After a rooftop chase in which his latent acrophobia results in the death of a police officer, San Francisco detective John "Scottie" Ferguson retires, spending much of his time with his ex-fiancée Midge Wood. Scottie tries to gradually conquer his fear but Midge suggests another severe emotional shock may be the only cure.
An acquaintance, Gavin Elster, asks Scottie to tail his wife, Madeleine, claiming she has been possessed; Scottie reluctantly agrees. The next day Scottie follows Madeleine to a florist where she secures a bouquet of flowers; next, she visits the grave of Carlotta Valdes; then she visits an art museum where she sits watching Portrait of Carlotta, a painting of a woman resembling her. Lastly, she enters the McKittrick Hotel, but when Scottie investigates, she is missing and the clerk insists she has not been there.
Midge takes Scottie to a local history expert, who informs them Carlotta Valdes tragically committed suicide. Another visit with Gavin reveals Carlotta is Madeleine's great-grandmother, who Gavin fears is possessing Madeleine. Gavin also says Madeleine has no knowledge of Carlotta. Scottie tails Madeleine to Fort Point (just beneath the Golden Gate Bridge), where she suddenly leaps into San Francisco Bay. Scottie rescues Madeleine and takes her to his home. The meeting is tense and leads to a strange intimacy between them, but Madeleine quickly slips out when Scottie receives a phone call.
The next day Scottie follows Madeleine to his own house, where she is hand-delivering a thank-you note to him for rescuing her, and they decide to spend the day together because Scottie fears Madeleine might attempt suicide again. The two travel to Muir Woods and then Cypress Point along 17-Mile Drive near Pebble Beach, where Madeleine, embarrassed from confessing that her dreams sound mad, runs to the ocean. Scottie chases after her and they embrace and kiss. Upon hearing the details of her nightmare, Scottie identifies the setting as Mission San Juan Bautista and takes Madeleine there, where they proclaim their love for each other. Madeleine suddenly runs into the church and up the bell tower. Scottie, halted on the steps by vertigo and paralyzing fear, watches as Madeleine plunges to her death.
An inquest declares Madeleine's death a suicide, but Scottie feels ashamed that his weakness rendered him incapable of preventing someone's death. Gavin does not fault Scottie, but in the following weeks Scottie becomes depressed. While undergoing treatment in a sanatorium, he becomes mute, haunted by vivid nightmares. Although Midge visits, his condition remains unchanged. After release, Scottie haunts the places that Madeleine visited, often imagining that he sees her. One day, he spots a woman who reminds him of Madeleine, despite the woman's less elegant dress and heavier makeup. Scottie follows the woman to her hotel room, where she identifies herself as Judy Barton from Kansas. Though initially suspicious and defensive, Judy eventually agrees to join Scottie for dinner.
After Scottie leaves, Judy has a flashback revealing that she was, in fact, the woman known as "Madeleine", but she is not Gavin's wife. Judy prepares to leave and writes a confession letter to Scottie explaining that she was an accomplice to the real Madeleine Elster's murder by Gavin, and how Gavin had taken advantage of Scottie's acrophobia. She rips up the letter and decides to continue the charade because of her love for Scottie.
Scottie remains obsessed by his memory of "Madeleine" and their similarities. He transforms an initially unwilling Judy until she once more resembles Madeleine. Judy agrees to change on the chance that they may finally find happiness together. But Scottie realizes the truth when Judy wears a unique necklace that he remembered from the portrait of Carlotta Valdes. Instead of dinner, Scottie insists on taking Judy to the Mission San Juan Bautista.
There, he reveals that he wants to re-enact the event that led to his madness, admitting that he now knows Madeleine and Judy are the same. Scottie forces her up the bell tower and angrily presses Judy to admit her deceit. Scottie reaches the top, conquering his acrophobia at last. Judy confesses that Gavin had hired her to pose as a possessed Madeleine; Gavin faked the suicide by tossing the body of his already-murdered wife from the bell tower.
Judy pleads to Scottie to forgive her because she loves him. The two embrace when a nun, in shadow, emerges from the trapdoor; startled, Judy steps backward and falls to her death. Scottie stands on the narrow ledge while the nun rings the mission bell.
Read more about this topic: Vertigo (film)
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Famous quotes containing the word plot:
“The plot was most interesting. It belonged to no particular age, people, or country, and was perhaps the more delightful on that account, as nobodys previous information could afford the remotest glimmering of what would ever come of it.”
—Charles Dickens (18121870)
“But, when to Sin our byast Nature leans,
The careful Devil is still at hand with means;
And providently Pimps for ill desires:
The Good Old Cause, revivd, a Plot requires,
Plots, true or false, are necessary things,
To raise up Common-wealths and ruine Kings.”
—John Dryden (16311700)
“Ends in themselves, my letters plot no change;
They carry nothing dutiable; they wont
Aspire, astound, establish or estrange.”
—Philip Larkin (19221986)