Sunday, January 29, 2012

Don't Make a Scene: Vertigo

We start the new year with endings—what I ironically call "Happy Endings."  They are not entirely happy, they might even be tragic, but those last frames hang in the air, changing the dozens of minutes that preceded them, perfect endings for what has gone before. 

A Warning: these scenes, coming as they do at the end, are so SPOILERIFIC, that seeing them, without the accompanying film, will, at the very least, leave you guessing and confused, and at the most, ruin the entire movie for you.  If you have not seen this movie, read no further, but instead, seek out this film.  You won't regret it.

The Story: We reach the end of our "Happy Endings" with one of the most twisted endings in all of cinema—shocking, tragic, and, ultimately, tentative.  We don't know if this is really the ending.  We leave Scottie Ferguson (James Stewart) on the edge, cured of his vertigo, lost of love, but what's the next step?  Is it forward to his doom, or back to the safety of the bell-tower?

We don't know.  Hitchcock ends it there.

And that couldn't be more appropriate...really, even though the resolution, on the first viewing, screams that it is wrong, at least in audience expectations of a "satisfying" ending.   Two women are dead, the culprit has gotten away with murder,* and Ferguson has—again—lost his "dream" woman.

But, what has he lost—really?  He's lost the illusion of love, the woman he loved never really existed, although two women who represented that love (one of whom he hasn't even seen!) are now dead.  For Hitchcock, for whom the image of an ideal woman in his imagination—blonde, tightly coiffed, corsetted in a conservative gray suit and cool on the outside but emotionally untamed (as so many actresses performances in his films have been overseen, created and re-created)—the ending could not be more personal—the image of love destroyed, as Scottie stands on the edge alone, arms outstretched...and empty.  Loss personified.

C'est l'amour.  C'est la vie.

Feeling a little bit lost yourself?  Some very personal thoughts on Vertigo are here.

The Set-up: After a debilitating accident, San Francisco police detective Scottie Ferguson (James Stewart) is put on medical leave.  But a freelance assignment from an old school acquaintance challenges his fragile physical and emotional state in trying to prevent the suicide of the man's wife.  He has fallen in love with the woman, and her loss has caused him to seek out another woman in her image.  Coincidence?  Not in Hitchcock's world.



Scottie's car enters the avenue of tall trees we saw once
before along this road. They look sinister in the moonlight.


Shooting forward, we are as though in the front seat of
Scottie's car, traveling fast, looking up and ahead to the
distant end of the tunnel, and the tall trees flashing by.


Scottie is staring straight ahead, concentrating on his
driving. Judy is staring up at the tall trees, wondering,
her brow furrowed. Her memory is stirred, but she can't think


Shooting forward and up through the windshield. The tops of
the tall trees flashing past. Judy's face, highlighted from
the dash lights below, faintly reflected.


Judy turns her gaze from the flashing tree tops and looks
off at Scottie.


Scottie, still concentrating on his driving, and looking
straight ahead.


Judy looking at Scottie, puzzled and slightly apprehensive.

JUDY Where are you going?

SCOTTIE (wryly) To complete my cure.

He glances at her and smiles nicely.

SCOTTIE One final thing I have to do...

SCOTTIE ...and then I'll be free of the past, forever.

He looks ahead thoughtfully.



Quiet, empty, sinister, bathed in moonlight. Far below we see Scottie's car crawl into the square and pass along the road around the green and come to a stop near the entrance to the church. A distant church clock chimes the half-hour.


Judy's face, rigid, frightened, her eyes filled with apprehension. Then, with an effort, she composes herself and glances at Scottie with calm questioning. But he is turned away from her, opening his door to get out.


Scottie comes around the car and opens Judy's door.

JUDY Scottie, why are we here?

SCOTTIE I told you.

SCOTTIE I have to go back into the past.

SCOTTIE Once more. Just once more. For the last time.

JUDY But why? Why here?
SCOTTIE Madeleine died here, Judy.


He holds out his hand. She shrinks, frightened.

JUDY No, I don't want to go. I want to stay here.

SCOTTIE I need you.
SCOTTIE I can't do it alone. I need you, to be Madeleine for a while. Then, when it's done, we'll both be free.

He draws her out of the car.

JUDY I'm scared.
SCOTTIE So am I, But it has to be done. No, no. I have to tell you about Madeleine, now.

He closes the car door and leads her slightly away, and they
stop and look across the green toward the Livery Stable.

SCOTTIE Right there...

He points to the Livery Stable, bathed in moonlight.

SCOTTIE ...We stood there and I kissed her for the last time.

SCOTTIE And she said, "If you lose me, you'll know that I loved you --

JUDY (Pleading) Scottie --

SCOTTIE (Going right on)-- and wanted to keep on loving you."  And I said, "I won't lose you."


SCOTTIE But I did.

He turns slowly, and Judy with him, and he looks up. Her
eyes follow his.


The high church tower in the moonlight.

SCOTTIE'S VOICE She turned and ran... into the Church...


He puts his arm around her protectively but firmly, and begins
to impel her gently to the church.


SHOOTING from the door. Scottie impels Judy to the door.

SCOTTIE ...And when I followed her, it was too late...

The CAMERA PULLS AROUND as his free hand goes to try the

JUDY (Frightened) I don't want to go in there!

Scottie pushes the door open.

SCOTTIE ...too late...

He pushes her into the church with gentle firmness.


The darkness is relieved by shafts of moonlight. Scottie
impels Judy toward the foot of the tower.

SCOTTIE I couldn't find her.

SCOTTIE Then I heard her footsteps on the stairs,

SCOTTIE ...she was running up the tower.


It is lit by shafts of moonlight through the slit window.
Scottie comes into the area holding Judy. He looks up.


the open stairway spiraling upward.

SCOTTIE'S VOICE She ran up those stairs...

SCOTTIE and through the trap door at the top of the tower, and locked it behind her. Then she


He is still staring up. Judy is rigid with fright and the
memory of that moment.

SCOTTIE And I couldn't follow her. I tried to follow her but I couldn't get to the top.
(He closes his eyes in the agony of remembering)
God knows I tried. I tried but I couldn't get to the top.
(He glances down)
One doesn't often get a second chance. I want to stop being haunted. You're my second chances, Judy. You're my second chance.

JUDY (A frightened whisper) Take me away...
SCOTTIE You look like Madeleine, now. Go up the stairs.

SCOTTIE Go up the stairs.

SCOTTIE Go up the stairs, Judy. (Pushing her to the step) I'll follow.

She starts up slowly, unwillingly. Scottie follows behind her, fighting to keep the impending vertigo under control, trying to keep his eyes fixed on her back to avoid looking up into space.

They move up in silence, and in shadow, their faces occasionally lit by the shafts of moonlight that stream through the open arches of the tower. Judy's eyes are wide and staring; her face and body are stiff with the struggle to keep from breaking under the strain of remembering the last time she went up these stairs.

And Scottie fights his way up behind her.

Judy slows down and comes to a halt at the landing that Scottie barely reached the last time, at the moment of death. She leans her back against the wall for support. Scottie struggles up and comes to a halt near her.

PAUSE, as he gathers himself for the last assault.

SCOTTIE (Quietly) This was as far as I could get. But you went on. Remember?

She stiffens and stares at him.

SCOTTIE The necklace, Madeleine. That was the slip. I remembered the necklace.

A moment, then suddenly she ducks and tries to run past him,
down the stairs. He grabs her wrist and holds on.

SCOTTIE We're going up the tower, Madeleine.
JUDY No! Let me go!
SCOTTIE We're going up the tower.

JUDY You can't. You're afraid!

SCOTTIE I'm going to. It's  We'll see.  We'll see.  This is my second chance.

He starts to drag her up the stairs and she fights it, close
to hysteria.

JUDY Scottie, please...!

SCOTTIE But you knew, that day, that I wouldn't be able to follow you didn't you. Who was at the top when you got there? Elster? With his wife?
SCOTTIE Yes! And she was the one who died. The real wife. Not you.

SCOTTIE You were the copy, you were the counterfeit, weren't you?.

SCOTTIE Was she dead or alive when you got there?
JUDY Dead. He'd broken her neck.

SCOTTIE He'd broken her neck.  Wasn't taking any chances, was he? And when you got there, he pushed her off the tower, was that it? But you were the one who screamed. Why did you scream?

JUDY I wanted to stop it, Scottie, I ran up to stop it --

SCOTTIE You wanted to stop it. Why did you scream? Since you'd tricked me so well up to then?!! You played his wife so well, Judy! He made you over, didn't he? He made you over just like I made you over. Only better! Not just the hair and the clothes! and the looks! and the manner! and the words! And those beautiful phony trances! That jump into the Bay, didn't you? I'll bet you're really a strong swimmer, aren't you! Aren't you!!  Aren't you!

The blind, frantic nodding of her head as she struggles
against him is his affirmation.

SCOTTIE And then what did he do?  Did he train you? Rehearse you? Teach you what to say and what to do?

SCOTTIE And you were such an apt pupil, too, weren't you? You were a very apt pupil! What fun you two must have had, playing games with me! Why did you pick on me?!!  Why me?!!
JUDY Your accident...

SCOTTIE Ah, yes! The accident.  I was a set-up, wasn't I? I was the set-up. I was the made-to-order witness.

Where is he now?

JUDY I don't know... Switzerland?

SCOTTIE We'll find him.

They have reached the door to the tower and he stops, with a
grim, almost triumphant smile.

SCOTTIE I made it. 

SCOTTIE I made it.
JUDY (Apprehensive) What are you going to do?

SCOTTIE We're going up to look at the scene of the crime. Go on in.

He pushes the door open. She shrinks back.

SCOTTIE Come on, Judy!
He pushes her through and follows her in.


The black shadows are cut by shafts of moonlight. Heavy beams
support the great bell hanging at the center. There are
additional temporary support beams. Judy backs up against
the stonework as Scottie looks about.

SCOTTIE You both hid back there, didn't you?... 'til everything was clear... then sneaked down and drove into town.

SCOTTIE (Glances at her) And then? You were his girl, huh?. Well, what happened to you?

She stares at him, wide-eyed with apprehension.

SCOTTIE What happened to you?  Did he ditch you?

An almost imperceptible nod from her. Scottie almost laughs.

SCOTTIE Oh, Judy!! With all of his wife's money, and the freedom and the power...

SCOTTIE ...he ditched you? What a shame!

SCOTTIE But he knew he was safe. You couldn't talk. Didn't he give you anything?

JUDY (Faintly) Some money.

SCOTTIE  And the necklace. Carlotta's necklace.

SCOTTIE That was your mistake, Judy.

SCOTTIE One shouldn't keep souvenirs of a killing.

SCOTTIE You shouldn' shouldn't have been that sentimental.

A moment, as he stares at her, then he advances on her slowly.

JUDY (Apprehensive) What are you going to do?

SCOTTIE I loved you so, Madeleine.

JUDY (Desperately) Scottie! I was safe when you found me,

JUDY ...there was nothing you could prove!

JUDY But when I saw you again I couldn't run away, I loved you so! I walked into danger and let you change me again

JUDY ...because I loved you and wanted you!

(She throws herself into his arms)
JUDY Scottie, please!

JUDY You love me now! Love me! Keep me safe!

And she is in his arms, pressing tightly against him in
desperation, and he holds her tight, and they kiss, deeply,
passionately. The kiss ends but they remain together, holding
together, and Scottie's eyes are tight with pain and the
emotion of hating her and hating himself for loving her.

JUDY (softly, pleading) Love me... keep me safe...
SCOTTIE (Whispering) Too late... too late... there's no bringing her back.
JUDY Please.

Suddenly Judy's eyes, looking past him, go wide with horror.


The figure of a woman draped in black stands motionless in
the shadows by the door.



The black figure moves forward, seems to merge with the shadow
and become part of them.


Pulls out of Scottie's arms and backs away, terrified.

JUDY (Whispering) No... no...

She is backing perilously close to the edge of the drop below.
Scottie stares at her for a moment, then swings around to
see what she is looking at.


The black figure advances into a shaft of moonlight. It is a

THE NUN (Simply) I heard voices...

There is a terrible scream. Scottie swings around again, steps quickly to the edge and looks down. He backs away, his face tight with horror and holds the stonework for support.

The nun comes into the SHOT. She steels herself to look below.

She crosses herself.

THE NUN God have mercy...

She reaches out for the bell cord.


The church bell is tolling. It swings in and out of the picture.

Through the archway we can see the Mission garden

Figures are hurrying across toward the church.


Words by Alec Coppel and Samuel A. Taylor

Pictures by Robert Burks and Alfred Hitchcock

Vertigo is available on DVD from Universal Home Video.

* And this is an interesting point.  In the screenplay, Judy blurts that he may be in Switzerland and Scottie says that "We'll find him," but it is left out of the scene as played...probably to keep the audience focussed on the issues at hand and maintain the emotional pitch.  There is a lot of explanation going on here—during a particularly frenzied dramatic moment...and Hitchcock, the players, whomever, have simplified the screenplay to keep it on "point" (and I've crossed out those sections of the dialog that were excised, and taken pains to reflect the dialog as spoken in the breakdown).  Ferguson's dialog is less formal than in the screenplay, and there's a lot of repetition, not only to reflect Ferguson's agitated state, but also to reinforce key points that might be going by too fast for an audience, and, after all, the whole movie and its hidden plot is being completely revealed for the first time.  One could get lost without the careful repetition of information and the changes help audience understanding, both story-wise and dramatically.  Rather a nifty solution to a problematic situation, and only shows that, at this point in his career, what a master director Hitchcock was, anticipating the audience's needs, without taking away from the drama...and, in fact, adding to it.

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