The Film, Video
and Moving Image
Magazine of Northern
December 1, 2014
• Above date of full update
• Additions top left column
• Please contact us
with any corrections,
or breaking stories
Vertigo IV: Doom Or Happiness?
by Davell Swan
Kim Novak as the refined Madeleine Elster, reposing between takes in the 1957 Cadillac Limousine 'Picture Car.' Appearing in the film at key moments, this vehicle seems to drive Scottie's decline and thereby functions akin to the Tycho Magnetic Anomaly-1, aka 'The Monolith', in '2001: A Space Odyssey' (1968). photo: courtesy A. Hitchcock
For the full effect of this article, read CineSource's "Vertigo" Investigations Parts 1, 2 and 3:
Why Me: An Investigation of Hitchcock’s Vertigo
Vertigo: The Underworld Descent
Vertigo: The Search Goes On
As Part 3 of our "Vertigo" investigation closed, we were wondering if Judy Barton, who had been masquerading as Madeleine Elster, now that she's been found by Scottie, will attempt to reignite a relationship or flee. The latter action would of course result in taking responsibility for her role in the murderous ruse.
Flee she does not, still being in love; thereby executing yet another vertiginous tragicomic miscalculation. More specifically, as so often with Hitchcock, we're able to watch the wheels turning as Judy makes the decision.
So Scottie takes her to dinner at—where else but—Ernie's (North Beach, San Francisco). In her halter top, Judy finds herself clashing fantastically with a less-adulterated doppelganger of Madeleine, who gains Scottie's attention.
Judy feels insulted that Scottie isn't physically demonstrative, at least not until he crams her into the nearest simulacrum of Mad's wardrobe. He then begins to see her attractiveness and they become closer. The couple find themselves gazing lovingly at each other... then, Scottie absent-mindedly utters: "The color of your hair..."
She begrudgingly agrees to tonsorial and make-up adjustments. That Judy does so, while stating, "I don't care any more about me," is an index into how desperately she needs love (as Coit Tower glows behind her).
Advised that the process will take several hours, Scottie kills time waiting in her hotel room by reading a newspaper, the private eye's favorite subterfuge. This is a good sign, in that while harking back to his initial waiting to follow Mad outside of the apartment building, it indicates he's beginning to revert to his capable, detective ways.
Scottie expectantly waits and then watches Judy round the hotel hall corner, ignoring as did he, the "fire escape" sign, also to her ultimate detriment. She's sullen, but he's not through yet—what about that evocative, doom-laden back-of-the-head bun? Yes, she submits and goes into the bathroom to put that damn swirl back into her freshly-coiffed hair.
We see the back of Scottie's head. Oh, the suspense: Will she be complete, as the cool, blond Madeleine?
Judy, now sporting the correct hair-do, similar to the mode of Mrs. Danvers in Hitchcock's "Rebecca" (1940), simply "appears". Not only is she shrouded in mist but as an under-exposed, double image. Reeking of refined romantic longing, she slowly moves toward Scottie; her shadow darkens and crosses the bed, creating a Freudian icon, as she becomes flesh. The approach of this—ghost?—causes his own pallor to vanish.
Thus is the stage set for one of Hitchcock's greatest kisses. Never before has the power of cinema been able to express such romantic obsession, such fulfillment for two beloveds, each believing they'd lost the other. The complete room, exquisitely lit, rotates around the emotional lovers. As the walls darken, the blackness becomes one with the chiaroscuro of the San Juan Batista stable, where-in they enjoyed an unforgettable last kiss, again turning in ever tighter.
Against this flat background, they stand out in near 3D. Scottie looks away from his love to see that he has gone back in time, finally, and then nearly breaks Judy's neck, he holds her so passionately. This highlights the fact that he's increasingly approaching Elster in behavior.
Reminiscent of the huge neon letters outside "Rope"'s (1948) penthouse, the Empire Hotel sign's "M" and "P" are legible as the window passes Scottie and Judy in their penultimate throws. As with the earlier film, the letters mean something. Could the message be that this embrace will soon be revealed as "empty"?
As the recreated Madeleine moves from apparition to flesh, her shadow crosses the bed, confounding censors while sending Scottie a message. photo: courtesy A. Hitchcock
Later, Judy's readying for their dinner out; she would like to go to Ernie's and Scottie hasn't a problem with that. The couple's life together is only based on the past; a past that was a lie. It would seem that that they've succumbed to a terrible, new kind of nostalgia, allowing room for neither growth nor evaluation.
His face has regained its pallor, and why not? He's becoming quite the ghoul. Recalling Midge's comment about his knowledge of bras, he's having difficulty fastening Judy's necklace. He's also jolted into the past by what he sees within the mirror—Carlotta's necklace, shockingly circling the neck of the girl who's supposed to be Judy. His expression says that our detective's definitely now back, with his long lost objectivity close behind.
Scottie is now helming his DeSoto, Judy's beside, unknowingly still decked out with the incriminating piece of antique jewelry. They head south on Highway 101. Again penetrating the eucalyptus strip, Judy's memory is jogged, leading to her obvious discomfort. We're now privy to her subjective view of Scottie as he suavely intones that he'll soon be "free of the past."
Again the couple approaches the church at San Juan Batista. Scottie mockishly informs Judy that he has to "go back into the past, once more, just once more, for the last time." He says he needs her to be Madeleine for a while and that when it's done they'll both be free.
Nearing completion of the spiral, he tells her of that last kiss, "and she (Mad) said 'If you love me, you'll know that I love 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."
Scottie manhandles Judy toward the entrance, as he continues to adopt Elster's demonic manner. Martin Scorsese, in his forward to "Vertigo, the Making of a Hitchcock Classic", states: "Morality, decency, kindness, intelligence, wisdom—all the qualities that we think heroes are supposed to possess—desert Jimmy Stewart's character, little by little".
Inside the church, he tells of being unable to get to the top. "One doesn't often get a second chance, I want to stop being haunted, you're my second chance, Judy." If only the power of positive thinking functioned within this particularly dark universe.
The neon sign outside Judy's window for the Empire Hotel seems to be reading 'P.I.', as in private investigator or eye. Is this a hint for Scottie to employ suspicion or is it perhaps a mockery directed at him? Earlier, the 'M & P' neon seemed to comment on the couples' embrace. photo: courtesy A. Hitchcock
Twice, ascending behind Judy, Scottie looks down only to view the dizzying, so-called "contra zoom" (zooming in while tracking out) of the stairs; but he doesn't slow. He now reminds her that he couldn't make it past this level before and that she would know, having accompanied him.
"The necklace, Judy," he explains. She makes a break but he blocks her, saying they're going up the tower. She bleats, "You can't, you're afraid!" He pauses, then continues, repeating that this is his second chance.
He grills her like he would any other criminal, reminding us, that though the film dates from 1958, it's considered a noir. Judy is forced to admit she did know Scottie couldn't make it to the top and that Elster was waiting above, dead wife in tow.
They're struggling, furiously; he's spitting syllables and she's whimpering, attempting to catch her breath. She claims her scream was of horror, not an act, and that she wanted to stop the sham.
With a running time of over two hours, "Vertigo" violates Hitch's dictum that a film should last no longer than the bladder will allow. Thus he has Scottie continue toward the spiral's conclusion by his summing up of all that's gone before, to enlighten those who had missed part of the narrative, but also to elucidate Hitchcock's procedure, to date, as a director of actresses.
"You played the wife very well, Judy. He made you over, didn't he ...just as 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... did he train you, did he rehearse you? But why did you pick on me!?! Why me!?!"
Judy blubbers unintelligibly and he mutters something like "I was set up!"
Scottie has wrestled her up the stairs, below the ladder leading to the landing. While screaming that he was a "made-to-order witness", he peers from the window and realizes that in his "frenzy" he's conquered his acrophobia. He again, mockingly, states that they're "going up, to look at the scene of the crime." (Could Kubrick have been influenced by this with his handling of Nicholson's lines during production of "The Shining", 1977 ?).
Unnerved by the overly-insistent Scottie, Judy begins to confuse Elster's ploy of a haunting with reality; leading her to mistake a poorly-lit, stern nun for the actual Madeleine's vengeful specter. Judy's terrified response is to back off of the ledge to her death, thereby paying for her role in Mad's death while duplicating her fall. photo: courtesy A. Hitchcock
The entire interrogation and movement up the stairs, after the speaking of her doubt, was shot in one exquisitely-executed, exuberant and convincingly-acted, nearly documentary-style take of a minute and forty seconds. One would hope that Hitch had little enough against Novak, that he called for no unnecessary retakes of this physically exhausting scene. The full sequence has also benefited (and will continue to), from Bernard Hermann's summing up of the various orchestral themes that were utilized throughout the film. The circle's now nearly whole.
Scottie drags Judy up the ladder, with her legs and feet limp, just as Elster no doubt unceremoniously did with his broken-necked wife. After tossing Judy against the wall near the deadly open portal, Scottie resumes.
"So this is where it happened, and the two of ya hid back there and waited for it to clear. And then ya sneaked down and drove into town. Oh Judy, with all his wife's money and all of that freedom and all of that power, he ditched you. What a shame. He knew he was safe, he knew you couldn't talk. Did he give you anything?"
Judy, still out of breath, attests, "Yesumoney."
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 [at this point, he breaks up], so, you shouldn't, have been, so sentimental."
The score rises in volume and his eyes seem to roll back in his head as he swoons, "I loved you so, Madeleine." Judy asserts that she was safe when he found her and there was nothing he could prove. "When I saw you again, I couldn't run away, I loved you so [all the while, Carlotta's necklace is dangling from her neck]. I walked into danger and let you change me because I loved you."
She rushes to Scottie's side, holds him, begs him to still love her. Scottie: "It's too late, it's too late, there's no bringing her back." The score again rises and they kiss; the angle's toward her, leaving his expression unknown. We'll never know if he conceded or not.
The nun rises up like a specter. Judy whispers, "Oh no", then "NO!" as if she believes she's being stalked by the real Madeleine Elster's wraith. Scottie looks at the nun with a confused or even guilty face. Then there's Judy's scream, as she falls from the portal—the most blood curdling scream imaginable. (What do you suppose Hitch did to her, to get such a yell?) Judy, the actress', earlier disappearances connect with her loss of identification and lead up to the ultimate disappearance, her fatal fall.
The nun crosses herself, saying "God have mercy," so casually that, not only does she fail to recognize her partial responsibility, but is not in the least shocked by the tableau. This is a welcome release of sorts, in counterpoint to the previous madness.
She begins to toll the bell grimly, as the camera pulls back through the portal, for a bird's-eye view of Scottie walking out to the edge to ponder what he sees below. Will he spend his remaining days free or trapped?
Neither his face or body language, nor the score or camera leave us with any hint as to whether he'll follow her or not. No matter, the spiral's now complete.
Posted on Sep 19, 2012 - 11:09 AM