklace in the reflection in the mirror while attaching the locket from behind. Immediately, he realizes that Judy is Madeleine (imagined in a momentary flashback of the necklace in the portrait and Madeleine gazing at it from a museum bench), that there was no Madeleine, and that he had been tricked by Elster. Judy, forced to imitate Madeleine by Elster, has now been discovered by Scottie as not the real Madeleine but a false fantasy.

Coincidentally, she tells him that she's "ready" and asks for him to rough her up: "First, muss me a little" after having kept him away earlier. Scottie responds more coldly as she hugs him: "Oh Scottie, I do have you now, don't I?" but actually obliges her request to "muss" her up. He persuades her that they will drive out of town and down the Peninsula for dinner (as a way to get free of the past and to try and understand how and why he had been tricked). After traveling many miles, and traversing through the same tall trees they had driven through earlier, she becomes increasingly anguished about their inevitable confrontation with the truth:

Judy: Where are you going?
Scottie: One final thing I have to do, and then I'll be free of the past.

By the time they arrive at the fated mission tower where Madeleine died, it is dusk and she is frightened and nervous. Anger and frustration mount in Scottie's mind as Judy expresses sheer fear and hysteria mixed with shame. He demands that she "be Madeleine for a while" so that both of them will "be free":

Judy: Scottie, why are we here?
Scottie: I told you. I have to go back into the past once more, just once more for the last time.
Judy: Why? Why here?
Scottie: Madeleine died here, Judy.
Judy: I don't want to go. I'd rather wait here.
Scottie: No, I need you.
Judy: Why?
Scottie: I need you to be Madeleine for a while. And when it's done, we'll both be free.
Judy: I'm scared.

At the scene of the crime, he grabs her arms and firmly holds her - he tells her about his lost love Madeleine and their final moments together:

No, no, I have to tell you about Madeleine now. Right there (pointing at the green in front of the livery stable), we stood there and I kissed her for the last time. And she said, 'If you lose me, you'll know that I loved you and wanted to keep on loving you.' And I said, 'I won't lose you.' But I did. And then she turned and ran into the church...and when I followed her, it was too late.

Then, he forcefully pulls Judy into the church to recreate the death scene where he experienced his acrophobia and vertigo, and where he had earlier chased after Madeleine. She cries out: "I don't want to go in there." But he drags her into the church (where he had chased after her) and they start up the lower stairs of the tower together. He wants to be freed of the past, cure his vertigo, and remove his guilt as he commands her up the vertical tunnel of stairs:

I couldn't find her. And then I heard footsteps on the stairs. She was running up to the tower. Right here. You see, she was running up the stairs and through the trap door at the top of the tower. And I tried to follow her, but I couldn't get to the top. I tried but I couldn't get to the top. One doesn't often get a second chance. I want to stop being haunted. You're my second chance, Judy. You're my second chance.

Judy cries out: "Take me away." He grips her firmly and menacingly, commanding her: "You look like Madeleine now. Go up the stairs...Go up the stairs! Go up the stairs, Judy, and I'll follow." Midway up the stairs, where he experienced severe vertigo and saw Madeleine's body fall in the window, he continues to brutalize her, telling her that he knows the truth of her deception: "The necklace Madeleine [Judy], that was the slip. I remember the necklace."

He insists on climbing the winding, claustrophobic staircase all the way to the top of the tower, although Judy cautions: "You can't, you're afraid." Scottie believes he can make it: "Now we'll see. We'll see. This is my second chance." Then, he accuses her of the worst part of the plot, explaining how he now understands what was pulled on him by Elster. While he berates her, he almost strangles her on the stairs. Then, she admits her duplicitous role in the plot:

Scottie: But you knew that day that I wouldn't be able to follow you, didn't you? Who was up there when you got up there? Elster and his wife?...Yes, and she was the one who died! The real wife, not you! You were the copy. You were the counterfeit, weren't you? Was she dead or alive when you?
Judy: Dead. He'd broken her neck.
Scottie: He'd broken her neck. He wasn't taking any chances was he? So when you got up there, he pushed her off the tower. But it was you that screamed. Why did you scream?

Although forced to confess [thereby assuming 'Judy's' identity during the confession], she tries to convince him that she herself was a victim and that she wanted out of the crime - "I wanted to stop it." But he thinks she may be acting and tricking him again. Scottie realizes that she was rehearsed and trained and made up to be a fraud in the same way that he had rehearsed and trained her. Although he thought he could find freedom and be a "free" man after finding Madeleine again, he now realizes that he was the actual victim that was manipulated and used by Elster: [There are four victims of men in the film - the real Madeleine, Judy, Carlotta, and Scottie himself.]

You played the wife very well, Judy. He made you over, didn't he? He made you over just like I made you over. Only better. Not only the clothes and the hair. But the looks and the manner and the words. And those beautiful phony trances. And you jumped into the Bay, didn't you? I'll bet you're a wonderful swimmer, aren't you? Aren't you? Aren't you? And then what did he do? Did he train you? Did he rehearse you? Did he tell you exactly what to do and what to say? You were a very apt pupil, too, weren't you? You were a very apt pupil. Why did you pick on me? Why me?...I was the set-up. I was the set-up, wasn't I? I was a made-to-order witness.

Scottie suddenly realizes that his vertigo is not affecting him and he has made it to the top. For a moment, he forgets about the questioning and gloats to himself: "I made it. I made it." Climbing higher into the tower through the trap door to the actual "scene of the crime" in the belfry, he drags her up as her feet go limp and unresistant. With powerful intensity, he questions her about the betrayal and she cowers from him. Using two key words from earlier - freedom and power - he bitterly explains how he learned of the deception as the story of her collusion and sinister relationship with Elster is revealed (as a mistress and accomplice in another denial of her own identity). He chides her for becoming "sentimental" and keeping Carlotta's necklace. [Judy's game of betrayal and subsequent abandonment by Elster parallel what happened to Carlotta Valdes]:

Scottie: So this is where it happened. The two of you hid back there and waited for it to clear, and then you sneaked down and drove into town, is that it? And then, you were his girl, huh? Well, what happened to ya? What happened to ya? Did he ditch ya? Oh Judy, with all of his wife's money and all that freedom and that power and he ditched you. What a shame! But he knew he was safe. He knew you couldn't talk. Did he give you anything?
Judy: Just some money.
Scottie: And the necklace, Carlotta's necklace, there was where you made your mistake, Judy. You shouldn't keep souvenirs of a killing. You shouldn't have been, you shouldn't have been that sentimental.

And then, after Scottie's voice has broken, his rage also breaks. As she cringes in a corner of the tower, he cries out with bitterness and tells her how much he really had loved her: "I loved you so, Maddy [a combination of Madeleine and Judy]." Judy anguishes and pleads for forgiveness, explaining how she willingly endangered herself by getting emotionally involved with him after the murder. With great sincerity and commitment, she professes that she still loves him even though he was her victim:

Judy: I was safe when you found me. There was nothing that you could prove. When I saw you again, I couldn't run away. I loved you so. I walked into danger, let you change me because I loved you and I wanted you. Oh, Scottie, oh Scottie please. You love me. Please keep me safe, please...
Scottie: It's too late. It's too late. [These words are an echo of a few of Madeleine's final words.] There's no bringing her back.

Experiencing intense feelings of both repulsion (hate) and attraction (love), he softens when she insists that she loves him and falls into his arms for a passionate embrace and kiss - they renew their twisted love. Then, suddenly the footsteps of a black-clad figure in the shadows startle Judy. [In Judy's mind, the words "bringing her back" are fulfilled.] Judy backs away from Scottie gasping: "Oh, no!" The dark, shadowy figure says: "I hear voices." Terrified, thinking and believing she is seeing the ghost of the murdered Madeleine (or the reincarnation of the ghostly doomed mother Carlotta Valdes), Judy recoils, steps and falls backward through an opening in the tower and plummets to her own death (off-screen) in an emotionally-shattering climax. The figure, actually a nun from the mission, crosses herself and murmurs the last words of the film: "God have mercy."

The nun [a Mother Superior or virginal Sister of Mary?] pulls the bell rope and rings the mission bell. As the bell tolls (signalling not salvation but eternal damnation), Scottie emerges from the arched window of the tower onto the belfry ledge. He stares down in horror at her body far below - stunned, open-mouthed, shocked and glassy-eyed with his arms slightly away from his body. He is cured of his vertigo, but totally destroyed by his other delusions and burgeoning sorrow. Will he join her in a suicidal leap, or again go mad? Tragically loving and losing the same woman twice, repeating the pattern he had intended to break, the scene fades to black.


A supplemental ending to the original film (dubbed the "foreign censorship ending") provided just punishment for the guilty Elster. Hitchcock was required to shoot an extended ending to satisfy the needs of the foreign censorship committee. After the conclusion of the film above, Midge is positioned by the side of her radio intently listening to a report of the search for Elster in Europe:

Elster was last heard of living in Switzerland but is now thought to be residing somewhere in the South of France. Captain Hansen states that he anticipates no trouble in having Elster extradited once he is found.

Another news flash reports locally that in Berkeley, three University of California sophomores were caught "in an embarrassing position" when discovered by police as they led a cow up the steps of a campus building. She abruptly turns off the radio and turns as Scottie enters her apartment and blankly looks at her with his hands in his pockets. He strides over to the window - darkened by nightfall - as she pours drinks for both of them. She wordlessly gives one of the glasses to Scottie and then sits down, while he gazes mindlessly out the window. The scene fades to black.

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