Vertigo (film)

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Vertigo is a movie directed by Alfred Hitchcock released in 1958. It stars Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak as two "star-crossed lovers" whose love tears them apart. It is most famous for its final scene filmed in the bell tower of a Spanish Catholic mission, and for its haunting musical score by Bernard Herrmann.

The snubbing of this movie by the Academy Awards, despite being considered one of the greatest films ever, ranks as #8 of the Worst Liberal Snubs. Perhaps it was felt that this movie was too closely an imitation of a movie five years prior, Niagara (1953), and in some ways not as good. As time passed, fewer recalled Niagara and then Vertigo looked better.

Filming of the road scenes was actually done on the famous US 101 in California, which is in real life is two lanes in each direction as separated by Eucalyptus trees.[1]

This movie was a reaction to (with extensive uncredited duplication of) Marilyn Monroe and her groundbreaking performance in Niagara (1953). Almost identical towers with exciting staircases at the climax of both films, and even similar dialog about aspects of nature declaring its independence. Vertigo's star had her own stage name changed from "Marilyn Pauline Novak" to "Kim Novak," as she could not be another Marilyn.[2]


The film begins with "Scottie" Ferguson, a police detective chasing a criminal across a city rooftop. During this chase, a fellow officer falls to his death, and Ferguson finds that his fear of heights has increased to a problem with vertigo. He has to retire from his police work as a result of his disability.

A former college friend of his, Gavin Elster, hires Scottie to spy on his wife Madeleine, telling him that she has been acting strangely and he suspects she may be suicidal. Scottie trails Judy to an art museum, where he watches her for three hours as she stares intently at a portrait of Carlotta Valdes, a Spanish matron who has been dead for more than two centuries. Then she goes and buys flowers and puts them on Carlotta's grave.

Scottie determines that Madeleine is depressed and that she is obsessed with a dead Spanish woman. After a few days of observation, Madeline travels to a ledge below the Golden Gate Bridge (a familiar backdrop in Hitchcock's films) and jumps over the edge. Scottie follows her in, and saves her. He brings her back to his apartment to recuperate, they speak, and she returns home.

The two see each other many times after that, and gradually fall in love. Scottie and Madeline work together on Madeline's mysterious fixation on Carlotta. In an effort to solve their mystery, they travel to Mission San Juan Bautista. Madeline runs away to a bell tower, and Scottie attempts to follow, but is delayed by his difficulty with vertigo. He reaches the top in time to see Madeline's body on the roof. Scottie faints.

At the inquest, Scottie testifies that he saw Madeleine fall to her death. Gavin Elster is awarded his wife's property, and leaves for Europe.

Scottie mopes about for a month or two, until one day he spots a woman who looks exactly like Madeline. Her name is Judy. Judy explains her past as being a normal girl from Kansas. After Scottie leaves, Judy writes a letter to him, explaining that she was hired to impersonate Madeline as part of a plot to allow Gavin Elster to murder his wife. Judy destroys the letter as she finishes writing it.

Scottie pursues Judy, and they cultivate a relationship. Scottie makes recurring efforts to transform Judy into Madeline, by forcing her to wear the same clothes, to arrange her hair and makeup to resemble his deceased love. Judy seems to be uncomfortable with this, but ultimately concedes to his requests.

Scottie notices that Judy has a specific piece of jewelry that Madeline wore, and puts together what has happened.

Scottie takes Judy back to the old mission bell tower, wanting to re-enact Madeline's death. They argue, and eventually Judy confesses to loving Scottie. A nun appears in a nearby door, startling Judy, who stumbles backwards, falling to her death.