Vertigo
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FAQ for
Vertigo (1958) More at IMDbPro »

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A Note Regarding Spoilers

The following FAQ entries may contain spoilers. Only the biggest ones (if any) will be covered with spoiler tags. Spoiler tags have been used sparingly in order to make the page more readable.

For detailed information about the amounts and types of (a) sex and nudity, (b) violence and gore, (c) profanity, (d) alcohol, drugs, and smoking, and (e) frightening and intense scenes in this movie, consult the IMDb Parents Guide for this movie. The Parents Guide for Vertigo can be found here.

Yes. Vertigo is based on Sueurs Froides: D'Entre les Morts [trans: Cold Sweat: From Among the Dead], a 1954 crime novel from French crime writers Pierre Boileau and Pierre Ayraud (aka Thomas Narcejac), writing as Boileau-Narcejac.

What is vertigo?

Vertigo is the medical term for dizziness, or a feeling of spinning or being off-balance, typically caused by problems with the balance mechanisms in the inner ear. If the vestibular system fails to work properly, then vertigo and other associated symptoms, such as nausea and vomiting, can occur. Vertigo could also be due to Mnire's disease, a long-term progressive condition affecting the balance and hearing parts of the inner ear. Symptoms of Mnire's are acute attacks of vertigo, fluctuating tinnitus (ringing in the ears), increasing deafness, and a feeling of pressure in the inner ear. Vertigo can accompany many conditions, such as hypotension, multiple sclerosis, stroke, a brain tumor, or anxiety. In Scottie (James Stewart)'s case, his vertigo is triggered by acrophobia (fear of heights).

In the movie's opening scene we see Scottie and another policeman in pursuit of a suspect who is trying to escape by running across rooftops. During a leap, Scottie loses his footing and slides down a roof, catching the rain gutter to keep him from falling several stories to the ground. The policeman he is with tries to grab his hand and pull him to safety, but ends up falling to his death. The traumatic experience triggers a fear of heights (acrophobia) and panic attack where Scottie is unable to look down from high places without feeling dizzy (vertigo). For this reason, he even quit the police force because he couldn't depend upon himself to assist in any situation that involved heights.

We never find out. The scene ends with him still hanging from the gutter. We can assume that another policeman came to rescue him.

Where is this movie set?

Mid-1950s San Francisco. However, in his 1974 book, The Strange Case of Alfred Hitchcock, Raymond Durgnat mistakenly placed the film in Los Angeles.

Who is Carlotta Valdez?

Carlotta Valdez is the name on the tombstone that Scottie observed Madeleine (Kim Novak) visiting in the church graveyard. She's also the lady in the portrait that Madeleine visits at the art museum, and she's the renter of the room that Scottie saw Madeleine enter at the McKittrick Hotel. According to Pop Leibel (Konstantin Shayne), the book dealer, the story goes that Carlotta was mistress to a rich man who built the McKittrick Hotel for her but who eventually dumped her. On top of that, he took her child, while Carlotta was left to wander the streets, sad and mad, asking people "Where is my child?", and eventually committing suicide. Madeleine's husband, Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore), explains to Scottie that Carlotta was Madeleine's great grandmother and that the child was her grandmother, which is why he's concerned that Carlotta's ghost is beginning to possess Madeleine.

There isn't one. Scottie sees Madeleine enter the hotel and open the curtains of her room. Then Scottie enters the hotel himself and asks the manager (Ellen Corby) to tell him who is renting the room. The name she gives him is Carlotta Valdez. Scottie asks her not to say anything to her tenant about his visit, but she tells him that Miss Valdez hadn't been there that day. Scottie insists that he just saw her walk in. The manager maintains she had been putting olive oil on her rubber plant leaves and wouldn't have missed her. Besides, her key is still on the rack. Scottie presses her to check the room. She does, and the room is empty. Even Madeleine's car outside has vanished. Alfred Hitchcock called this an "icebox" scene, meaning it's the kind of scene that hits you after you've gone home and start pulling cold chicken out of the icebox. "Hey," says the hypothetical viewer. "How did Kim Novak vanish from the hotel? Did we ever find that out?"

There are a number of possible explanations. One is that the manager had her back turned (polishing her leaves) when Madeleine entered the hotel and quietly snuck upstairs. Another is that the manager and Madeleine are in cahoots. Others have thought Madeleine may have rented another room under another name, so the manager wasn't lying when she said she didn't see Carlotta Valdez enter the hotel. Still another possibility is that someone else rented the room as Carlotta Valdez, such as Gavin Elster's real wife or even Elster himself. The only thing that's certain is that Madeleine entered the room being rented by Carlotta Valdez, so she either had a key or the door was purposely left unlocked for her.

The character doesn't have a name.

How did the car vanish?

The most likely explanation is that Madeleine went out a back entrance and drove off while Scottie was talking with the manager.

Novak felt the straight skirt was too confining. They ended up using two skirts. One had a very small back kick pleat, which does not go up much further than the back of her knees. This skirt is quite limiting and was used for all the static shots. For the action shots, Novak wore a second skirt that was slightly fuller cut and has a large knife pleat that goes halfway up the back of the skirt. This skirt is used in scenes, like at the mission, where Novak needs to run.

(1) When Scottie is hospitalized after suffering a mental breakdown following Madeleine's death, the doctor's prognosis is that it may take anywhere from six months to a year to recover. (2) When Scottie tries to calm Judy down after she fled from his attempt to take her shopping, he says, "These past few days have been the first happy days I've known in a year." Conclusion: it was about a year.

After Scottie is released from the mental hospital he is seen wandering through San Francisco, still haunted by the likeness of Madeleine he sees in various women. We see him visitng her grave so we are certain that he believes her to be dead. Some viewers point out that Scottie has no reason to see Judy (Kim Novak) as anyone other than a woman who reminds him of Madeleine. Consider that, when he spends time alone in Judy's room while she's getting the makeover, he doesn't appear to be snooping...just waiting. It's only until he sees her wearing the necklace that he connects the dots.

Viewers who have questioned that offer four explanations. One is that Judy actually forgot. Another is that a year had passed, and Judy didn't think that Scottie would have paid that much attention to a painting in order to remember the necklace. A third explanation is that Judy, believing that she had won Scottie's love by allowing herself to be transformed back to Madeleine, actually wanted Scottie to recognize it so that the truth could be told. Fourth, Judy herself may not have been aware that the necklace was the same as the one in the painting and merely thought of it as just another necklace that she received as a payoff from Gavin Elster.

The necklace was handed down to Madeleine, and Elster gave it to Judy as payoff.

Why does Judy jump?

The most common interpretation of the ending is that, when Judy saw the dark figure of the nun, she thought it was a ghost, recoiled in shock, took a step backwards, and fell. However, in an interview with Kim Novak [see here], Novak's take on it is that Judy threw herself off the tower. She was so desperate to be loved that she had let one man turn her into Madelaine and involve her in a murder because she thought he loved her, then another because she hoped he would love her. When Scottie found out the truth, he told her "It's too late." So when she cried out, "No," it was because she realized that she had just lost her last chance and had nothing left to live for. The nun's arrival merely distracted Scottie long enough for Judy to break away from him and do herself in.

For Gavin Elster's scheme to work, the "witness" had to chase Madeleine up the stairs but be unable to make it to the top or he would see exactly what was going on. Elster had seen the newspaper article about Scottie's phobia and, since they knew each other from college, Scottie was the perfect choice.

Yes. Old Mission San Juan Bautista is located about 100 miles south of San Francisco in San Juan Bautista, just west of the city of Hollister, California. Founded in 1797, it is said to be the largest mission in California. However, the bell tower featured in Vertigo was added by a special matte painting.

The apartment where Madeleine supposedly lives: The Brocklbank Apartments at Mason and Sacramento streets atop Nob Hill in San Francisco.

Where Madeleine plunges into the bay: Fort Point, beneath the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.

The Argosy book shop where Scottie meets old Pop Leibel: The Argonaut book shop, 786 Sutter Street in San Francisco.

Scottie's apartment: 900 Lombard Street in San Francisco.

An alternative ending was filmed to appease European censors at the time, apparently over the moral implication of a criminal getting away with murder. It's actually a deleted scene added in the Collector's Edition of Vertigo. We see Midge (Barbara Bel Geddes) in her apartment listening attentively to a radio announcement of the police hot on Elster's trail in Europe. Scottie enters the apartment and Midge pours him a drink... after a moment of silence, the scene fades to black. Do Scottie and Midge ever get together? That's up to the viewer to decide.

Yes. Hitchcock makes his cameo appearance about 11 minutes into the movie. He plays a man wearing a gray suit, walking down the sidewalk past Gavin Elster's shipbuilding company. A video clip of the cameo can be seen here.

Vertigo is a great film, but not a perfect one. First-time viewers tend to focus on the plot, its implausibilities and a twist that seems to end the movie half-way through. Second- or third-time viewers can concentrate on the characters; the themes of love, obsession, unrequited love (the Barbara Bel Geddes character), duplicity and manipulation; and the extraordinary depth and beauty that the performances, images and music give to them. Vertigo has a hypnotic power on the viewer who has already solved the mystery of the plot and can now delve into the mysteries of human nature.


It's difficult to put into words exactly what Vertigo means to me as both a film lover and as a filmmaker. As is the case with all great films, truly great films, no matter how much has been said and written about them, the dialogue about it will always continue. Because any film as great as Vertigo demands more than just a sense of admiration - it demands a personal response.

A good place to start is its complete singularity. Vertigo stands alone as a Hitchcock film, as a Hollywood film. In fact, it just stands alone - period. For such a personal work with such a uniquely disturbing vision of the world to come out of the studio system when it did was not just unusual - it was nearly unthinkable. Vertigo was and continues to be a real example to me and to many of my contemporaries, in the sense that it demonstrates to us that it's possible to function within a system and do work that's deeply personal at the same time.

Vertigo is also important to me - essential would be more like it - because it has a hero driven purely by obsession. I've always been attracted in my own work to heroes motivated by obsession, and on that level Vertigo strikes a deep chord in me every time I see it. Morality, decency, kindness, intelligence, wisdom - all the qualitites that we think heroes are supposed to possess - desert [James Stewart]'s character little by little, until he is left alone on that church tower with the bells tolling behind him and nothing to show but his humanity.

Whole books could be written about so many individual aspects of Vertigo - its extraordinary visual precision, which cuts to the soul of its characters like a razor; its many mysteries and moments of subtle poetry; its unsettling and exquisite use of color; its extraordinary performances by Stewart and Kim Novak - whose work is so brave and emotionally immediate - as well as the very underrated work of Barbara Bel Geddes. And that's not to mention its astonishing title sequence by Saul Bass or its tragically beautiful score by Bernard Herrmann, both absolutely essential to the spirit, the functioning and the power of Vertigo.

Of course, we can now hear Herrmann's score with clarity and breadth that it's never had before, thanks to [Robert A. Harris] and [James C. Katz], the men who worked on the beautiful, painstaking restoration of Vertigo. I'm happy that the Film Foundation was able to play a part in making this important work possible, and I'd like to thank Universal and Tom Pollock for allowing it to go forward and, of course, I'd like to thank the American Film Institute for their invaluable contributions.
Source: Martin Scorsese's forward to: Dan Auiler, 'Vertigo': The Making of a Hitchcock Classic, NY, 1998, pp. xi-xiii.

It's a Wonderful Life (1946). Stewart appears as George Bailey, a man frantically trying to prevent his customers from pulling all of their money out of his Building and Loan. When Corby's character, the spinster Miss Davis, asks for only $17.50, he impulsively kisses her on the cheek.

In Bell Book and Candle, Novak appears as Gilliam Holroyd, a witch attempting to cast a spell that will make Stewart's character, Shep Henderson, fall in love with her.

Not exactly, says Dan Auiler. He wrote:


Legend has it that Hitchcock was furious when Vera Miles became pregnant and dropped out of Vertigo. Perhaps a more realistic assessment, though, is that [Alfred] Hitchcock and [James] Stewart had been having their own doubts about Miles as a star.

Hitchcock had discovered Vera Miles during casting for his television series, and he was impressed enough to place her under personal contract; yet according to [Samuel A. Taylor], though secure about her acting ability, Hitchcock felt she didn't yet possess that luminous quality that made a star. By placing her under exclusive contract, he hoped to create that quality in her.

From the onset, though, Miles was reluctant to be shaped by anyone--even a director she respected as much as Hitchcock. Her first feature with Hitchcock was not exactly a showcase for the new blonde. The Wrong Man's microscopic focus on the justice process left little screen time for Manny's wife. Dressed down and psychologically shattered by Manny's unjustified arrest, Miles's character is never fully developed. Hitchcock seemed impatient with the wife's story line, and his indifference shows on screen. The film's sanitarium scenes are similar to the scenes in Vertigo, with the same overwhelming sense of helplessness in the face of psychological crisis; yet there was little occasion for Vera Miles to do much else on-screen to make an impact.

This film, and the role in Vertigo that was intended to follow, dominate the Vera Miles story. There is much more, though, to the full picture. Her career had begun with small roles in 1951 in Two Tickets to Broadway and in 1952 in For Men Only; Miles effectively used her television performances as audition pieces for Hitchcock--and for John Ford, who cast her in The Searchers a year before she filmed The Wrong Man. Vertigo was intended as Miles's big break--but even before her first screen tests in November of 1956, there were signs of doubt from Hitchcock. A few weeks before Miles reported to Stage 5 at Parmount for hair, costume, and makeup tests, Hitchcock screened The Eddy Duchin Story, a biopic featuring an actress [Kim Novak] who was being molded by one of Hitchcock's crosstown rivals [Harry Cohn].

--Auiler, 'Vertigo': The Making of a Hitchcock Classic, NY, 1998, pp. 20, 21.

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