Study Guide

Vertigo Madeleine Elster (Kim Novak)

Madeleine Elster (Kim Novak)

The Ultimate Hitchcock Blonde

Madeleine's the woman who has everything, 1950s version: blonde beauty, glamour, a wealthy husband, and a magnetic effect on men. She also has a bad case of spirit possession, but this doesn't seem to stop our leading man from falling in love with her. Gavin's wife and Scottie's love interest from the minute he lays eyes on her, she's plagued by the ghost of Carlotta Valdes, a nineteenth-century San Francisco woman who was abandoned by a rich man. Carlotta's husband dumped her but kept their child, leaving Carlotta grief-stricken and eventually suicidal.

We know this, but Madeleine doesn't. She just knows she has episodes of not knowing where she is or what she's doing. Unbeknownst to Madeleine, Carlotta's her great-grandmother. Madeleine floats around with a dreamy, otherworldly look about her.

In Her Dreams

It's Carlotta who leads Madeleine all over the place—to flower shops and art galleries, to old San Francisco hotels and graveyards, and, in her dreams, to "Spanish villages." It's also Carlotta who causes the creepy trances that so alarm both Gavin and Scottie. At times she goes into an altered state of consciousness and speaks as if she's Carlotta. She takes out Carlotta's jewelry (she inherited it but doesn't know that) and wears it, staring into the mirror.

Scottie follows Madeleine for a while in her wanderings, reporting back to her husband what he's learned. When Madeleine jumps into San Francisco Bay, he rescues her and brings her to his apartment. She remembers nothing about the suicide attempt, but she seems drawn to Scottie, and they end up spending a lot of time together and giving us a tour of the highlights of the natural wonders of northern California.

We do get brief glimpses of Madeleine's own personality through the spirit-possessed soul from time to time. She's smart, educated, and charming. It's Madeleine who comes up with dreamy one-liners like, "Only one is a wanderer. Two together are always going somewhere."

Mostly, though, she talks about death—she seems to have a death wish because of her possession by Carlotta and is obsessed by the past. While staring at the rings of a giant sequoia tree, she says,

MADELEINE: Somewhere in here I was born... and here I died and it was only a moment for you... you took no notice...

She has dreams of looking into her own grave, and convinces Scottie that she desperately wants him to save her:

MADELEINE: I'm not mad. I'm not mad. And I don't want to die, but there's someone inside me, there's a somebody else, and she says I must die... Scottie, don't let me go!

What man could resist that (especially coming from Kim Novak)? Ultimately, the spirit of Carlotta gets her way. Madeleine "remembers" a scene from a place that Scottie recognizes as the bell tower at the Mission San Juan Bautista. He takes her there in an effort to finally get rid of her demons, but history repeats itself, and Madeleine throws herself off the bell tower.

Poor, tormented Madeleine—beautiful, refined, tortured soul. Too bad she's a complete fabrication. We don't see her again except in Scottie's hallucinations.

There was a real Madeleine Elster, of course, and she does get a second or two of screen time—her neck broken, about to be thrown off the bell tower by her husband. Apparently Hitchcock found the fake Madeleine much more interesting.

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