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Film: Vertigo

Vertigo - A feeling of dizziness...a swimming in the head...figuratively a state in which all things seem to be engulfed in a whirlpool of terror.

A classic 1958 Psychological Thriller directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

Jimmy Stewart plays John "Scottie" Ferguson, a San Francisco detective who, because of a rooftop chase which leads to the death of one of his fellow officers, develops a fear of heights.

Scottie goes on leave for a while, but is persuaded to go back on the job by Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore), a college buddy of his, who wants him to trail his wife Madeleine who has been behaving oddly. As he observes the beautiful, mysterious Madeleine (Kim Novak), he begins developing feelings for her - feelings that are reciprocated by her. However, Madeleine appears to be possessed by the spirit of her dead ancestor Carlotta Valdes who is trying to get her to commit suicide. Scottie tries to help her out of this apparent madness, but in vain as he finds himself watching helplessly as Madeleine plunges to her death from the roof of a bell tower, unable to reach her in time due to his vertigo.

Scottie suffers a mental breakdown for some time after his love's death, constantly seeing her in women he meets. It turns out that there is one woman who really does look a lot like Madeleine - a sharp-tongued brunette named Judy Barton (Novak again). Still haunted by the memory of his dead love, Scottie pursues a relationship with Judy. But the ghosts of the past never die, and their consequences prove to be what no one expected...

The film was released to mixed reviews and modest box office results. Critics complained of the film being overly long, slow and too "bogged in detail". However by the late 1960s, scholar Robin Wood re-evaluated the film to be "one of the four or five most profound and beautiful films the cinema has yet given us". Removed from circulation in 1973, it remained somewhat obscure.

The movie was re-released to cinemas in 1983 and on home video in 1984. This time it was a commercial hit and reviews were overwhelmingly positive. By the end of the 1980s, Vertigo was considered among the best films of Hitchcock and highly significant for film history.

If it's the comics company you're looking for, search no further than Vertigo Comics.


This film provides examples of:

  • Artistic Title: The camera zooms into a woman's eye to reveal spirals of different colors.
  • As You Know: Scottie's line to Midge near the beginning, "hey we were engaged once". As one reviewer put it, "who would say that if there wasn't an audience listening?"
  • Batman Gambit: Gavin's plan to use Scottie's fear of heights to prevent him from getting to the top of the tower definitely qualifies. And if Scottie had ever seen a picture of the real Madeleine, Gavin would've been sunk.
  • Betty and Veronica / Light Feminine Dark Feminine: Deconstructed and played with in fascinating ways. Madeleine is the Betty/Light Feminine, even after she dies, while Judy is the Veronica/Dark Feminine that Scottie makes over in Madeleine's image.
    • Midge also likes to see herself as the Betty to Madeleine's Veronica but Scottie has no interest in her.
  • Catapult Nightmare: Scottie does this after the haunting dream sequence.
  • Climbing Climax: Scottie carries Judy up the bell tower at the climax.
  • Colour-Coded for Your Convenience: Madeleine is associated with green, which is the color of death.
    • While white or black is traditionally associated with death from a symbolic standpoint, in many ancient cultures, and some parts of England, Green was the color of poison, sickness, and therefore death. For the Egyptians it was also a color of rebirth which plays into Judy being "reborn" as Madeleine in Scottie's eyes.
  • Creator Cameo: Hitchcock appears walking past the entrance of Gavin Elster's shipyard.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: The opening credits from the Paramount logo up until the title card, which has a red background.
  • Digital Destruction: The version included in the Alfred Hitchcock Masterpiece Collection DVD box set boasts a colorized version of the opening shot, a woman's face. Fortunately, the Blu-Ray features this scene in its original black and white.
    • On a more infamous note (no pun intended), when Robert A. Harris and James Catz restored the movie for the 1996 re-release, Universal had the soundtrack remixed into six-channel DTS by mixing new (and jarringly modern) sound effects with the original music and dialogue. However, by the time Universal decided to restore the movie again, for its 2012 re-release and Blu-Ray debut, technology had evolved to a point where they could remix the soundtrack while keeping the original sound effects.
  • Disney Villain Death: Sort of.
  • Doppelgänger Replacement Love Interest: After Madeleine jumps off the bell tower, Scottie meets Judy Norton and has her made over to look just like Judy. Little does he know that the truth is a lot weirder.
  • Driving a Desk: Particularly noticeable, to the point where Scottie seems to be driving on the wrong side of the road sometimes.
  • Empathic Environment: As Pop Liebel tells the story of Carlotta at the Argosy Book Shop, it gets noticeably darker both inside and outside the store.
    • When Judy leaves the bathroom after getting her hair done in Madeline's style, there is an intense fog around her as though Madeline has "come back from the dead." Which she technically has.
  • Epiphany Therapy: Massively subverted, perhaps even deconstructed.
  • Follow the Leader: Brian De Palma's Body Double, but with claustrophobia instead of acrophobia.
  • Foreshadowing: Midge's comment that "only another emotional shock" could cure Scottie's acrophobia foreshadows the final shot of the film.
  • Glasses Girl: Midge.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: Try to listen to Midge's comments about "the gay old bohemian days of gay old San Francisco" without chuckling now.
  • Heroic BSOD: Scottie suffers a severe one about halfway through the film.
  • Impairment Shot: This is how the Vertigo Effect is used in the movie—to show Scottie's attacks of vertigo.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: Scottie, after Elster tells him about Madeleine's relationship to (and seeming possession by) Carlotta Valdes.
  • Internal Reveal: The audience finds out that Judy and Madeleine are one and the same shortly after Judy's introduction. Scottie only figures it out when he sees Judy wearing Madeleine's necklace.
  • Just Friends: Scottie and Midge, though they were once engaged and she still retains obvious feelings for him.
  • Literal Cliffhanger: The opening chase scene ends with Scottie hanging from a storm drain by his fingertips. This causes his acrophobia and vertigo.
  • The Lost Lenore: Increasingly subverted.
  • Love Martyr: Judy, who is so besotted with Scottie that she lets him completely make her over into Madeleine.
  • Loving a Shadow: It's clear that Scottie never would have given Judy a second glance if she hadn't so strongly resembled Madeleine. And considering that the only Madeleine he ever knew was part of an elaborate con, this makes it all the more tragic. He never really loved a real person but a projection and a fantasy.
  • Mind Screw
  • Necromantic: Hitchcock stated in his interview with Truffaut that Jimmy Stewart's character was essentially this.
  • Nuns Are Spooky: Especially when they come out of the shadows and scare the bejesus out of you.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Scottie's real name is John.
  • Plot Hole: How on Earth did Judy get out of that hotel without Scottie seeing her?
    • Logically, there could have been a back exit, and the hotel clerk was most likely paid off not to reveal the truth to Scottie so she could escape
  • Private Detective: Scottie Ferguson, after he left the police.
  • Putting A Hand Over Her Mouth: Happens during The Reveal. Kim Novak has just seen her doppelganger (the real Madeleine) fall to her death and we see Galvin muffling her scream.
  • Replacement Goldfish: Sums up Scottie's entire relationship with Judy.
  • Roof Hopping: Turns out to be a bad idea.
  • San Francisco
  • Scenery Porn: Lots of shots of beautiful California countryside.
  • Spoiler Title: Depending on how you interpret it, the Portuguese title of the movie - A Mulher Que Viveu Duas Vezes (The Woman Who Lived Twice) - counts as one.
  • Stairwell Chase: The first scene in the belltower.
  • Sweater Girl: Judy Norton's standard tight-sweater-and-bullet-bra ensemble contrast Judy's earthy sexuality with Madeline the icy blond in the gray suit.
  • Take My Hand: Used, and subverted, in the opening scene.
  • Through the Eyes of Madness: Scottie is obsessed with the memory of Madeleine.
  • Vertigo Effect: Trope Maker and indirect Trope Namer.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Midge disappears around the two-thirds point.
  • Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: Heights for Scottie.
  • Zip Me Up: Judy needs help with a necklace. This leads directly to the climax.

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alternative title(s): Vertigo
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