John "Scottie" Ferguson (James Stewart) is a retired San Francisco police detective who suffers from acrophobia and Madeleine (Kim Novak) is the lady who leads him to high places. A wealthy shipbuilder (Tom Helmore) who is an acquaintance from college days approaches Scottie and asks him to follow his beautiful wife, Madeleine. He fears she is going insane, maybe even contemplating suicide, because she believes she is possessed by a dead ancestor. Scottie is skeptical, but agrees after he sees the beautiful Madeleine.
- James Stewart as John "Scottie" Ferguson
- Kim Novak as Judy Barton/Madeline Ester
- Barbara Bel Geddes as Midge Wood
- Tom Helmore as Gavin Elster
- Henry Jones as the coroner
- Raymond Bailey as Scottie's doctor
- Ellen Corby as the manager of the McKittrick Hotel
- Konstantin Shayne as bookstore owner Pop Leibel
- Lee Patrick as the car owner mistaken for Madeleine
Hitchcock originally wanted Vera Miles to play the lead character, but pregnancy forced her to opt out of the production. Kim Novak and James Stewart would later star opposite each other again in the film Bell, Book and Candle.
Vertigo received mixed reviews upon initial release, but is now often cited as a classic Hitchcock film and one of the defining works of his career. New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther also gave Vertigo a positive review by explaining that "[the] secret [of the film] is so clever, even though it is devilishly far-fetched." Richard L. Coe of The Washington Post praised the film as a "wonderful weirdie," writing that "Hitchcock has even more fun than usual with trick angles, floor shots and striking use of color. More than once he gives us critical scenes in long shots establishing how he's going to get away with a couple of story tricks." John McCarten of The New Yorker wrote Hitchcock "has never before indulged in such farfetched nonsense."