Study Guide

Vertigo Judy (Kim Novak)

Judy (Kim Novak)

Don't you just hate it when you're only loved because your lover thinks you're someone else?

Judy Barton is a salesgirl in San Francisco, born and raised in Kansas, come to the big city to make a life for herself. She's looking for love, too. She's been around the block a couple of times and hasn't had much luck with men.

She also bears an uncanny resemblance to Madeleine Elster, which gets her the attention of Gavin Elster and Scottie Ferguson. Gavin gets her to impersonate his wife in a scheme to murder the real Madeleine. Scottie nearly loses his already wobbly mind when he sees Judy on the street after Madeleine's death and believes her to be someone he can turn into the Madeleine he's become obsessed with. Little does he know that Judy's the (oxymoron alert) real impersonator. If this seems a little too much for one poor shopgirl to bear, you're right.

Body Double

Scottie does a double take when he sees Judy on the street and he follows her back to her place. She does look a lot like Madeleine, except we can see she's not as refined and classy. She wears a little too much makeup, and her clothes aren't as elegant and expensive. She's a little more overtly sexual. (Fun fact: Kim Novak didn't wear a bra in her "Judy" scenes.)

Judy seems a little shocked to see Scottie at her door, but at this point the viewer thinks it's just because she's creeped out that this stranger followed her home.

JUDY: Oh, I thought so! A pick-up! Well, you've got a nerve, following me right into the hotel and up to my room! You beat it! Go on! Beat it!

Judy acts afraid and suspicious; she lets Scottie know that she wasn't born yesterday, you know:

JUDY: I've heard that one before, too. I remind you of someone you used to be madly in love with, but she ditched you for another guy, and you've been carrying the torch ever since, and then you saw me and something clicked.

He's knows she's right, but he's undeterred, so she pulls out her ID to show him that she's really Judy Barton from Kansas, and not the woman he reminds her of. He sweet talks her into having dinner with him anyway and she surprisingly (to us) agrees. She sends him away so she can get ready.

Here comes the big reveal: in flashback, we see Judy, dressed as Madeleine, running up the stairs where Gavin Elster is waiting with the real and very dead Madeleine. As Judy approaches, he throws the body out the window. Judy screams, and Elster covers her mouth. Judy's face has no expression as she remembers the horrible scene.

Wait—intermission here. Suddenly, we're experiencing a little vertigo ourselves. All this has been a farce? You mean "Madeleine" knew all the time that Scottie was following her? All those trances were…faked? She knew he'd jump in the bay after her? She was completely conscious when he undressed her in his apartment? Give us a minute to rethink everything we've believed up to this point…

Alright, we're back.

At first, Judy decides to confess to Scottie and run away. She writes a letter about her terrible deception. There's a complication. though:

JUDY: I made the mistake. I fell in love. That wasn't part of the plan. I'm still in love with you, and I want you so to love me. If I had the nerve, I would stay and lie, hoping that I could make you love me again, as I am for myself... and so forget the other and forget the past. But I haven't the nerve to try...

Suddenly, Judy tears up the letter, deciding that she'll try to win Scottie's love again, this time as Judy. She's probably glad to get out of the Madeleine-impersonator business. but she has no idea what's she's getting into. For the rest of the film we have to watch Scottie, in the grip of his obsession, take this vulnerable woman and subject her to a total makeover. He doesn't want Judy, he wants Madeleine.

As this horrible truth dawns on her, you can see her slowly and sadly give in. Gavin only pretended to care for her for a short while after he killed his wife. Now she understands that Scottie will only love her if she becomes Madeleine.

JUDY: You don't even want to touch me.

It's sad to watch as she loses her identity a second time, dyeing her hair and changing her wardrobe just to be loved. When she at last appears completely transformed into Madeleine, Scottie kisses her passionately and…the rest is implied.

It's Judy's Turn to Cry.

After that romantic interlude, Judy seems at peace with the situation. In the film's second-to-last scene, we see her settle in to her new role pretty comfortably. The screenplay calls her "contented" at this moment; she has her man, if not exactly on the terms she chose, still on terms she can live with. After all, homegirl looks great as Madeleine. She's done it before. However, at this relaxed moment, Judy makes a careless and fatal mistake: she decides to wear the necklace that the real Madeleine (not the one played by Judy) had inherited from the real Carlotta (not the one whose story Elster embellished). Scottie recognizes it from the portrait of Carlotta at the Legion of Honor.

Game over.

At Scottie's insistence, they drive back to the Mission San Juan Bautista, determined to get the truth. He tells Judy he wants to understand what happened with Madeleine and forces her up the stairs of the bell tower. She's terrified. She realizes: HE KNOWS. He's treating her brutally.

Here, at "the scene of the crime," Judy tells Scottie everything, coming clean about Elster's plan but begging him not to leave her.

JUDY: What are you going to do?

SCOTTIE: I loved you, Madeleine.

JUDY: I was safe when you found me, there was nothing you could prove! 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 because I loved you and wanted you! Scottie, please! You love me now! Love me! Keep me safe!

SCOTTIE: Too late…too late. There's no bringing her back.

As Scottie and Judy kiss passionately, a nun appears at the top of the bell tower. Judy sees her and jumps from the tower.

Poor Judy (we're saying that a lot) loses her identity twice—one when Gavin forces her to be Madeleine, then when Scottie does the same. It's painful to watch her suffering at the end as she desperately pleads with Scottie to love her. Although the film doesn't really make it clear whether she falls or jumps from the tower, Kim Novak (the actress who portrayed her) knew exactly what happened: Judy had no other choice than to jump because she knew she could only be loved as Madeleine. Scottie even called her Madeleine when he said he loved her. Novak told an interviewer, "The fear of not being loved if she didn't have on these clothes or wore her hair in a certain way—oh, god, she had nothing left but to kill herself in the bell tower. […] She was trapped." (source).

Although Judy's an accomplice to Madeleine's murder, our sympathies shift from Scottie to Judy as we see how brutally he treats her in forcing her to become Madeleine. She's in a terrible position, becoming a victim to his delusions and sacrificing her identity to keep his love. She's been used and abused by Elster and saw Scottie as her one hope for love. In a way, Judy died once she stepped into the room transformed into Madeleine.

Film critic Danny Peary sees Judy's story as Hitchcock's statement about actresses: "That Hitchcock shows how a crude classless shopgirl can be transformed into the refined, erudite Madeleine is perhaps the director's statement about the illusion of the movie star" (source). Hitch spent his career transforming actresses into his ideal type. Check out our "Art Imitates Life" section in Scottie's character analysis for more about some of the creepier examples of Hitch and his actresses.

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