No Alfred Hitchcock film captured my imagination more than Vertigo did. Today’s generation might consider the movie overly long and the pace slow but, for me, the dreamy pace and cinematography of Vertigo were as essential to the film as the story itself — a story that unraveled with a necklace.
The story starts with a rooftop chase that left San Francisco detective John “Scottie” Ferguson with a fear of heights. He retires then gets hired by a college friend, Gavin Elster, to do private detective work. The “work” consists of following Elster’s wife, Madeleine, who claims to be possessed by the spirit of Carlotta Valdes, a madwoman who killed herself a century earlier.
Scottie follows Madeleine to a flower shop where she buys a bouquet, to the grave of Carlotta Valdes at Mission Dolores, to a museum where she sits still and gazes at Carlotta’s portrait with the bouquet beside her.
The job to follow Madeleine is to prevent her from committing suicide while possessed with Carlotta’s spirit. As Scottie goes about tailing her, he rescues her when she leaps into the San Francisco Bay. The incident bonds them and they fall in love. It ends tragically when Madeleine runs up to the bell tower of Mission San Juan Bautista with Scottie unable to follow because of his fear of heights. From a window, he watches the body of Madeleine fall to the ground.
Scottie goes into a depression. He visits all the places he went to with Madeleine and imagines seeing her. Then, one day, he sees a woman who looks like Madeleine. Judy Barton has none of her class, she has dark hair and she is poor. They become friends, Scottie obsesses with her and brings her to a beauty salon where he has her hair and make-up done to make her a replica of Madeleine. He also buys her a suit like the one that Madeleine wore on the day he followed her to the museum.
Judy obliges hoping that he would find happiness with her.
Then, the mistake.
One night, on the way out to dinner, Judy asks Scottie to help her put on a necklace. The necklace is, of course, Carlotta’s necklace.
Realizing the deceit, Scottie takes Judy to the bell tower of Mission San Juan Bautista and forces her to re-enact Madeleine’s death. Judy confesses that she is Scottie’s Madeleine. She was Elster’s mistress and she posed as Madeleine in an elaborate hoax to get Scottie to witness Madeleine’s “suicide”. After Elster inherited his wife’s money, he discarded Judy who kept the necklace.
“You shouldn’t keep souvenirs of a killing,” Scottie tells Judy.
The legendary Edith Head did the costume design for Vertigo but I have not found any information about where the necklace came from. Was it especially made for the film or was it picked up from an antique store?
Carlotta’s necklace isn’t what I’d call “beautiful” but, in the context of the story, it is memorable both for Scottie and the film viewer. It is hard to forget a piece of jewelry like that with its crimson center stone and the three teadrop-shaped stones hanging beneath it. Eerily reminiscent of the three teardrop-shaped pearls in Anne Boleyn’s necklace. Was the similarity intentional? Or was the style simply popular centuries ago? I have no idea.