Vertigo Again

What e’er thou hearest or seest, stand all aloof.
Romeo and Juliet v.3


We have all worried through this labyrinth many times. And virtually every scholar who really cares about Hitchcock has found a vertiginous minotaur. All of this worrying-through has to be taken as part of the record now. I will speak for myself. When in 2002 I published a piece called “The Man Who Wanted to Go Back,” about the Vertigo restoration. I meant it to be both analytical and implicating, the latter in the sense that the reader might come to think of Robert Harris, “going back” to the separations to re-do the assemblage, reflecting something of the concern of Scottie Ferguson, who also wants to “go back” for reassemblage, recreation, and not necessarily for wholly different reasons. But I thought, too, that I myself might be taken as urgently “going back” to a film more than forty years old at the time, trying to look at my earlier lookings, trying to do something akin to what Henry James was talking about when he called for “re-vision.” In An Eye for Hitchcock, I took a wholly different approach, desiring at that time another kind of recreation: I wanted to make an exploration of the film that would structurally resemble the subject itself. One of my close friends, a fiendishly brilliant analyst, rather liked “Vertigo and the Golden Passage” but although I continued to feel the piece invigorated and mystified me, much as the film did and continues to do, I wasn’t satisfied that I had caught the spirit fully enough. A piece like “Talking Space in Vertigo” tries to understand action in terms of location; it’s a detailed close-read analysis in the spirit of Kenneth Burke’s “scene: act ratio” and written for, and in homage to, V. F. Perkins. And “Visit to a Gallery: Hitchcock, Painting, Vertigo” is an expansion of a filmic moment, a way of seeing a passage of the film as “biologically” reflective of the thing as a whole. Somehow I do not cease returning to this film, although I freely confess that in my days of coming to value Hitchcock, those early days long ago, this one was never that important a work to me. I was too young to understand mortality.

The film has come in for broad-based public discussion, comparison, hypothesis, and even popularity. But once Sight & Sound named it the best film of all time -whatever that can possibly mean! – for many it was as though nothing further needed to be said about Vertigo, and in this respect the magazine did a very great film a very great disservice, albeit an adulating one. I wonder: is it possible that we have come to the point where Vertigo can be taken as received, in the sense that a person devoted to thinking about it might now express himself in print without resorting to the presumption that his readers need to be told what the film is, what “happens” in it, and why anybody who loves cinema might think well of giving the film some serious time in meditation? Hopefully so.

But some riddles continue to plague me about Vertigo:


Acceptance, Resignation

When on the vast green lawn of San Juan Bautista Madeleine breaks Scottie’s embrace and scurries away to climb the tower (the tower that is at once both real and unreal), we see him notably distraught and confused. What can she possibly have meant, he must wonder, asking him, “And if I die, you’ll always know I loved you?” If only to resolve the horrible ambiguities in the torn curtain of that little moment, he races after her, and finds himself climbing that sturdy wooden staircase to the stars. (The staircase is built to look remarkably sturdy so that the viewer will be separated slightly from Scottie, for whom the entire apparatus is rickety.)

There is a definite physical point on this staircase, we all know, beyond which Scottie will be unable to go (though we do not know where that point is; and perhaps he doesn’t either). We are not watching him in anticipation of the heights he will achieve; we are watching in order to see him collapse.

He feels himself nearing a summit, he looks down, we get one of the celebrated “vertigo” shots that Hitchcock labored so earnestly and successfully to produce with economy and verve. Scottie takes another step or two and looks down again, and we get a second, somehow worse, perspective. Madeleine is ahead of him, racing to the top. Then suddenly – very suddenly – that blood-curdling scream (blood-curdling partly because it is as unanticipated as it is shrill, as shrill as it is unanticipated), the gray-white body plummeting all too swiftly past the window at his shoulder, his impotent turn, his gaze downward to the Spanish terra cotta-tiled rooftop, her splayed body in the brilliant sunshine, far too much sunlight beaming on something he does not want to see, then the tiny figures of scurrying nuns coming this way along the path.

Briefly an intrusive thought:

This last is a map shot. Hitchcock uses these for emphasis and narrative “refreshment,” to orient his viewer wholly and once again to the elements of the action in their topological relations. This is here, that is there. The fleeing Uncle Charlie in Shadow of a Doubt (1943) looks down from a fire escape on some New Jersey backyards to watch the hapless police agents who have been trying to corner him (Truffaut pays homage to this in Fahrenheit 451 [1966].) Some narrative spirit looks down on Roger O. Thornhill from the top of the U. N. Secretariat, as he flees in the moments after Lester Townsend has been knifed. And in The Birds (1963), we are offered the famous perspective whereby the gulls observe the little town they have targeted going up in flames – a perspective achieved with the help of a roughly 4 x 3-foot painted matte by Albert Whitlock (that I had opportunity to stand and ogle one day, wandering along 57th Street and entering the Hammer Galleries entirely on a whim: intriguing pure black space in the middle). In Vertigo, the emphatic (and faked) vertical shots down the hollow of the San Juan tower are not map shots. They do not configure a territory, they do not position an action. The spelling-out is only of an iconographic emotional impetus: height, the probability of falling. The vertigo shots do not orient us, they move us. But Scottie’s view out of that tower window, with the body below, with the agents of local authority rushing to take over the situation, does establish both territory and vectored human action. The camera lingers and soon, far to screen right, we see him emerge in a shadowy part of the cloister and run away. She is dead, authority is taking over, he is fleeing in shadowy guilt: all of this is set for us from one single point of view.

And further: this shot begins as his view, and we share it as we would wish to share all his views; but then, unremarked by the film and imperceptibly to us, that view switches to our view alone, which means (a) we have wholly adopted Scottie’s perspective, have digested it as our own; (b) he has had opportunity to abandon that perspective, for some reason (a reason we quickly determine: to flee); (c) the view has merit, narratively and aesthetically, with or without Scottie “owning” it.

Now I want to ask a question that may seem simplistic but is, I think, perturbing:

Why does our Scottie, staring down at her from that window in the San Juan Bautista tower, not feel, at this instant, moved to get himself up to the top of that tower to stand where she stood when she jumped? More: the falling body entirely notwithstanding, moved to stand and verify for himself that she is not there. (Mirabile dictu: his Madeleine is there! A double of the one down below!) His agoraphobia indicates why he cannot do it, but I want to know why he does not want to do it. Why there is no residual feeling of Madeleine’s body in his arms, from which he cannot bring himself to believe he has been parted. Is this a straightforward case of stress reduction? Hans Selye notes how the injured animal will not hesitate to give up a wounded limb in order to reachieve the nervous balance of orientating consciousness. Has Scottie simply let his limb go? On the other hand, stress can be produced without horrific wound: Normal activities – a game of tennis or even a passionate kiss – can produce considerable stress without causing conspicuous damage [1] : Scottie and Madeleine have just traveled away from a passionate kiss. Or sometimes (Selye points to putting the hand on a burning element) there is an “involuntary reflex of flight. There is nothing aggressive about this; I make no effort to destroy the source of my injury, but merely draw away from it” [2] (emphasis mine). Is that body, splayed below him or falling past his eyes, a “burning element”?

Scottie merely draws away. In dying this way Madeleine has become a “source of injury” for Scottie, and he reacts. Is that what is happening? The droning coroner, taking up the case of what Scottie did or did not do in this horrible moment, asks something of the same question, yet without the motivation I hope to show. For him, Scottie is a weak failure, and the tone of his voice and look on his face make plain that he announces his verdict scornfully. Let us go back to that moment and try to see our hero more fully than the coroner is professionally obligated, or personally interested to do.

For whatever reason, there is no onscreen moment in which Scottie’s immense frustration comes out evidentially. (He is merely suddenly way down there, in flight.) Why does he not want to see the upper place (just as at the beginning of this map shot he is seeing the horrible lower one): technically, why do we not see him now gaze upward with a look of desperate incapacity on his face? Again, to emphasize: I am not meaning to query, why does Scottie not climb? We know why he does not climb. I am meaning, why does he evidently not wish to climb? Why is he so very quick to trust his (and our) immediate sensory experience, that he is looking at a corpse and, thus, the end of a story? To go to the top of the tower, even in his imagination, would (a) somehow affiliate him with his beloved Madeleine, through a sorrowful verification; and (b) test the reality of the figure down there on the rooftop, and its state, as he saw the actual (mortal) height.

I pose this question because the moment is, of course, an homage to another, the tomb scene in Romeo and Juliet, where Romeo, too, gives up early (after Juliet has given up on him)-

Ah, dear Juliet,
Why are thou yet so fair? Shall I believe
That unsubstantial Death is amorous,
And that the lean abhorred monster keeps
Thee here in dark to be his paramour?

– and both of these moments refer back to the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, as Bill Krohn has suggested about Hitchcock’s film. From Romeo’s perspective, Juliet may or may not be dead but she very much appears to be, just as, owing to the potion from Friar Laurence, he appeared to be as she gazed in horror. Madeleine very much appears to be dead, too. Appears enough to be convincing, convincing and decisive. Scottie is required by the story to have no doubt; but also, he does not wish for doubt, does not struggle against the narrative. Given the horror that must be confronting him – since he loves her, wants her, is afraid of losing her, and has now apparently lost her – he could in immediate response affirm some denial of the death. The surmounting of his vertigo at any cost of pain, the continuing upward, would represent, would openly signal, a wellspring of denial, a huge “No!” But “No” would be signaled, too, by any expression of yearning to be up there. ‘No!’ would mean permitting himself even to entertain the thought that the vision of that falling body was an illusion, the presentation of a monstrous deceitful force bent on destroying him by falsifying his sensorially derived knowledge. The work of a Cartesian Deceiver. A look of desperate hunger to climb would at least suggest (if not altogether affirm) such a denial, perhaps lead us to understand Scottie as a man who does not forsake his passion in a flash, a man who does not take facts as given by perceptible data to be paramount over his desire. Clearly he does not hope to live in what Michel Mourlet described as “un monde qui s’accorde à nos désirs.”

Yes: in the room at the top, were he to arrive there, he would soon and sadly discover – he is here below now in a position to think – the nothingness of absolute emptiness, the open bell tower, the place where Madeleine stood but is no longer standing, the spot where life and love can no longer be verified to have existed. At that point he could be forced to believe in what he sees, at that point certainly: but not prior to it. And perhaps then he might come fully to embrace or at least kowtow to belief in what is offered to his eyes. He would not only observe the “dead body” from up there, he would know a (for him) hellish truth, that Madeleine is dead. Yet instead, Scottie comes to that belief and conviction speedily and in advance of essaying a height. Yet comes to it in an equivocal away. Equivocal, because he is open to being moved to bring her back.

(I will soon proceed to what is really at the top of that tower.)

Why does Scottie rush to judgment? The most obvious answer, or the one which the pretext of the narrative offers as the likeliest, is the medical/psychological condition of agoraphobia from which suffers. It will produce a state of vertigo in which the world below will seem to swim up to his eyes, even that tiled rooftop “world” containing Madeleine’s corpse, and he will think himself falling when he is not. The thought of falling, not falling. The “vertigo” shots simulate this effect and, for the viewer, produce this belief, allow that we share it. When we look at those shots we are to presume we are seeing what Scottie sees. But at this crucial moment on the tower, is Scottie’s fear of heights not in some way self-induced and self-perpetuated by his abandonment of hope, his decision not to even pain himself by trying another step? The film has already shown how this fear of his originated, a stunning moment (right at the beginning) when he dangled from a rain gutter, dangled, that is, with no wooden steps beneath his feet. Later, at Midge’s studio apartment, he fell from her golden stepladder into her virginal arms. He was redeemed, it seems, through his fall. (And he sustained no injury.) Driving his car through the city in pursuit of Madeleine he moved down some steep hills (California Street from Nob Hill, for a case) but there was no vertigo effect. Looking down into San Francisco Bay before plunging after the “drowning” Madeleine he might conceivably also have experienced vertigo but it appears he did not, because his movement was swift, unhesitating, brave. The tree-map in the redwood forest presented a view “down” a long, long, long vertical well of history but he felt fine looking at it. Yet suddenly in this holy tower the vertigo asserts itself imperatively and obstructively. Might one not suspect that he is already restraining himself from following Madeleine, even as, through his urgency, he protests a deep desire to follow. There on the grass he was already saying no, and the utterance reaches its point of force at a window past which he suddenly cannot – will not try to – climb. (A window looking out to a blue sky – Hitchcock’s idea of heaven. At film’s end the sky will no longer be blue.) He is a man who wants but also does not want to save and have her. He wants to love Madeleine, it is Madeleine he wants to love; but still it is not exactly Madeleine he wants to love: this theme will return.

There is another, much darker explanation for Scottie’s immediate commitment to, and resignation in, the belief he has seen his beloved Madeleine die: that her death brings a kind of death upon him, and that he has longed for death himself: Romeo’s

I still will stay with thee
And never from this palace of dim night
Depart again: here, here will I remain
With worms that are thy chamber-maids; O, here
Will I set up my everlasting rest,
And shake the yoke of inauspicious stars
From this world-wearied flesh.

It is that all along he has wanted this dark thing, has acted in his deepest desire as Elster’s accomplice. Even an unwitting accomplice is an accomplice. If he has not wanted this darkness, then he has followed its trail. Is Scottie morbid or is he human? – the fallacy of disjunctive affirmation.

Scottie as Elster’s accomplice we of course discover many times through this film, even perhaps wondering, as first Elster’s name comes up, what connection it was that Scottie could have had with him long ago so that today he is willing to go for a hello on the mere thought. But in the complex plan that Elster is executing (any further detail from me that followed on that would spoil the film for those who have not seen it), Scottie has been nothing but an accomplice, the very “apt pupil” he accuses someone else of being at a critical moment later. Scottie has been the performer’s greatest friend, also his greatest enemy: the audience. Aptness he would have learned in the police academy. His being specifically a pupil – in either of the two obvious meanings of that word – is a fact of life he does not recognize, nor is that state of affairs very peculiar. Just as “secret apprenticeship” can occur in social interaction by design [3] , so too might “secret mentorship,” the act of enchaining someone as a student without revealing to them that this is happening. Elster has certainly been guiding, shepherding, and escorting Scottie along a route of which the pupil is not aware and by a method by no means visible. Yet, even in his soul of souls, why should Scottie want to avoid denying that Madeleine is gone? Perhaps because she obsessed him, captivated his attention completely, and thus drew him away from the linkage with Midge that he knows he should properly have reinitiated and engaged, the warm connection with Midge he knows he should now properly feel, in fact should always have felt. Madeleine is, after all, a supreme distraction. There is no moment in the film when we do not feel, in Scottie’s place, the magnetism of her presence, and, too, a lapsed bond with Midge now denied, inverted, and parodied. When Midge, driving her Karman Ghia past his house one night, sees Madeleine leaving and ponders sarcastically, “Was she a ghost?,” the parody and travesty become explicit. Madeleine appeals to an erotic impulse Scottie knows he should be mastering, but takes no action to master. She makes him green with envy.

Not that there is an action a person can take to master an erotic impulse.

Green, the colour of the Bay he dives into to save her: green, the colour of his sweater in his flat afterwards: green, the colour of chlorophyll, the essence of the Green World.

How open, how accessible and obvious to us was Scottie’s earlier (pre-diegetic) connection with Midge? She acknowledges recollection of Gavin Elster from school days, too. Does Gavin Elster have recollection of her? Does he recollect her with Scottie? Does Gavin Elster know that quite beside the escapade on the rooftop and the agoraphobia, Scottie has fallen from a height?

La chambre verte

As to the Green World, it receives considerable invocation in the film, and not only in the visually outstanding redwoods sequence where we are introduced to “Sequoia sempervirens, always living.” That green world is not only a reference to the botanical universe, the “dying and reviving” universe, to use Frazer’s phrase, although it surely is that; but a splendid, even breath-catching evocation of dark, richly illuminated, hauntingly forestial green and all the magical mystery it inspires and implies, the green of The Everlasting here presented in blunt optical fact. (Technicolor printing.[4] ) We see time, perdurance, and deathlessness when we absorb that green. And of all places on the earth, this is the one whither Scottie is going “wandering,” and where he and Madeleine, “two together,” are “going somewhere.” Whether finally Scottie is going somewhere or wandering, whether he is truly accompanied in the forest or alone, as viewers we are alone. Only one is a wanderer: one, that is to say, each viewer sitting to watch this film, in the darkness. We may travel to the theater in a crowd but we watch alone, wandering in cinema.

Scottie has a green or green-ish encounter that is insufficiently discussed in the literature about this film, given that it is rather strange in itself. At the McKittrick Hotel he meets a concierge (Ellen Corby) who is busy wiping olive oil onto the leaves of her philodendron. What the narrative attends to most crisply is her express denial that anyone is upstairs in the face of Scottie’s insistence that no, Madeleine is up there, I’ve just seen her. She goes up for a look, he is beckoned to follow – “Mr. Detective!” – and indeed the bedroom is vacant. From the street he saw her at the window. We saw her at the window. Was she a ghost?

Perhaps, we think at this point in the film, she was. Or perhaps she was an escape artist. But either way you look at it, in the background there is to be found that philodendrom, its leaves being diligently wiped. Hitchcock can set a conversation between Scottie and the concièrge in that lobby, have the action proceed upstairs, and resolve the scene precisely as he does without the presentation of that philodendron. Philodendron: from the Greek philódendros, “lover of trees.” The plant loves trees, the concièrge loves the plant that loves trees; and so, by extension, she loves trees, too. We are being given forewarning about the forest; we are being cautioned to think seriously about trees. Trees that arch greenly up to an invisible sky. Trees that provide the wood out of which the stairway in that tower is built.

Hitchcock does not decorate.

The moment with the concièrge is an open invocation of the Green World, and of a proper nurturing and cultivating relation between human and plant life. The philodendron, invoking the Love of Green – which will turn out to mean, the love of “always living,” love of the endurance of the past, love of death-denied – will grow without the woman oiling it, yet what she is doing will increase its lushness, its vigor, its longevity. As in the redwood forest, we find in the Green World a natural and continual rebirth, reinvocation, and restoration, a home of things that pass and come back again, just in the way that Carlotta Valdes, who has passed, seems now to be coming back again through Madeleine. Also in the Green World is a bond holding man to nature, nature to man. The figure of the Green Man, spirit of the untamed, unconstrained, un-civilized is often invoked and pictured as a spirit in human form with greenery sprouting all over the head, as though emerging from earth, and this sequence of the film is a subtle invocation of that iconic being, a reminder of how proximate are human life and natural life. Human life, indeed, is natural life.

Carlotta Valdes, invoked in the glade of green: it is irrelevant to the deepest concerns of the film that at one point we should learn the expressly artificial nature of the Carlotta story as Elster gives it to Scottie, because this instruction comes too late to help him – which is to say, to help us hope he will be helped: at a point after we are already committed to the tale, to Carlotta, to her movement in time. From the first invocation of her, vaguely in the shipyard office, through the explicit index in the graveyard scene, then the historical elaboration in the Pop Leibl bookshop lecture, and then the scene at the Fairmont Hotel between Elster and Scottie, then the scene among the redwoods – “Here I was born, and here I died. You took no notice.” – there flows in, like a fog, a brooding, heavy, whispering sensation of the return of the dead, this being the direct invocation of the original source material for the film, Boileau and Narcejac’s D’entre les morts (which is fascinated, as I note in An Eye for Hitchcock, with the vigil, the stone and the tomb, the resurrection). Later on, this return will be made flesh. Scottie will find Madeleine again through the agency of Judy Barton; Madeleine reborn, or ready for rebirth. He will act to recreate – to animate – her, in this movement loudly trumpeting the always-present human capacity to call up from the past (the dead) what can live again in the present. Sempervirens. The persistent thought. The myth. The classical tune that does not dissolve in time.

To invoke all this greenery merely as background would be an act of subtlety, even coyness, neither quality to be found in Hitchcock anywhere. Hitchcock is more formal than that, more eloquent. At the McKittrick Hotel he openly and directly introduces greenery, introducing a theme upon which he can now proceed to play variations. Greenery is life, death, and rebirth. Always rebirth. More: rebirth is always green, a green light, a green fog, a green mist, a green forest, a green sensibility.

Of course, green also indicates the freshness of the new; innocence; the lack of experience; openness to being duped.

See and Hear

But also at the McKittrick we experience a tiny and exceedingly peculiar moment, produced for the viewer who is at once both fully seeing and fully hearing the film. Scottie is at that concierge’s desk, waiting but not patiently. She has gone upstairs to scout Madeleine’s room for him. “Mr. Detective!” we hear her call, and he looks up. The camera mimics his gaze with a Dutch angle of the lobby ceiling, where hangs an ornate chandelier.

The perfect alignment of (a) the camera’s upward gaze with (b) the landlady’s beckoning voice makes for a moment in which it seems to be the chandelier that is calling to Scottie. “Mr. Detective!” I am not addressing the dramaturgical logic of the situation; I am pointing to how the moment seems as we catch it. Hitchcock has made it possible (even likely) that we will catch this little moment in this way.

We will see this (enunciatory) chandelier reappear in Hitchcock, indeed in Hitchcock’s curtain call to his audience; and here as well as in Family Plot it radiates with light. Well, the point of a chandelier is to use chained multi-faceted chips of crystal to refract and radiate light originating in a relatively small electrical source; the device is an amplifier, it works to magnify light using little power. Each glass piece is a lens, through which the world appears multiply, in many angles, warped and brilliant. The many pieces together constitute a small battalion of lenses. The chandelier thus signifies a multiplicity of multiple views, apparent multiple sources of light, both dazzling illumination and dazzling confusion. It is appropriate as a signal of Scottie’s psychology, both at this moment as he looks up at, and past, the fixture, and more generally.

But of course it is also far from insignificant that the theme of “detective multiplicity” should be invoked here: that in detecting we are faced with ambiguity. The viewer is also Mr. Detective, working hard to put this puzzle together already in the Hotel scene. “Mr. Detective – ” the chandelier says to that viewer, “Look at me. Regard how many directions of light; how many views!

In producing this scene, it would have been easy for the filmmaker to arrange the landlady’s call, emanating from upstairs, to synchronize with a face-on shot of Scottie, or a shot of his body near the staircase waiting in anticipation. Or a shot looking up the stairs, featuring the steps (foreshadowing of Psycho). But the chandelier replaces these possibilities, pendulous, twinkly, transparent in its solitude.


As first we meet Judy Barton walking down the sidewalk in our direction, and as we note Scottie noting her, there is left as a residue of the moment the subtle feeling, almost a sensation, that this young woman looks a lot like – therefore too much like – Madeleine. This sensation and the sensibility underneath it are not included in the filmic moment, but they are instantly invoked. Surely Hitchcock – who neglected the pleas of Herbert Coleman and many others to change the syntax of the film when they discovered that he was going to insert a scene of Judy self-revealing much earlier than they thought dramatically proper – surely our guiding hand here cannot have been asleep as this was being photographed; and cannot have been surprised at such implicit dramaturgical concern on his viewer’s part, since he must have known at the very least what we feel we know, that the resemblance is too close to be accidental. Let us say that the two women, Madeleine and this one, are “wearing the same perfume,” except that, of course, in cinema “perfume” is a visual quality; they move forward in a similar way. Might Hitchcock not, indeed, in that revelatory scene actually be addressing this viewer’s deeply buried suspicion, the suspicion deeply buried already, that something is up, something is afoot, there is a game going on? “Yes, you’re right, there has been a kind of game going on. And now here it is.” Again: this is not on the surface of the film, but the surface of the film brings it to the surface of our thought, if only for a flash.

Some reflections on Judy and Madeleine; Madeleine and Judy; two sides of a coin.

First, let it be said that most viewers who comment about how obvious it was that in the grand diegesis Judy played the (complicated) role she did, make this comment after they have seen the film for the first time, not in the middle. The “obviousness” of her qualities is part of the general dramatic construction and its resolution, not an intrusive determination that could rupture the continuity, and while in commenting such observers may pose as archly withdrawn and sensible critics never gullibly captured by the story the truth is that they were indeed captured body and soul but now, looking back from a point of release, from safety, labor to defend themselves against the “weakness” of their own dramatic involvement – that is, falling into the story instead of criticizing it – by hypercriticizing post hoc. “Scottie should have seen it coming.” Seen it coming “as I did” (but only – although I am not confessing this – looking back).

Sure, sure.

But actually one does not see “it” coming: it – the finale. Certainly not while it is coming. We see something else, plainly and simply but not provocatively, something that is visible to most people on earth most of the time: a person who resembles someone else already met. The look-alike. (In ultimate form, the doppelgänger.) The relative. The stranger with the strange resemblance. I am standing at the counter of a plant shop one day in the 1970s when a celebrated media figure, who will later become Governor-General of Canada, comes up beside me and, aghast, starts hello’ing me as her good old friend Nick from Montreal. (Nick Auf Der Maur was a celebrated Montreal boulevardier, raconteur, and journalist.) Whilst it is true that my father came from Montreal, I didn’t; and I am not, and at the time have never heard of, her old friend. She and I have never met, although of course I know who she is, with no less certainty than she knows me, except that she is wrong. And her certainty is absolute, apparently because I have the look, which is to say, I effect the resemblance. Even paying her bill and leaving, she shakes her head in disbelief. Beneath this occurrence, there was no manipulative trick on anyone’s part. (I hope she didn’t begrudge Nick later on, for having been unconscionably rude.)

In a way, when we see someone who calls up the impression of someone else, we are recreating that someone else by way of, and by means of, the person we see. One could say we use the presently present person as material out of which to construct our vision of the absent one. That vision of course constitutes the “someone else” come back again; back from afar, back from retirement, back from the far side of the world, back from secluded meditation, back from the dead. More important even than superficial recognition is our need to revivify the stranger by transforming the present acquaintance, our need to find once again the person who enchanted us before, the person we loved. Our unwillingness or inability to let go. So that we insist on replacing the person we loved, now no longer available, with someone who seems the same, sufficiently the same as to be refashioned, whom we can love in a similar way, which is to say, love again. To find our love lost. To regain love. Indeed, to categorically deny the loss of love by reinventing it. Earlier, on that tower, Scottie seemed all too eager to abandon Madeleine to history; but now, out of the blue, he is all too eager to bring her back. At first, he would not deny her death. Now, he will not fail to deny it. Now he is battling Death and he intends to win.

When Scottie remakes Judy and comes to the moment when he can “see” Madeleine again – that stunning, memorable, green moment in the Empire Hotel – when Scottie is confronted by Madeleine revivified (Scottie who was not present for the revelation scene played out to the camera, so that he does not know what we know), is he hallucinating? That is: when we see her step out of the green, we understand the amazing resemblance but also understand how it is that we can be seeing it. Scottie, watching with us, has no understanding. And he seems the very antithesis of Stanislaw Lem’s Pirx the Pilot –

Now, for the first time, he had the leisure to reflect, and it slowly dawned on him that what he was seeing was a hallucination, because such things were unprecedented. This deduction did him credit. On the whole, people tend to trust too much in the evidence of their senses; if they should happen to see a deceased acquaintance in public, they would sooner believe in a resurrection than admit to their own insanity.

– because he still believes in resurrection, the recovery from the tomb. That he has been involving himself in what people would call an insane project of fabrication, an insane search (yet at the same time a search people would name that way because a vital fact has been withheld) he does not fathom.

We are ongoingly resurrecting past experience, revisiting a cherished place (Tadzio’s Polish family in Death in Venice coming back to the Lido summer after summer), finding in the faces of the crowd the signal features of people we knew long ago and keep seeing again and again, as Calvino remembers:

I thought: “You reach a moment in life when, among the people you have known, the dead outnumber the living. And the mind refuses to accept more faces, more expressions: on every new face you encounter, it prints the old forms, for each one it finds the most suitable mask.” [6]

After his time with Madeleine, Scottie’s mind refuses to accept more faces. And indeed, as we watch his cold stare during the inquest; and his cold catatonic stare in the sanatorium; and his lost, cold, wanderer’s stare when he is confronted by the three false Madeleines (one at the Brocklebank, one in the gallery, one at Ernie’s), we can understand his mind pushing faces away. Somehow Judy Barton’s face is not a face in addition, not one of the “more faces” he encounters, but here already on first meeting an old face returned. Someone to recognize. In order that we find it logical when he does not push this face away, Hitchcock must arrange for that “perfume” of resemblance I have mentioned. If Scottie rejects, he is openly acknowledging there is no resemblance for him (no private resemblance), and the film must collapse.

As involved viewers (not skeptics who have pulled away to find lurking behind all this Hitchcock the Manipulator) we have the same puzzle to resolve: is this a sister, a twin? Is this a trick of the imagination? Is this some strange rebirth? (Still, not a hint of attempt to reject the death.) Is this – because the feeling inside, now stirring, is so similar – another chance at life? I am reminded of the chilling moment in Empire of the Sun (1987) when Jamie (Christian Bale), his Japanese chum shot in the head and thrown to the ground, rushes up, jumps atop him, and rhythmically pushes on the chest, pushing pushing, pushing pushing, screaming, “I can bring all of them back!” At this moment, as the cynical Pacey (John Malkovich), who fired the shot, comes up to comfort Jim and pull him away, it is patently clear he thinks the kid has flipped, has in fact picked up some kind of god complex. But what is far more interesting is this avowal by a child (I think, in an homage by Spielberg to Vertigo) of the passionate desire to resurrect the dead. “I had not thought death had undone so many.”

Skeptics may take their skepticism as spontaneous and natural, as though the film itself is not carefully structured to bring skepticism alive at this moment on the street. Not carefully structured to reveal Scottie’s need and desire to resurrect, to find the past again. The viewer is engaged exactly in the way that Scottie is, tentatively, in trepidation, yet catching some hint, because we follow along as he effects the transformation phase by phase in scene after scene, first by way of conversation, then by way of a pleasant stroll, then at a major department store, then at a beauty salon, finally with a hairdressing; and as the transformation proceeds through these, the viewer becomes more and more struck by its effectiveness, by the reconstitution of someone who does look like Madeleine, who looks more and more like her, struck, even dumbstruck, and at the same time more and more eager to see the transformation proceed to an ultimate conclusion, while also, of course, having been pre-informed, blasé. We both want exactly what Scottie wants: first, to cause rebirth or reconstitution; secondly, to test the powers of reconstruction, of memory, of feeling, of concentration in order to see whether Madeleine, our prize of the moment, can indeed be made whole again before our eyes; and want objectively to stand back and watch him in resolving his agony, waiting to see whether his knowledge will finally match ours, and if it does, what will happen then. The green-fog triple emergence sequence in the Empire Hotel not only invokes this hope atremble for a second life, it metonymizes the viewer’s involvement through the whole second part of the film, and in concentrated form. It’s happening, it’s happening more, it’s happening still more . . . will this artistry work? And, of course this will work, since she is not taking the one step that would hold success back: refusing.


Late in the film, with Scottie preparing to take (the transformed) Judy out for a lovely dinner – yes, at Ernie’s – she asks him to zip her up (a charming little reference to normative wifely behaviour with spouses in the late 1950s). Now she needs help with her jewelery and as he stands behind her to fasten her necklace he looks forward, over her shoulder, and in the mirror sees it. The camera zooms in. The necklace from the gallery’s “Portrait of Carlotta.” Three pear-shaped rubies set in a gold pendant. The rubies laying upon Judy/Madeleine’s alabaster white skin. We see his alarmed, suddenly kenning reaction. Not long later, after he has changed his mind and set the car on the road to San Juan Bautista again, after they have arrived and he has dragged her up the steps of the tower, he cries at her in sharp remonstration, “It was the necklace, Madeleine. You shouldn’t keep souvenirs of a murder.”

The moral propriety of Scottie’s statement notwithstanding, one finds at this instant that a chain of associations has been tidily invoked. Necklace on Judy/Madeleine’s neck >> necklace on Carlotta’s neck in the portrait >> (reflection of this on the neck of the Carlotta lookalike in the dream sequence) >> thus Judy’s direct association with the Madeleine who stared in the gallery at that portrait >> the blunt indication that of all the sitter’s characteristics, the single one that has the greatest force in establishing her as the authentic Carlotta, establishing her, in fact, as a center of Madeleine’s consciousness, is that necklace, because >> when Midge taunts Scottie with a copy of the portrait, done in her bold, colourful, vivacious, and witty hand, with her own face, it is clearly the inclusion of that selfsame necklace that nails the (bad) joke of the painting, its being a take-off. One could say that with her parody portrait, especially her portrayal of the necklace, Midge “kills” the authenticity of the Carlotta painting, its power; Midge kills Carlotta (only figuratively). Some facts to keep in mind here, however:

• Madeleine never had access to Midge’s comic portrait, nor was she told about it. The necklace in the “Portrait of Madeleine” is the only one she knows about. Knows about as Judy, knows about as Madeleine.
• When she is looking at that portrait in the Palace of Fine Arts, and as we watch her looking, we are given absolutely no indication that the necklace around the subject’s neck exists outside the painting, that it is anything other than an artist’s invention, or that somebody received or took it from the original Carlotta after she sat for this painter, preserved it through time generation after generation, and still possesses it as a hand-me-down today.
• Scottie looked at the portrait just as feverishly as Madeleine did, more than once in fact. (He gazed at it in the gallery’s program booklet and asked a guard to identify it for him.) And it was in his dream that the lookalike appeared, wearing that necklace. Without the necklace, as the dream image makes rather clear, the lookalike is only a young woman without identity; it is the necklace that tags her. And this is Scottie’s dream, so the necklace’s power to tag is a figment of his imagination. That necklace is an icon for Scottie; because it is, and because we care for Scottie, it becomes an icon for us.
• But,- and this is the telltale problem: In all her vague and moving life with Scottie, in all the scenes, from all the angles, there is not one moment in which Madeleine wears, touches, displays, or comments about this necklace. This authentic necklace; or this copy necklace: either. Her neck is invariably bare. There is only one time when Madeleine – that is, Judy reconstituted as Madeleine – wears that necklace, and it is this particular time, with Scottie fastening it on her and realizing in a shock that it is an object entirely foreign to the life of Judy Barton as she has been recounting it. Judy could not possibly have this necklace by and of herself. Judy has no connection with Carlotta, with Madeleine, with Elster. Judy is for Scottie precisely what she says she is, a girl from Salina, Kansas. (That we know differently is irrelevant to Scottie’s consciousness here.) She is merely taking a piece of jewelry out of her jewel case and trying to put it on before going out for a lovely dinner. (When Madeleine and Elster eat at Ernie’s – the night Scottie first sees her – it is a fact, to repeat, that she is not wearing this necklace.) We are given no way to know how that necklace got into Judy Barton’s jewel case, aside from Elster having gifted it to her.
• But there is also no moment in the film when Elster is shown with this necklace.

Thus, we have a scene in which, helping Judy put on a necklace after he has made her look like Madeleine, Scottie discerns that Judy really is Madeleine; or at least that she is an actress who was playing the role. (Yet only because he can have determined a mental association; mental not physical association; Madeleine didn’t have that necklace.) And then the horrible logic, of course: if it was a role, where was the real Madeleine? In this roundabout way the murder comes into the picture. The murder and Judy’s status as accessory, since she was agreeing to play “Madeleine” for Elster in order that he could kill his wife. This is the odd pathway linking Scottie to a murder, making it possible for him to be obsessed now with a thought about a souvenir from the murder. First he can surmise that there was a murder, secondly that some object now, here, tonight, is bringing the fact of that murder back (making the murder come alive again, but not by his artistic power).

The only thing the necklace tonight can reasonably be thought a souvenir of, for Scottie or for us, is the painting, “Portrait of Carlotta,” which is echoed in Midge’s parody and in his dream/nightmare. But the viewer makes the conceptual leap, the surreal leap, between the necklace around one woman’s neck and the murder of another. There is no actual link. No link between this girl (who is she now, Judy?, Madeleine?) and the necklace except that, playing the role of Madeleine, she sat in a gallery and stared at it. But that was a gallery, a public space, in which Judy Barton’s innocent presence as a gallery-goer would not have been obstructed or precluded; there is nothing strange about her being there. Indeed, as for realizing an aesthetic object in real three-dimensional life, she has given us the clearest possible indication that her fetish is the little nosegay, not the necklace. The nosegay from the portrait that she troubled to reproduce and took possession of. The nosegay in the vitrine being stared at by Scottie as the girl comes marching down the street. The necklace may be for Judy a striking, even fixating icon, but only as image.

How can Scottie possibly identify Judy/Madeleine as having kept a souvenir of a murder by virtue of the reality of that necklace? That the necklace must be here can be explained dramaturgically, of course: Hitchcock needs to produce a sudden and full recollection of that portrait, that haunting figuration, the feelingful links Madeleine made with her; and the nosegay, otherwise useful for this, went into the Bay. What can there be, since the bun in the hair has already been reproduced by Scottie and has not done the trick of making him think he has found a souvenir. There is no other option but the necklace. And so, the necklace it must be. That is the dramaturgical explanation. What we need to know is how Scottie can see a logic, not how and why we do.

And here I would argue that there is an explanation, albeit radical, for Scottie’s consciousness at this moment. Step by step as he rejuvenates Madeleine through Judy, Scottie has privately, secretly been picking up clues and holding them. Souvenir-collecting himself. The walk. The gaze. The shoes. The suit. The facial make-up. Not only does he see all this as a remarkable achievement of regeneration on his part, he sees it as a series of hints that perhaps such a regeneration ought not to have been so easy to achieve, unless: unless something was going on that is unthinkable but therefore something of which one must definitely think. This Judy who can be transformed is, because of the possibility of the transformation, not merely a Judy. And the hair-do is almost the final piece of the puzzle, the step before the clincher. When he sees the necklace all the pieces fall into place (just as, in his dream, he was foretold that all the [animated] pieces of an artful construction, a flower, would “fall” into place because he dream-saw them falling out of place). This necklace thus doesn’t function for Scottie in the dress-up scene as a telltale marker of earlier references to the item itself in art; it functions as one tiny accretion upon a pile of clues, every one of which refers to the crux, Gavin and his tale. When he calls the necklace a souvenir of a murder, he means only that it is the final piece of the souvenir puzzle, and that the puzzle pictures a murder among other things. That it clinches for him the existence of a prior murder, but not because, as this necklace, it participated in that murder.

The necklace does not participate in the murder or in the murder plot. Two paintings of it are indirectly associated.

A metadiegetic query: how would Judy have come into possession of such a necklace at all? And the answer here is not hard to invent. She is playing a role for Elster (who has access to money). He equips her with this thing as a prop, just in the event that she might need to use it. She is free to use clothing and jewelry as she pleases, while she works for him. (She is the exact antithesis of Novak in the first part of the film, who was more or less confined in the gray suit by Edith Head at Hitchcock’s command.) The thing has been made generally available, and so she “possesses” the necklace, but didn’t in fact come to use it in her performance. And if she thinks it a handsome piece of jewelery – we surely do, staring at it over and over -it makes sense that she would not throw it away. With the same attitude, she has kept the gray suit (which hangs in her Empire Hotel-room closet).

How did Elster come to have that necklace, presumably? Like the Madeleine he introduces to Scottie (at Ernie’s) the thing may very well be fake: paste, just manufactured on Elster’s bill after a design taken from the Carlotta canvas. (Museum shops cause to be made, and sell, objects of this kind all the time. [7] ) Putting together a prop collection he might have thought, “This would be a useful one.” Or else his actual wife is connected by blood to the subject of that painting in fact, not just in his fabulation, and the necklace somehow fell to her through inheritance. It may well be that in sporting that necklace, Judy/Madeleine is making a sort of confession, seeking to tell everything somehow, somewhere and in this way gain divine acceptance. Or that Elster is. Yet no matter what avenue we select for the movement of this object forward, it was not part of the crime in so direct a way as to be a souvenir.

Yet a distinctive object appearing in a late scene in a film may very well be a souvenir of an identical object appearing in another context in an earlier one. The late scene a souvenir of the early one. Film, as it spools onward, interminably producing souvenirs of itself. In this particular film, the final moment is a souvenir of two previous moments melded, something from Judy’s revelation and something from his initial paralysis on the stairs.

I want to suggest a brief addendum regarding this retention of the necklace and the suit. In the late 1950s, as well as earlier, and in the main Hollywood studios, absolutely at Paramount where Vertigo was made, it was a working convention for leading ladies to be offered an opportunity, once production ceased, to purchase some or all of the costumes that had been designed and made for them (very often, at this studio, by Head), at a very substantial discount. We know from her conversations with Stephen Rebello that Novak was no fan of gray, and that the iconic gray suit she wore was designed against her preferences, and so it is easy to imagine that she would not have wished to acquire that. The black evening gown trimmed with a teal cape, that we see in her night at Ernie’s, however, could easily have been owned by Novak when work was done, had she wanted that. Thus, the inclusion in the film’s story of an actress who after the performance is done wishes to retain some of the clothing and jewelry as her own souvenir of the work and working environment amounts to a recursive nod, by the film itself, toward filmmaking practices on projects such as itself. And, in posing Judy as wanting to have the gray suit, casts her as an antithesis to Novak in a private joke. That Judy is now and was then an actress we are reminded by that suit in the closet, and by that necklace upon the graceful neck. She was fulfilling an occupational role.

As to the souvenir, it was a genuine article of that kind in one crucial way: for Judy, as we will see shortly, the thing of which the necklace is souvenir is not the killing of the real Madeleine Elster, it is the love of Scottie Ferguson, which was part of that routine.


As Hitchcock hinted rather broadly in The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), a performer onstage is by no means unconscious of her audience, although by strict convention the audience is permitted to entertain and nurture the belief that they are strictly invisible. The actor sees, evaluates, considers, even feels while performing a character who sees, evaluates, considers, and feels in a different spectrum. In this light, let us revisit, for a moment, the Judy Barton who is at work “onstage” pretending to be Madeleine Elster in front of an audience of one. Do not be misled by the small audience into thinking of the performance in diminutive terms; all of the operas of the Ring Cycle were created on the impulse of, and initially performed in front of, only one person, Ludwig II of Bavaria, who had constructed an opulent theater with only one seat. Here, then, in a “theater” not so very dissimilar, is Judy hard at work:

• Getting up from that table at Ernie’s slowly, slowly turning, slowly moving away from the dining area and toward the bar, pausing beside the bar, seeming to consider, then stepping on.
• Driving away in her -“her” – Mercedes, heading downtown, circling Union Square, walking in by the back door to that flower shop.
• Fondling that nosegay.
• Heading to the Mission Dolores cemetery, meditating, pausing, walking slowly, stopping near Scottie who does not know she knows he is there. (Who would never dream she knows he is there. If he dreamed, he would dream that Madeleine Elster knew he was there. The actress beneath is non-existent.)
• Driving up to the Gallery. Sitting, gawking, meditating, staring, sitting, meditating – while he notes her every gesture from behind.
• Going to the Bay, jumping in. Flailing until he saves her. “Saves” her.

And so on. All of this carefully arranged “being” will seem to the audience, Scottie, if there is any seeming at all, to emanate from the character he knows as Madeleine. This is what happens when we are subjected to the dramatic. The characters come real, we accept them, we give our belief: we give our belief in an essential way, not necessarily to proclaim that everything the character does seems as though it is really happening but as though everything that seems as though it is happening, really or not really, is definitely flowing from the character. Yet, of course, it is not flowing from the character, it is flowing from the actor.

After meeting Scottie and learning that he would like to try re-doing her looks, Judy says she wishes he would just love her for who she is. “Love me,” begs Judy Barton. But even here, even at this point, she is only the “figure” who can be “shaped into” Madeleine; just as earlier she was only “Madeleine.” The actress herself, as herself, she cannot be permitted to be. The actor is not permitted to say to her audience, “Love me. Me, not this character I am putting on.” Thus, Judy is an actor who, in role, fell in love with an audience who cannot detect her. Judy loves Scottie; Scottie loves Madeleine. A marvelous homage is to be found in Karel Reisz’s The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1981, written by Harold Pinter), a film in part about a filming. The lead actor in the cast, Mike (Jeremy Irons), is working hard as his character Charles with the leading actress Anna (Meryl Streep) in her portrayal of Sarah. Because the characterological relationship between Charles and Sarah is a love affair, and because he works as a method actor, Mike loses track of the focus and object of his love, finally, at the climactic moment, being unable to determine whether he is in love with the actress or the character she plays. He is emotionally rent when Anna leaves the wrap party and drives into the night. Watching in despair from an upstairs window he cries out, “Sarah!

In Woman, Anna knows Mike’s pretenses at loving affection are an actor’s rehearsal strategies, and she is happily married. So when she is Sarah, she is not hoping the Mike beneath Charles will love the Anna beneath her. But we have noticed that he is falling. His moves are not simply those of a working actor in practice, they go to the depth and are real. Thus his painful chagrin in the last second. Judy, an actress in a very different position, cannot attract a love that will penetrate the character she is playing. She is trapped in that character.


With the “reveal” scene – Judy facing the camera – Hitchcock achieves an effect he had worked out earlier in The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), in which the audience’s bond to a character is strengthened and sealed by virtue of their exposure to something vital that the character does not know, their ascension to a higher rung on the “ladder of awareness” [8] . Judy is letting us in on a secret that is not opened to Scottie, that will never become fully clear to him, even in his great discovery. He will never quite see, with a cold eye, the coldness of a cold act now gone cold. But we do. And this, as has been well recorded, was not only Hitchcock’s intention (to leave us watching Scottie, always alert to the moment when his state of knowledge would come up to ours [when he reaches the same rung on the ladder as we have been standing upon]) but also his artistic crusade, since he had to fight many of his co-workers who thought he was making a terrible mistake. We are let in, at any rate. Scottie is not. In Manmuch, we are permitted to attend a rehearsal scene upstairs at Ambrose Chapel where the musical assassination cue, identified three times in a row, is “taught” to the audience, the better to enrich their experience of the concert itself. Jo McKenna (Doris Day), in a careful dramatic arrangement that has somehow bypassed the attention of numerous scholars of this film, is not present at the rehearsal, and does not know what we know when she attends the concert. We are awaiting a scripted moment (a beat in a musical score) but she is not.

Judy’s actual, pungent comment, “. . . And so you found me!,” suggests something she may be finding problematic from one point of view but that she must be tickled about otherwise. Problematically, this “finding” means he may have caught the hidden lure at the end of the secret fishing line. But positively, the man she loves has not, after all, vanished from her life. And her audience has somehow intuited or dimly recognized the identity of the actress beneath the characterization, has sought through her (as she imagines) to discover the character again, eager, perhaps, to be enthralled a new time. (How many of us, coming upon in real life the star of a movie that has just enthralled us, wish we could be talking with the character reborn!) Any actor would experience general delight to think she had picked up an audience, in that an audience means recognition, recognition means more work, more work means more acting; and what an actor wants to do more than anything on earth is act. But to go a small step further: if Scottie has “found” her, Judy must be drawn to remember that after her performance she somehow vanished into the crowd, into the urban circulation, lost the power to attract attention that came along with the focal nature of the performance, and is now, in reduction, just a girl walking down the street. But through a marvellous circumstance, he has apparently drawn her out of this anonymity (even the most famous of stars will put on a casual masquerade to meander in public without being recognized), prepared her for being mounted upon a stage again, already in the first instant of seeing her. As a producer, he has “found” the person to play his role, this quite as though he has been trying other actors out; as though the idea of remounting the drama in which this role is central is an obsession with him. And indeed we will recollect that after his sojourn in the sanitorium he did wander the streets and did find other actresses “trying” to put on Madeleine without success. Ever since the drama of Madeleine was withdrawn, ever since the curtain fell, he has been seeking it again, unsatisfied, unrequited, unfulfilled. (Every drama works this way: keep them wanting more.) Seeking it, he has been prone to find. (He who seeks may find.) And he has made himself especially prone at that “finding” moment, because once again he is standing in front of the vitrine of Podesta Baldocchi, once again staring at that tantalizing nosegay, that “souvenir.”

A zoom to that nosegay, please. How does it come to be sitting in that window at that moment? Was it not, for the character Madeleine, a special order, a special production, designed specifically to mimic one in the “Portrait of Carlotta”? Was it not a custom creation? If it was, did the store management take a look at their own handiwork and think, “Oh yes, this really is quite charming. We could probably sell lots of these.” Or else – again, given that Scottie the policeman has a complex mind, including an unconscious that can perceive without him being aware – could it possibly be that this was always a commercial product in mass production, still one more lookalike, that Elster arranged for “Madeleine” to possess and use as part of the act of which at least one scene had to be played out with that portrait? Such a scheme would require the general popularity and familiarity of the Carlotta Valdes persona, as depicted in that painting; more likely is that it is a Gavin Elster special order. The very presence of the nosegay in the window now must be nudging Scottie, making him wonder how if it escaped the portrait and jumped into Madeleine’s hands it also escaped the now dead Madeleine and jumped into this window, to attract the eye of the passer-by.

Who exactly is the “me” that Judy thinks Scottie has found again?

Has he, as she sees it, found her as herself, that is, Judy Barton the hitherto unmet person? She knows he could not have done that. He has never heard of Judy Barton until now (the wording and expression of her comment imply “after a long time”). It can only be Madeleine, his Madeleine, he has found again. That mask. That entirely concocted dramatic entity. And if she goes along with the reconstruction (but she loves him, why would she say no, if it meant losing him?) Madeleine and his feeling for Madeleine will be reborn, and only dramatic action of the sort that should properly surround Madeleine will be brought into play. It’s all happening over again, but this time without a producer. The audience of one was so enchanted with the play he has rehearsed and kept his part, in case he can ever remount the production.

“. . . And so you found me!” If I were to say, “She loves him,” do I mean Madeleine? Surely not. First, Madeleine is never there. Secondly, the character Madeleine never loves, only acts love. It can only be the actress, Judy, who loves him, who loved him then, who saw her audience and, more than acknowledging its presence dropped her veil of protection and gave her heart. She was as caught by the presence of this man viewing as, in a theater, viewers are caught by the presence of the actors actually moving before them. The theatrical frame does not block the fire of love.

If he would but do what she begs him to do, love her and only her for who she is, the unending circle might be broken. Yet, this would mean Scottie abandoning the conceit of social elevation, since Judy is of the boue but Madeleine was on high. Is it social class affiliation, not just a person, he wants to bring back?


After Scottie drags Madeleine out of the Bay, sopping to the skin, and, using her car instead of his (composure, etiquette, consideration!), gets her back to his place, he (presumably) undresses her, a spicy nibble that stimulates the dramatic appetites of countless viewers. He hangs her wet clothing in his kitchenette, and tucks her into his bed. Well, all this is just hospitality. She is not conscious, as it seems; she cannot undress herself; and in those wet garments she will catch a fever. Not good for the girl; not good for the movie. She’s got to be tucked warmly into that bed. Allowed to sleep. Treated with loving care, which is to say, care not sexual libertinism.

There she is.

And when the bedside phone rings inopportunely and Scottie races in to snatch it, but too late!, she twists and jerks upward and we see her beautiful, startled face, the face of a creature of the forest suddenly far too close. But: (As has been noticed extensively,) the blanket covering her is yellow.

Banana yellow.

It seems to be, perhaps, one of those electric blankets (around since 1912), because it’s the only covering on the bed and it’s not thick. Banana yellow: a nice colour, and Scottie certainly has an appetite for colours. Yet . . . yet . . . . .

It cannot fail at some point, to some degree, to fetch up a memory. Not a narrative memory strictly speaking, a purely colour memory, thus an aesthetic memory beyond narrative. We have seen that banana yellow before, so that this one, this yellow, is a lookalike. Yes, the cashmere twin set that Midge is wearing in her studio as she draws that bra advertisement, teases “Johnny” about his sexual knowledge, provokes him about their past relationship (whatever exactly it was), and finally inspires him to go searching for Elster. Because she is a radiant blonde, Midge (Barbara Bel Geddes), looks splendid in that yellow sweater. It is pleasing, poignant, stylish, and lavish. And also tender and quiet, because this is no lemon curd yellow, no dandelion yellow. It is a soft, retiring, humble, deliciously comforting yellow.

And the same yellow is on Scottie’s bed.

The bed slept in by the man Midge thinks broke off their engagement; which means, the man to whom Midge (the girl in yellow) was once engaged.

Scottie loves colour (and presumably this is one reason why he loved Midge) but Midge works with colour. She knows it, she uses it. Look again at that fake painting she has done of herself-as-Carlotta; just at the colourations, by contrast with the colourations of the painting in the gallery. She is wearing that yellow outfit because she knows that yellow intimately in relation to herself. Knows how it feels, knows what it can do. Call it Protective Embrace Yellow.

And now we must ask: Was it Midge who gave Scottie Ferguson that blanket?

One of those delicious little trans-diegetic gewgaws, because nothing is in the script and not an eyebeam directs itself to a revelation. Yet there we saw the yellow, and here we see it again. Nothing else in Scottie’s apartment would lead us to suspect him of buying that yellow. Perhaps, as seems to be the case, he is even no longer conscious of the yellowness of the yellow. He certainly was not conscious of the yellowness of Midge’s sweater. Again: these matching yellows are positioned onscreen and photographed in order to make us conscious.

This is the bed – or is a bed very like the bed – Scottie and Midge slept in, slept before waking, as it were. Slept before he broke it off. This bed she arranged, and now we have Madeleine, naked, asleep in it. Is Scottie perhaps making connections? Does he have a memory? Because the Scottie-Midge-Madeleine triangle is surely important to the structure here, and this banana yellow, its fulsomeness and its very presence, cues us to that triangle. Perhaps Madeleine is his new M – he always wants an M in his bed, and Midge is now gone. Midge as amicable detritus. Or perhaps Madeleine is Midge for him, the Midge replacement, the Midge clone. Midge paints herself as the Carlotta substitute; is she flagging her Johnny that she knows he has painted his Madeleine as a Midge substitute?

More bizarrely, perhaps: If in remaking Judy into the vision of Madeleine Scottie is trying to bring Madeleine back, could it be that in finding Madeleine and putting her under yellow he is trying to bring Midge back? Is the whole thing about bringing the past back?

On the Road

Twice in his gray Studebaker Scottie takes Madeleine for a ride, the second time aware that he is chauffeuring a creation, a performance; and the first time chauffeuring a creation, a performance, without knowing. The first ride is absolutely conventional, as movie footage. We see the driver and passenger from the front, so that their facial expressions are clear to us. This would have been fashioned with a car cut-out permitting room for the camera at the front (where the motor would normally be: camera as source of the film’s motor energy) and, behind the people, through the windows, rear projection footage. By 1958 very competent rear projection footage was possible to secure, and Paramount, indeed, was, above all Hollywood studios, equipped with the most demanding experts. It is necessary to be assured of all this in order to grasp how entirely bizarre the second ride is……

Because although the filmic set-up is the same, we can now discern with ease that Scottie is driving on the wrong side of the road. Easy enough to achieve by flipping the rear projection plate (footage) in an optical printer so as to make a mirror shot. But why would Scottie drive on the wrong side of the road? (Rear-projection footage doesn’t get flipped accidentally.)

And by way of concluding this little voyage of exploration, let me suggest that the mystery here points not to Scottie Ferguson but to Alfred Hitchcock. The issue, really, is,Why would Hitchcock need to show the journey this way? Not what is Scottie doing, but what is Hitchcock saying? And the answer to that seems to me to be, that from here on in, everything we see is as though in a mirror, a reverse of the reality we have accepted. Certainty becomes instability and uncertainty; beauty becomes manipulated ugliness; loyalty becomes treason; and San Juan Bautista as a sanctuary becomes San Juan Bautista as a gateway to Hell. The mirror functions to affect Scottie’s awareness, and ours. But lying beyond what he is aware of, thinks about, realizes, is what he feels, and what he feels is love for this strange woman. Love for this woman who never was fully understood, now never will be known. The person who wrote Scottie a “letter from an unknown woman,” but then tore it up.

[1] Hans Selye, The Stress of Life. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1978, p, 62
[2] Hans Selye, The Stress of Life, p. 115
[3] Harold Garfinkel, Studies in Ethnomethodology. Englewood Cliffs N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1965, p. 146
[4]  Of Eastmancolor negative film. A typical procedure in use at the time was Technicolor Hollywood’s contact printing of negative film to make separations, and then imbibition printing the film.
[5] Stanislaw Lem, Tales of Pirx the Pilot. Trans. Louis Iribarne. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1990, p. 126
[6] Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978, p. 95
[7] And fifty-two objects, exactly of this kind, opened the “Hitchcock and Art: Fatal Coincidences” show produced at the Centre Pompidou/Montreal Museum of Fine Arts by Dominique Païni and Guy Cogeval, 2000.
[8] Thomas Scheff, “Audience Awareness and Catharsis in Drama,” The Psychoanalytical Review

Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978.
Harold Garfinkel, Studies in Ethnomethodology. Englewood Cliffs N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1965.
Stanislaw Lem, Tales of Pirx the Pilot. Trans. Louis Iribarne. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1990
Hans Selye, The Stress of Life. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1978.
Thomas Scheff, “Audience Awareness and Catharsis in Drama,” The Psychoanalytical Review 63: 4 (Winter 1976-1977), pp. 529-54.

About the Author

Murray Pomerance

About the Author

Murray Pomerance

Murray Pomerance is an independent scholar living in Toronto. He is the author of The Film Cheat: Screen Artifice and Viewing Pleasure (Bloomsbury 2020), Grammatical Dreams (Green Integer 2020), Virtuoso: Film Performance and the Actor's Magic (Bloomsbury 2019), A Dream of Hitchcock (SUNY 2019), and Cinema, If You Please: The Memory of Taste, the Taste of Memory (Edinburgh 2018), among many other titles. He edits the "Horizons of Cinema" series at SUNY Press and the "Techniques of the Moving Image" series at Rutgers, as well as co-editing "Screen Decades" and "Star Decades" at Rutgers.View all posts by Murray Pomerance →