Judy Barton occasionally known as Madeleine Elster in her disguise, is the secondary antagonist of the 1958 Alfred Hitchcock film Vertigo. She was hired by Gavin Elster to impersonate his wife due to her similar appearance and help him kill her by pretending to commit suicide.
She was played by Kim Novak in a dual role.
After John "Scottie" Ferguson had retired from his detective role due to his recent fear of heights, Gavin Elster had called John and hired him to check on his wife Madeleine who had been having suicidal thoughts and going into trances causing her to not remember recent events. Gavin wanted John to keep an eye on Madeleine, and to keep her out of trouble. He thought Madeleine was possessed by a ghost of some kind.
In Ernie's restaurant, Scottie is seated at a bar, where he sees Gavin sitting with Madeleine who was wearing a dark, nakedly-backless evening dress with green trim.
As she leaves the restaurant, Scottie, has his nervous, first encounter with the Madeleine. From his view, she is half-seen in a close-up profile as she deliberately pauses behind him and awaits Elster, with the radiant light reflecting off her hair. Fascinated by and attracted to the woman that he has heard fantastic stories about, he starts to romantically and dependently "fall" in love with the ethereal, inaccessible and complex woman. He decides to accept Gavin's assignment to silently pursue his wife - without even meeting again with Gavin.
The next day, in fantasy-like, soft-focused diffused light, he trails Madeleine in her light-green Jaguar sedan all over San Francisco as she drives around. He first starts to follow her from her high-rise apartment building on Nob Hill to a flower shop on Grant Avenue through a narrow back alley and back door, where she buys a red and white nosegay bouquet as he voyeuristically peers at her with an ingenious split-screen effect. He sees her in a mirror reflection through a cracked doorway. Next stop is Mission Dolores - a Spanish mission with a backyard garden cemetery, where he enters a dark arched doorway and finds her after winding and turning through the cemetery path. In soft, diffused, surrealistic and hazy sunlight, she is standing and gazing in front of the grave headstone of Carlotta Valdes.
Madeleine then goes to the art gallery at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor where she's in a trance sitting at a portrait painting of a woman named Carlotta Valdes. Scottie notices that her single lock of swirling hair and hand-corsage bear a striking resemblance to the bouquet and hairstyle in the painting. Finally, he trails Madeleine to an old hotel on Eddy Street, the McKittrick Hotel, where she stands in a second-floor window facing the front. He is puzzled by her strange, mysterious wanderings and trance-like behavior. Scottie enters the Hotel to follow the ethereal woman - he looks up the stairs past a magnificent, suspended hanging chandelier with crystal pendants.
He asks the hotel manager-landlady to identify the tenant of the room on the second floor. She describes the two-week old occupant of the rented room whose name is Carlotta Valdes. Scottie is startled when told that Miss Valdes hasn't been there that day. He again stares at the chandelier as the landlady climbs the stairs to check the room - and then climbs up the optically-steep staircase himself when she offers to show him the empty room to prove it.
From the second-story window, Scottie notices that Madeleine Elster's car has also mysteriously disappeared, and later finds it parked back in front of her apartment building, with the flower nosegay on the car's dashboard. The detective is thoroughly confused, and naturally wonders whether Madeleine is indeed an illusion - a spirit, a ghost, or a phantom.
One day, as John continued following Madeleine along her routes, she drives downhill through Presidio Drive along Fort Point Road down to the water's edge of the San Francisco Bay, at a location on the promenade just under the Golden Gate Bridge. She meditates and then tears and throws flower petals from her Carlotta-like nosegay into the water. Suddenly, she throws herself into the dark waters and tries to drown herself. Surprised by the sight, Scottie rushes to the water, removes his jacket, dives in and saves her. He carries her limp body back to her car. Breathlessly, he tries to revive her, speaking her name for the first time. Since she remains unconscious, he takes her back to his apartment.
In his apartment that night, Scottie was at the fireplace stoking a fire, to his sofa where he drinks coffee, to the kitchen where Madeleine's clothes dry on the line, to the open bedroom door where she sleeps in his bed. Scottie gets up when he hears her talking in her sleep - mumbling Carlotta's ritualistic lament: "Have you seen my child?" When the sound of the telephone in his bedroom awakens her (Gavin Elster called Scottie and is told to call back later), he speaks to her for the first time. She is fearful and startled to find herself in a strange man's bed (and presumably naked). With a slight smirk - since he had previously seen her naked as he assisted her, Scottie chivalrously offers his maroon robe for her to wear. When she seductively and gracefully appears at his bedroom door wearing his silky robe and posing for him, they have their first conversation as Scottie begins to be bewitched.
Although wary of him, she is very poised. She thanks him for saving her, and remembers having been at Old Fort Point out at the Presidio and fainting by the water's edge. Scottie then questions her about what she remembers, but she can't recall having been at the Palace of the Legion of Honor earlier in the day. While she sits by the fire on cushions, she asks him to fetch her purse so she can properly pin up her hair. He's entranced by her spell, and instantly infatuated by her beauty and bewitched by her mysterious nature. Although she identifies herself, he keeps facts about his profession and his relationship to Elster concealed. Scottie only admits that he has tendencies - like she does - to "wander about".
He grabs to get Madeleine some more coffee, and pauses for a sexually-charged moment when his hand touches hers above the coffee cup. Their intimacy is interrupted by a phone call from Gavin Elster. While Scottie is speaking to him on the phone in the bedroom, Madeleine gathers her clothes and quickly vanishes. Gavin ominously warned Scottie that Madeleine was 26 and Carlotta Valdes committed suicide when she was 26. As Madeleine pulls away in her car, Midge has driven up and noticed her - but didn't actually get to meet her.
The next day, Scottie pursues Madeleine again in his car winding all over the streets of San Francisco, seemingly going around in circles and always down hills - finally ending up in front of his own apartment. In a ghostly white coat with black gloves, she puts something in his mailbox - an apology for the inconvenience she caused the day before. Scottie drives up, gets out and greets her at his front door - and she soon apologizes in person.
Madeleine explains that she couldn't mail the note because she didn't know his address. That's why she delivered it in person - she recognized his location by the tall Coit Tower landmark. This causes Scottie to muse. He hopes that they "can meet again sometime" - as they already have. Scottie asks if he could join her on her 'wanderings' - something he describes as his own occupation.
He is slowly becoming possessed by her and attracted to her, following her (or separately) going nowhere as she vanishes and reappears - he falls under her mysterious spell and is in love with her enigmatic beauty. They become mutually fascinated by each other and spend more and more time together.
They experience a car trip together to the evocative, centuries-old redwood sequoias. In a dark, moody, giant redwood forest, in the filtered, impressionistic light of the woods where they have wandered, she speaks about the ancient, towering trees and how they remind her of her own smallness and mortality. She gravely comments on how history continually repeats itself.
Pointing to the concentric, spiraling rings in a cross-section of the stump of one of the felled trees in a display showing thousands of years of history, she indicates with a black-gloved finger the place where Carlotta's life had spanned a short period of time. She enigmatically traces the times of her birth and her death.
In a semi trance-like or dreamy state, Madeleine walks away from him through the 'ever-living' trees and disappears again, causing Scottie to become even more intrigued with her mysterious nature. When he discovers her leaning and backed up against one of the trees, he interrogates her with direct questions to learn what she is thinking - with increasing desperation and urgency about her spells.
She explains how she is threatened and tormented by demands within her psyche (and her own personal pain).
After begging him to take her to "somewhere in the light," they appear on a Monterey Bay ocean cliff next to a classic Monterey pine. Scottie follows rapidly and joins her, and vows being "committed" to her and "responsible" for her.
Madeleine is haunted by recurring images and dreams involving death and darkness. As she hugs a craggy, wizened tree by the seaside, she likens her life to a walk down a long corridor into darkness. In her hallucinatory description, she includes all of the spots along her daily wanderings around San Francisco. The one time she came to the corridor's end was by the bay. After Scottie's prodding, she also remembers the hotel room, and a freshly dug grave waiting for her.
Finally, Madeleine relates another dream that has ambiguous significance - one of a Spanish tower, bell, and a garden. Scottie digs further to find the "key" to her mysterious visions, as she concludes that she may be mad.
Suddenly, she appears frightened and runs down the rocks to the water's edge. He races after her and they embrace - in a perfect synthesis of both death and erotic romance within their relationship.
Vowing to protect her from harm, they again cling to each other and kiss passionately as the turbulent waves once more crash melodramatically into the rocks behind them.
Madeleine visits Scottie early the next morning at dawn - she rings his doorbell and appears silhouetted in the darkened doorway. She walks into the light of his apartment. Upset and frightened, she tells him that she has had a recurrence of the strange dream of the bell tower in an old Spanish village or mission. Scottie wishes to reassure her, through his version of reality therapy, that she's in the here-and-now.
He has her describe the dream in great detail as he tries to make it reality.
Scottie recognizes the setting in her dream as San Juan Bautista's Spanish Mission, about 100 miles south of San Francisco. It is preserved as a historical museum exactly as it was 100 years earlier. Madeleine insists that she has never been there. Scottie insists that she think hard about what frightens her so.
Protective of her, Scottie tells her that they will visit the mission later that day. He hopes that visiting the real-world California mission will end her nightmares, cure her fears, dispel the dream's power, or prompt her memories.
As well as finding out about Madeleine's past at the mission, Scottie will also be able to confront his own fears, obsessions, and phobias. He leads her to the door - in an overhead shot.
As they drive toward the mission, passing through a row of tall trees, a gray-suited Madeleine gives an enigmatic, emotional look toward Scottie. At the mission, everything is as she remembered it in Madeleine's nightmarish dream - a village square and green, a cloistered Spanish church, a two-story gray wooden house, and a livery stable. Inside the dark stable, as she sits in an antique carriage, he prompts her to remember when she was there before.
In a trance-like, depressed state, she describes past childhood memories from a long time ago - she is seemingly possessed by Carlotta.
To ground her in the present, Scottie tries to find evidence that she isn't in her mystical past. He quickly finds what she has described in the stable - a wooden gray hors. He speaks to her from her profile-side. He helps her down from the carriage and then they embrace and kiss each other again.
While they kiss, he told her he loved her as she glances across the courtyard toward the mission's church and bell tower. She hurriedly confesses her own love for him, but becomes frantic that there was something she had to do. He grabs ahold of her to try to stop her retreat while vowing no one possessed her.
Crying, Madeleine assertively pushes Scottie away, disengages from his possessive grasp, and runs across the courtyard to the mission under a gray clouded sky. He catches up to her on the village green and holds her tightly, as she explains how she must go through with things as planned and not fall in love with him.
They struggle. She declares her love for him in a final moment before he loosens his grip.
After one more kiss, she turns, looks up, and rushes into the church. He glances up at the bell tower for an instant, and then decides to chase after her. She starts to climb up the bell tower's crude, winding and rickety wooden staircase. His acrophobia and vertigo slow his climb after her up the spiraling stairs.
Scottie pauses momentarily and looks downward from the landing where he is standing - he experiences a dizzying, disorienting, and paralyzing fear of falling. And then when he reaches almost to the top, there is a shrieking scream and a gray-clothed body resembling Madeleine's is seen through a side tower window falling to her death far below. Scottie looks down through the tower opening and sees a still body lying dead on the adjacent rooftop below. It is a stunning, vertiginous death - totally unexpected and disorienting. Tense and sweating profusely, he impotently climbs back down the stairs to the ground-level door. From an angle high above the church, the overhead camera views a reduced-sized Scottie exiting the church as nuns rush to the site and officials climb a ladder to remove the body from the cloister roof.
Later that day, Scottie and Gavin were at the town hall across from the mission, where a coroner's inquest/hearing is immediately held by police, the coroner and other legal officials regarding Madeleine's "death". The coroner describes the suicide - as he does so, Elster is cleared of responsibility for not reporting his wife's mental instability. But the coroner implicates and condemns ex-detective Ferguson's indirect causation of the accident, his unanticipated "weakness" and his fear of heights that made him helpless when he was needed. Even while knowing Madeleine's "suicidal tendencies," Scottie had a wasn't involved in saving her. Following the suicide, Scottie also strangely disappeared from the scene, claiming that he "suffered a mental blackout and knew nothing more until he found himself back in his own apartment in San Francisco several hours later." Although foul play is discounted, the coroner presents the jury with a final conclusion while verbally criticizing Scottie.
The jury then declared the Madeleine had committed suicide and Elster apologizes for the events.
After the hearing, Scottie is broken and distraught. He visits Madeleine's grave and suffers nightmares, flashing lights, vivid, and shattered, exploding images of Carlotta's corsage bouquet. He is also filled with grief and mourning - he blames himself for not stopping or saving her, unable to conquer his fear of heights to save her.
An unknown amount of time went by, and Scottie drifts aimlessly for a while, searching for his lost love. He revisits the places where he often saw Madeleine - first Elster's apartment, then, he ventures to Ernie's Bar and the Palace of the Legion of Honor, hoping that he will find her alive. Three times, he pictures three Madeleine look-alikes who resemble her.
At a florist's shop, Scottie is startled by other reminders of Madeleine such as her flower corsage. And then he spots a fourth Madeleine look-alike on the street outside the shop. She is a dark, red-haired woman who is wearing a tight green sweater dress, and had a remarkable facial resemblance to Madeleine. She wears gaudy makeup and appears coarser, less ethereal and cheaply provocative. Scottie follows her to her transient hotel, the Empire Hotel on Post Street - he notices her at her second-story window where she lives alone.
Scottie rushes upstairs to her door half-way down a corridor. He speaks to her at her door, where she responds with a combination of fear, bemusement, defiance and fascination. She harshly and abruptly accuses him of either being a Gallup pollster, a hotel resident, or a guy trying to pick her up. He pleaded with her that he just wanted to talk to her. He explains that she reminds him of someone, but Judy's not convinced. She tries to close the door on him but Scottie asks to be heard again, so she invites him in with the door left open.
After their brief meeting, Judy agrees to have dinner with him later, but hopes it's not just because she reminded him of his love interest. A flashback reveals that she and Gavin had planned the suicide and the Madeleine, Scottie had seen fall off the tower, was actually the real Madeleine's dead body who Gavin had killed earlier. Gavin hired Judy to impersonate Madeleine and make the murder look like suicide. Judy writes a letter explaining the truth to Scottie about the "suicide" and her true identity, then tears it up deciding to see if Scottie would like Judy for who she was.