Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Vertigo (1958)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Vertigo (1958)

In director Alfred Hitchcock's perplexing, necrophiliac-tinged thriller about obsession:

  • the dazzling credits sequence - a fragmented and shifting image of a woman's blank and expressionless face; first, an enormous close-up of the lower left portion of her face, then her lips, then her frightened eyes darting left and then right, and then a straight-on closeup of her right eye as the entire screen took on a bright reddish hue; the title of the film "Vertigo" zoomed out slowly from the depths of her widening pupil; spiraling, vertiginous, animated designs (of various configurations and shapes) replaced the closeup of the iris, and the remainder of the credits played over a black background after the pupil was entered and the eye faded away
  • the opening rooftop chase scene between plain-clothes SF police detective (later identified as Scottie Ferguson (James Stewart)), a uniformed SF policeman (Fred Graham), and a fugitive - ending with Ferguson hanging from a gutter - frozen by his debilitating fear of heights (acrophobia) - he looked down many stories into the deadly abyss below and experienced a dizzying sensation called vertigo (symbolized by dizzying trick camerawork (a reverse zoom, dolly-out) visualizing the vortex of vertigo and acrophobia (fear of heights)); Ferguson watched in horror as the policeman tried to assist him and fell to his death
  • the sequence of Scottie hired by his old college friend, Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore), to trail his potentially-suicidal wife around San Francisco (Elster asked: "Do you believe that someone out of the past, someone dead, can enter and take possession of a living being?") - and the striking first half-profile view that Scottie had of the face of ethereal, lovely, elegant blonde Madeleine (Kim Novak) in Ernie's Restaurant
Scottie's Stalking of Madeleine
Profile of Madeleine (Kim Novak) in Restaurant
Art Gallery
Golden Gate Bridge Rescue After Attempted Drowning
  • the continued stalking of Madeleine, when Scottie followed her into the art gallery at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor where he found her hypnotized, motionless and trance-like in front of a portrait painting of a woman named Carlotta Valdes, her ancestor's portrait; Scottie noticed that her single lock of swirling (vertigo-like) hair and hand-corsage bore a striking resemblance to the bouquet and hairstyle in the painting
  • Scottie's rescue of suicidal Madeleine at the Golden Gate Bridge, when she tore and threw flower petals from her Carlotta-like nosegay into the water, and then jumped into the cold waters of the bay
  • the sequence of her recovery at his apartment, when Scottie took care of her, gave her a red robe to wear, and became entranced and bewitched by her
  • the sequence of their car trip together to the evocative, centuries-old redwood sequoias; in a dark, moody, giant redwood forest, in the filtered, impressionistic light of the woods where they wandered, she spoke about the ancient, towering trees over 2,000 years old - and how they reminded her of her own smallness and mortality; he noted: "Their true name is Sequoia sempervirens, 'always green, ever-living'"; while pointing toward the concentric, spiraling rings in a cross-section of the stump of one of the felled trees in a display showing thousands of years of history (historical events, wars and treaties from 909 AD to 1930 when the tree was cut down), she indicated with a black-gloved finger the place where Carlotta's life had spanned a short period of time - she enigmatically traced the times of her birth and her death in one of the film's key speeches: "Somewhere in here I was born. And there I died. It was only a moment for you, you took no notice"
  • in the next sequence, Madeleine begged him to take her to "somewhere in the light" and they appeared on a Monterey Bay ocean cliff next to a classic Monterey pine; after telling him about a disturbing, ambiguous, symbol-filled dream, she became frightened and ran down the rocks to the water's edge where waves crashed in; he chased after her and they embraced - and he pledged to protect her forever: "I'm here. I've got you...All the time!"
Kissing with Madeleine by the Ocean
Driving to Spanish Mission
Madeleine: "There's something I must do"
  • the sequence of Scottie and Madeleine driving and visiting San Juan Bautista's Spanish Mission, about 100 miles south of San Francisco - hoping that visiting the real-world California mission would end her nightmares, cure her fears, dispel the dream's power, or prompt her memories; when they arrived, they kissed and he confessed: "I love you, Madeleine"; she glanced across the courtyard toward the mission's church and bell tower, hurriedly confessed her own love for him, became frantic ("There's something I must do...It's too late!"), and ran from him; she climbed up the bell tower's crude, winding and rickety wooden staircase, and as he followed, his acrophobia and vertigo slowed his climb after her up the spiraling stairs
  • at the top of the tower, Scottie heard a shrieking scream as a gray-clothed body resembling Madeleine's was seen through a side tower window falling to her death far below; Scottie looked down through the tower opening and saw a still body lying dead on the adjacent rooftop below - Madeleine had apparently committed suicide
  • the disturbing and distraught Scottie's vivid nightmares following Madeleine's death - real nightmares, flashing lights, vivid, and shattered, exploding images, and a vision of a bottomless pit accompanied by a frightening silhouette of his body falling into the mission roof
  • the scene of Scottie's first view of a Madeleine look-alike on the street outside the flower-shop, in profile - a dark, red-haired woman wearing a tight green sweater dress - a shopgirl named Judy (also Kim Novak), and his growing obsession to reshape and remake her into Madeleine
  • the magnificent dream-like scene in her hotel room when Judy emerged from the bathroom in a sickly neon green light - transformed completely into Madeleine as the camera swirled around them during a series of kisses
  • the striking moment when Scottie was attaching a necklace around Judy's neck, and he realized that Judy was Madeleine (imagined in a momentary flashback of the necklace in the portrait and Madeleine gazing at it from a museum bench) -- he suddenly knew there was no Madeleine, and he had been tricked by Elster
  • while trying to recreate the past, they traveled again to the mission, where Scottie asked agonizing questions as he dragged Judy into the mission and up the stairs of the mission tower during a second visit, to recreate the death scene of chasing Madeleine earlier when he had experienced his acrophobia and vertigo; Scottie asked agonizing questions as he dragged Judy up the stairs of the mission tower: "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" - there was a second final terrifying sequence in the bell tower, when she sincerely professed that she still loved him even though he had been her victim
  • in the finale - footsteps of a black-clad figure in the shadows startled Judy, and she backed away from Scottie gasping: "Oh, no!"; the dark, shadowy figure (a nun), said: "I hear voices"
  • terrified, thinking and believing she was seeing the ghost of the murdered Madeleine (or the reincarnation of the ghostly doomed mother Carlotta Valdes), Judy recoiled, stepped and fell backwards through an opening in the tower and plummeted to her own death (off-screen) in an emotionally-shattering climax; the figure, actually a nun from the mission, crossed herself and murmured the last words of the film: "God have mercy"
  • the last shot of a stunned Scottie standing on the belfry tower ledge as he stared down at Judy's dead body in the tragic ending - Scottie had tragically loved and lost the same woman twice
The Second Bell-Tower Sequence and Second Fatal Fall

Opening Credits

Scottie's Fear of Heights - Acrophobia with Vertigo

Madeleine Recovering in Scottie's Apartment

Madeleine Tracing Rings in Giant Sequoia Tree

Vertigo Effect

Madeleine's 'Suicidal' Death

Scottie's Nightmares

Shopgirl Judy (also Kim Novak)

Judy Transformed into Madeleine

Swirling Around During Kisses

Startling Moment of Realization - The Necklace

"God have mercy"


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