Scottie follows Madeleine to the Legion of Honor Art Museum. Inside, she sits on a bench and stares at a painting entitled "Portrait of Carlotta." In the painting, Carlotta appears to be holding the same bouquet of flowers that Madeleine bought at the florist. The camera then zooms in on the curl in Madeleine's hair, before showing that, in the portrait, Carlotta has the same one.
Scottie leaves the room where the portrait is, and calls a museum worker over to ask him who the woman in the painting is. The man tells him it's Carlotta Valdes and hands him a catalog.
Later, Scottie follows Madeleine to a small, creepy-looking hotel called the McKittrick. She goes in, and as Scottie walks towards the front door, he sees her in the window above. Inside, Scottie asks the woman at the front desk who has the second-floor room upstairs, but she tells him she cannot give out that information. Scottie pulls out his detective's badge and insists, so she tells him that the woman's name is Carlotta Valdes. She then tells him that Madeleine comes to sit in the room two or three times a week, but never sleeps there.
The woman at the front desk tells Scottie that "Carlotta" hasn't been in that day, but Scottie insists that he just saw her go in. "I would've seen her, you know? I've been right here putting olive oil on my rubber plant leaves!" she tells him, before pointing out that the woman's key is on the rack. Scottie insists that the woman go up and check the room, and she does, but finds no one there. Scottie runs up the stairs and peers in the empty room. When he looks out the window, he notices her car is gone.
Scottie goes to Midge's house and asks her if she knows anyone who is an authority on San Francisco history. When she suggests someone from Berkeley, he clarifies that he means the smaller, more obscure history. "Pop Liebel. He owns the Argosy Book Shop," Midge says. He asks Midge to come with him and introduce him to Pop.
At the bookstore, Pop remembers Carlotta. "What does an old wooden house at the corner of Eddy and Gough Street have to do with Carlotta Valdes?" Scottie asks, and Pop tells him that the house was built for her by a rich man whose name he doesn't remember. Pop elaborates on her biography: "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 dancing and singing in a cabaret by that man, and he took her and built for her the great house." He then remembers that they had a child together, but that the husband got rid of Carlotta and kept the child for himself. "She became the sad Carlotta," Pop says, explaining that Carlotta eventually went mad and killed herself.
Scottie leaves the bookshop, as Midge follows, insisting that he tell her what's going on, but he refuses. The scene shifts and we see Scottie dropping Midge off, having told her certain facts about his case. "You haven't told me everything," she says to him, insisting that Scottie's story about Gavin and his wife sounds far-fetched. "Is she pretty?" Midge asks of Gavin's wife, and when Scottie says she is, Midge leaves, jealous.
Scottie looks at the portrait of Carlotta, then brings it to Gavin and brings him up to speed. Gavin tells him that Madeleine has several pieces of jewelry that belonged to Carlotta; Carlotta was Madeleine's great-grandmother. Gavin tells Scottie that the child that Carlotta lost was Madeleine's grandmother. "Anyone could become obsessed with the past with a background like that," Scottie insists, but Gavin insists that Madeleine knows nothing about her family history. Gavin tells Scottie that Madeleine's mother told him all these facts before she died, but Madeleine has no knowledge, as her mother worried that the knowledge would drive Madeleine to insanity and suicide, like Carlotta.
The next day, Scottie follows Madeleine, once again, to the museum, where she stares at the portrait. He then follows her to the Golden Gate Bridge, where she walks down to the water. After throwing flowers into the water for a while, Madeleine jumps in, and Scottie jumps in after her to save her. He pulls her out and brings her back to his apartment to dry off.
At his apartment, we see Madeleine's clothing hanging in the kitchen to dry, as the camera pans over to her, lying in the bed, recuperating. When the phone rings in his room, he goes to answer it and Madeleine wakes up with a start. As he hangs up the phone, Scottie hands the naked Madeleine a robe and goes into the living room. Madeleine emerges from the bedroom in the robe and Scottie tells her she fell in the San Francisco Bay. She remembers nothing, only that she loves to go to the point to look at the water. Scottie asks her where she was that afternoon, and she tells him that she was downtown shopping.
"You're terribly direct in your questions," she says, before asking him what he was doing at Old Fort Point, and where he was before. He tells her he had just been to the museum. Madeleine tells him that she has never been to the museum, but thinks it looks lovely. He brings her some pins and her purse and she asks him why he didn't take her home, but he thought she might not like to be taken home then. They introduce themselves to each other, but he does not disclose his profession. "One shouldn't live alone," Madeleine says.
When Scottie asks her whether this has ever happened before, and she tells him it hasn't. As he reaches to get her coffee cup, their hands touch intimately, just as the phone rings.
Hitchcock's camerawork only heightens the suspense and drama of the narrative once again in Scottie's pursuit of Madeleine. At the museum, Hitchcock zooms in on the flowers in the portrait of Carlotta Valdes, identical to the ones that Madeleine bought. The camera then takes Scottie's perspective, behind Madeleine, before zooming in on the distinctive curl in her hair. We then see the portrait, as Hitchcock zooms in on the identical curl in Carlotta's hair. The pacing and structure of the cinematography align with Scottie and the viewer's realizations about Madeleine and her strange fixation on the dead Carlotta, and lead us through the narrative.
Hitchcock's brand of horror is a slow burn. Eschewing overt violence or sudden bursts, Hitchcock weaves together an unsettling environment that creeps up on the viewer, slowly taking form. Scottie's day of following Madeleine around gets more and more tense as he goes from location to location. In moments where he stops and observes his surroundings, the viewer is treated to the creepiness of the scenario. The portrait of Carlotta is uncanny and gothic, and then the hotel that Madeleine checks in to seems to be an ordinary hotel, but its dark wood and shabby exterior suggest something nefarious. Hitchcock does not make explicit the horror of the film, but the unsettling nature of the plot slowly unfurls, played out in the visual world of the film, and amounts to something horrifying.
We soon learn that the story of Carlotta is not only creepy, but tragic. Carlotta was a young woman impregnated by a wealthy man and then abandoned for selfish reasons and left to live out her days in the house that is now the McKittrick Hotel. She slowly went mad, yearning for her lost child, until eventually she killed herself. The story is a remnant of the misogynistic past and a hauntingly tragic one that only lends Madeleine's bizarre wanderings an even more disturbing quality. Madeleine and Carlotta have some things in common, as both are the young kept wives of wealthy men. The viewer begins to wonder if they have anything else in common.
It isn't long before Scottie has met Madeleine under the least ceremonious of circumstances, when she jumps into the water under the Golden Gate Bridge, and he must jump in and save her. Having followed her all around town, Scottie is now introduced to the wayward woman in person, as she dries off at his apartment. The scene is at once terrifying and erotic, as we watch Scottie turn suddenly into a valiant hero, whisking away the beautiful damsel to his apartment. There, he goes so far as to hang up her wet clothes and put her in his bed naked, an intimate arrangement for two strangers.
This romantic and erotic dimension of Scottie's acquaintance with Madeleine makes him more invested in her case, but also complicates things. Indeed, Madeleine becomes at once the subject of the investigation that Scottie has been hired to undertake as well as a femme fatale of sorts, a woman in the film noir tradition, whose seductive powers threaten to undermine the detective protagonist's motives. Vertigo has been called a noir by many, and Madeleine's beauty and seductive powers certainly make Scottie's investment in the case all the more complex, as he struggles not only to woo his target, but also to understand what she is doing.