In Hitchcock's Vertigo, there is one part of the film that has never made sense to me and I believe that it was a cheap ploy to mislead the audience until the ultimate reveal (I won't spoil it here).

In this scene Jimmy Stewart watches Kim Novak enter a rooming house and afterwards sees her standing by the window on the 2nd floor. When he enters the house and talks to the inn-keeper, she tells him that Kim Novaks's character positively never came in and even shows him her room key that is still behind the front desk. They go up to the room and find it empty.

This scene seems to imply that the Kim Novak character may have had a ghost like quality. But given the reveal at the end she clearly does not and there was no way for her to enter the room without a key and without being seen by the inn-keeper. If this was done by some other director I probably wouldn't have given this much thought but Hitchcock was a perfectionist (especially for this film) so I never understood the significance of this scene other than to mislead the audience (with a cheap ploy IMO).

Does anyone who is familiar with this film have a different explanation/perspective about this scene in an otherwise brilliant movie.

  • 9
    (In general, don't be afraid to reveal any major plot points about the film if it helps clarify your question. Spoilers are perfectly allowed inside the question body here, especially when they help provide context.)
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Oct 26, 2017 at 16:15
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    To add to @NapoleonWilson's comment, many (all?) Stack Exchanges support a specific mechanism for hiding information: the spoilers format. This allows you to hide information unless a user explicitly chooses to view it.
    – jpmc26
    Oct 27, 2017 at 0:10
  • @NapoleonWilson Of course. Having never seen to film myself, it seems to me, however, that little would need to be added to the question and could be encompassed in a spoiler section or two. I agree that the answer probably could not be effectively spoilered, but writing a question with a couple spoilered sections about important plot points is probably enough indication that someone not wanting spoilers probably should stop reading.
    – jpmc26
    Oct 27, 2017 at 0:21

2 Answers 2


One Likely Possibility: The inn-keeper lied and had a spare key. She was part of Gavin Elster's plan...

Kim Novak is first introduced as a wife of another character named Glavin Elster, a wealthy man whom hires "Scottie" Ferguson, a retired detective with vertigo, to "follow" her around, because he believes she is suicidal.

Vertigo Script:


A well-appointed office with a large window looking out upon a busy shipyard. There are a couple of models of modern freighters in glass cases, but more important, on the walls are many framed prints and posters and maps relating to early California history; some from the Mexican days, many from the Gold Rush days, many of San Francisco in the Seventies and Eighties. Behind the desk sits Gavin Elster, a man about Scottie's age, huskily built, slightly balding, with cool, watchful eyes. He is beautifully tailored, and gives the sense of a man who relishes money and knows how to use it. He sits quietly watching Scottie, who stands staring out the window at the activity of the shipyard. After a long moment:

As Scottie follows her, and gets to know her, he comes to believe that she is possessed by a ghost of a relative/descendant of the family, whom died in tragic circumstances. Eventually, as things escalate, Scottie BELIEVES that she is dead when she climbs an old Spanish mission tower and throws herself off!!

But as more events play out, viewers learn that women Scottie was following was not the real Mrs. Elster! Instead, it was all an elaborate scheme for Gavin Elster to be able to kill his real wife and that Scottie never made it to the top of the tower to really witness the act, as Elster and Judy throw the real wife's corpse off onto the roof below--but the incident took another toll on Scottie.

Some time passes and he ends up seeing and meeting the women named Judy Barton, whom was hired to play Elster's wife. And that's all I will say.

The plot holes of Scottie not being a better detective are suppose to be sustainable, because as the main character, he has vertigo prior to these events and the plan relies on the idea that Scottie will fall in love with [the fake] Madeline Elster, giving up in his skepticism.

It's true that one could draw other conclusions, such as: if she was complacent, wouldn't she have gone to the police when she discovered the truth?

Well, she might or might not. It relies on what we don't know about her and her relationships with either Judy and/or Gavin in general, but again Elster is wealthy respectable man in the shipping business, and "Madeline's death" is not seen (the first time) as a murder, but a SUICIDE. Being bought, doesn't mean she necessarily knew the the entire point of the scheme and could of believed "Madeline" committed suicide. After all Judy DOES know the point of Gavin's scheme and follows through on it. So, by the film's own logic, if one character can be bought, why can't another? Who says that either greed isn't a powerful motivator and/or that the inn-keeper has to have moral conscious? There is also always "fear of retaliation". The Inn-Keeper could either face jail-time being a kind of co-conspirator/accessory to murder or Elster could plot to murder her too! It's also possible that the truth is revealed post-film, since now Scottie knows the truth and the whole thing would in theory be further investigated,but again no proof within framework...

Judy's Letter To Scottie, Before She Rips It Up - Vertigo Script

JUDY'S VOICE Dearest Scottie ... and so you've found me. This is the moment I dreaded and hoped for, -- wondering what I would say and do if ever I saw you again, I wanted so to see you again. Just once. Now I'll go and you can give up your search. (pause) I want you to have peace of mind. You've nothing to blame yourself for. You were the victim. I was the tool, you were the victim of a man's plan to murder his wife. He chose me to play the part because I looked like her; he dressed me up like her. He was quite safe because she lived in the country and rarely came to town. He chose you to be the witness. The Carlotta story was part real, part invented to make you testify that Madeleine wanted to kill herself. He knew of your illness; he knew you would never get up the stairs of the tower. He planned it so well; he made no mistakes. (pause) 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...

The Metaphysical Front is really the only other possibility in that something magical happened at the Hotel, but that seems unlikely, because all of the film's metaphysical elements fall away to the psychological, as Madeline was always Judy pretending to be Madeline and seemingly pretending to be possessed, as she never gives any indication that something mysterious "did" happen to her outside of falling in love with Scottie also.

It seems to me that Hitchcock wanted us to understand that Elster was a mastermind and that the flaw in everything was that Judy loved Scottie back, not that the inn-keeper is some kind of loophole.

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    Don't be afraid to spoil the film, though. Everyone who reads this question and its answers has to expect that. Clarity goes over spoiler fear.
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Oct 26, 2017 at 16:17
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    You wrote the first sentence as if it's a fact, but I assume this is all a theory? [AFAIK, this isn't shown in the film and Hitchcock (intentionally) never explained this.]
    – Walt
    Oct 26, 2017 at 16:42
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    You can not prove it as fact, but it's the only explanation that makes sense with the framework of the film, since Judy is Judy and was never possessed, or ever indicated that she was "really" possessed, ultimately dismissing any metaphysical phenomenon. Judy dies, so there is nothing more to gleam outside that she was hired to pretend to be someone she isn't. The more natural solution is that the inn keeper was in it, It is a possible and likley explanation as opposed to a real plot hole Oct 26, 2017 at 16:45
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    It's not like the film is centered around the inn-keeper or is a crime drama more than it's a "psychological" thriller where "love is a deception" plays into the "how and why" of the story, making our emotions the things to fear... Oct 26, 2017 at 16:50
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    Also Elster was also VERY wealthy and respected-- so it stands to reason that "other people" he needed could be "bought." Oct 26, 2017 at 16:52

What happened to Madeleine at the McKittrick Hotel is never explained. Did she somehow slip out? Was the whole incident Scottie’s hallucination? Or did Hitchcock simply suspend the laws of reality? We don’t know.

The episode is an example of what Hitchcock called an “icebox talk scene,” a narrative conundrum that he slipped into his films to give audiences something to talk about as they rummaged through the refrigerator after the movie.

Fridge Logic has been the writer's-room term for... little Internal Consistency issues for a good while... The phrase was technically coined by Alfred Hitchcock. When asked about the scene in Vertigo when Madeleine mysteriously, and impossibly, disappears from the hotel that Scottie saw her in, he responded by calling it an "icebox" scene, that is, a scene that "hits you after you've gone home and start pulling cold chicken out of the icebox."

I'm afraid that the correct answer is that there's really no logical way Judy could have entered and departed that hotel room as shown in the film, but Hitchcock just liked the scene on some grounds other than plot logic.

Incidentally, although this idea is pretty famously ascribed to Hitchcock, I have not found a reliable citation to the context in which he actually said it.

  • Good answer, lousy score.
    – Chaim
    Aug 25, 2020 at 4:00

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