California III: Vertigo

vertigo21Well, I learned a valuable lesson today: If there’s someplace you particularly want to visit when you’re traveling, check ahead of time to make sure when they’ll be open.

Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo is one of my all-time favorite movies, and being in San Francisco promised the opportunity to visit some of the spots made famous in the film: Scottie’s apartment on Lombard Street, Coit Tower, Muir Woods, the Mission San Juan Bautista further south. One spot that was a definite not-to-be-missed destination was Fort Point at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge; you’ll recognize it in the image above. 

Because I anticipated needing a car to get there (and we’re not renting our car until Tuesday morning), I’d planned to have us stop by there on the way out of town. Only trouble with that? Fort Point is only open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays — and I discovered that too late on Sunday to get over there. 

Still, I’m planning on dragging Dad to a few of the other spots on the above list, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t offer a little chunk of the film’s screenplay here, a scene in which Scottie and Midge travel to the Argosy Book Shop for some information on the late Carlotta Valdes. The section below is taken from the full script online here, but really, don’t read it. Just find the film itself and watch it. (I put the DVD on again Friday night while packing — about my 18th time through the film, and honestly I could watch it again right now.)


013_2716vertigo-postersIt is old, it is misty, it is filled with old books, but the important thing to note is that it is filled with memorabilia of California pioneer days: on the walls are not only the familiar old maps and prints but also, and more striking, such things as framed old mining claims, posters describing outlaws wanted by the law, Wells Fargo Pony Express Posters; and on the shelves, old whiskey bottles, gold-mining pans, and such. The proprietor, Pop Leibel, is staring with a nodding smile at the piece of paper Scottie has handed him, and Scottie watches him keenly.Midge wanders about the shop, inspecting the prints on the wall, but always listening.

POP LEIBEL:   Yes… the Beautiful Carlotta… the Sad Carlotta…

SCOTTIE: What does a big old wooden house on the corner of Eddy and Gough Street have to do with her?

POP LEIBEL:   It was hers. It was built for her. Many years ago.

SCOTTIE:  By whom?

POP LEIBEL:   By… no… the name I do not remember. A rich man, a powerful man. It is not an unusual story. She came from somewhere small, to the south of the city… some say from a mission settlement… young, yes; very young. And she was found singing and dancing in a cabaret by the man… wait… wait… Ives! His name was Ives! Yes. And he took her and built for her this great house in the Western Addition… and there was a child. Yes. This was it. The child.

[Scottie hangs on his words. Pop looks up at him and smiles.]

POP LEIBEL: And now, fragments, you understand. I cannot tell you how much time passed, or how much happiness there was. But then he threw her away. He had no other children; his wife had no children. He kept the child and threw her away. Men could do that in those days. They had the power… and the freedom. And she became the Sad Carlotta. Alone in the great house… walking the streets alone, her clothes becoming old and patched and dirty… the Mad Carlotta… stopping people in the streets to ask, “Where is my child?… have you seen my child?”

[The store has darkened considerably and all the figures are practically silhouettes. The camera picks up a close shot of Midge, listening intently, her head turned away from the wall toward the old man. And on the wall near her head is a print of mission San Juan Bautista as it was in the old days.]    

MIDGE:   The poor thing….

SCOTTIE:   And she died….

POP LEIBEL:   She died.


POP LEIBEL:   By her own hand. [Pause. Smiles as sadly] There are many such stories.

Sticking with the Vertigo theme, Dad and I had drinks last night at Top of the Mark (which Scottie talks about when considering the fallout of his acrophobia: “No, Acrophobia isn’t a crippling thing. It just means I can’t climb steep stairs or go to high places, like the bar at the Top of the Mark.”) I had my own Vertigo moment on the cable car ride up California Street — pretty dang steep, I gotta admit!


Dad and I having drinks at Top of the Mark.

Dad and I having drinks at Top of the Mark.

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0 thoughts on “California III: Vertigo

  1. Andrew Beierle

    I’ve never seen that particular poster for Vertigo. What a masterpiece of ’50s design! I google-imaged it and found a version with a screened-back image of Stewart and Novak in a clinch, and another one, much less interesting, that looked like the cover of a Hardy Boys mystery: THE SECRET OF THE BELL TOWER. I’m enjoying this vicarious trip to California. I assume you’ll be stopping in Monterey and Santa Cruz?

    1. artandliterature Post author

      Yes, Monterey definitely, and points around there: Carmel, Salinas, etc. Alan Cheuse recommended his favorite restaurant in Santa Cruz and I’d planned on us stopping by there for lunch en route southward, but turns out they’re only open for dinner. We’ll find a place.

      Glad you’re enjoying! It’s fun!

      1. artandliterature Post author

        And yes, I LOVE that Vertigo poster — had a replica of it on my own wall for a while (and should maybe put it back up sometime….) And I’ve got another great movie poster coming up later in the trip, when we’re down in L.A. Stay tuned!