Actor Jimmy Stewart stands on the ledge of the Mission San Juan Bautista at the film's conclusion.Kim Novak as the patrician Madeleine and tawdry Judy

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Vertigo

Vertigo is a 1958 suspense film directed by Alfred Hitchcock. The film is usually taken as a classic of the genre and is considered by many critics to be Hitchcock's masterpiece. more...

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The plot

Vertigo tells the story of a San Francisco detective, Scottie (James Stewart), who leaves the police force (and develops acrophobia) after a fellow policeman falls to his death while the two are chasing a criminal across rooftops. But an old friend, Gavin Elster, hires his services to follow Elster's wife Madeleine (Kim Novak). Elster claims that Madeleine often appears to be staring off into space and occasionally drives to points unknown and later has no recollection of anything having been amiss; he tells a skeptical Scottie that he believes Madeleine to have a mental illness in which is possessed by a spirit of someone long dead. Scottie tails Madeleine for several days. As he watches her, she visits the grave of a woman named Carlotta Valdes who killed herself years ago, makes frequent visits to an art museum where she spends long periods of time gazing at a large potrait of Carlotta, and rents a room at a hotel which was once Carlotta's home. Madeleine also dresses like Carlotta, with identical hairstyle and jewelry.

Despite her trancelike, sometimes obsessive behavior and her suicidal tendencies—and despite the detective's former romantic involvement with a woman named Midge Wood (Barbara Bel Geddes), to whom he'd been engaged years before—the detective resolves to save Madeleine from herself. After she suffers a fainting spell and falls into San Francisco Bay, Scottie pulls her from the water and brings her to his apartment to dry off in front of the fire, and the two fall in love. Midge becomes increasingly jealous. Madeleine tells Scottie she dreamed of Mission San Juan Bautista, and Scottie takes her there, in an effort to destroy her disturbing dreams and possibly her mental illness. However, Madeleine is again possessed, and she runs up the mission's bell tower. Scottie's fear of heights renders him unable to reach the top of the tower to stop her, and Madeleine hurls herself from the tower. Scottie suffers a nervous breakdown and flees the scene. He is placed in a mental hospital, but eventually recovers. During his recovery, Scottie realizes that he is still in love with Madeleine.

About a year later, Scottie (still brooding about Madeleine) encounters a woman, Judy Barton, who reminds him strongly of his dead love. Scottie becomes obsessed with Judy, and gradually coaxes her to let him spend a lot of time with her. He begins insisting she dress in identical clothing as Madeleine and even having her hair done in Madeleine's style; despite her protests, she eventually gives in.

However, Judy makes a crucial mistake when she begins wearing a red pendant that he remembers Madeleine having worn, the same as in the painting of Carlotta. He brings her to Mission San Juan Batista and forces her to go up the tower, telling her that he wants to re-enact the scene in which he failed to save Madeleine. He raves about Madeleine, saying he'll "bring her back"; however, it becomes clear that his real goal is to force a confession from Judy, and eventually she confesses: she was hired by Madeleine's husband to look and act like Madeleine, she feigned her suicidal tendencies in order to convince Scottie that Madeleine was mentally unstable; she ran up the bell tower and knew that Scottie's acrophobia would prevent him from following. The real Madeleine was hurled from the tower by her husband. With no witnesses, and Scottie's testimony as to Madeleine's insanity, her husband got away with the murder.

As Scottie forces Judy to confess, they inch up the stairs until they make it to the top, whereupon Scottie declares, "I made it!" Scottie rages at her while Judy pleads that she loved him all along. Suddenly a shadowy figure steps out and says, "I heard voices." Judy, frightened, accidentally backs off the tower ledge and falls to her death. The shadowy figure steps into the light and is revealed to be a nun. Scottie can only stare down at Judy's fallen body, and the movie fades to black.

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