Original theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Alfred Hitchcock|
|Produced by||Alfred Hitchcock|
|Screenplay by||John Michael Hayes|
|Based on||"It Had to Be Murder"
by Cornell Woolrich
|Music by||Franz Waxman|
|Editing by||George Tomasini|
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures
|Running time||112 minutes|
Rear Window is a 1954 American suspense film directed by Alfred Hitchcock, written by John Michael Hayes and based on Cornell Woolrich's 1942 short story "It Had to Be Murder". Originally released by Paramount Pictures, the film stars James Stewart, Grace Kelly, Wendell Corey, Thelma Ritter and Raymond Burr. It was screened at the 1954 Venice Film Festival.
The film is considered by many filmgoers, critics and scholars to be one of Hitchcock's best. The film received four Academy Award nominations and was ranked #42 on AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies list and #48 on the 10th-anniversary edition. In 1997, Rear Window was added to the United States National Film Registry.
After breaking his leg photographing a racetrack accident, professional photographer L.B. "Jeff" Jefferies (James Stewart) is confined in his Greenwich Village apartment, using a wheelchair while he recuperates. His rear window looks out onto a small courtyard and several other apartments. During a summer heat wave, he passes the time by watching his neighbors, who keep their windows open to stay cool. The tenants he can see include a dancer he nicknames "Miss Torso", a lonely woman he nicknames "Miss Lonelyheart", a songwriter, several married couples, a middle-aged sculptor, and Lars Thorwald (Raymond Burr), a wholesale jewelry salesman with a bedridden wife.
After Thorwald and his wife apparently have an argument, Thorwald makes repeated late-night trips carrying his sample case. Jeff notices that Thorwald's wife is gone and sees Thorwald cleaning a large knife and handsaw. Later, Thorwald ties a large packing crate with heavy rope and has moving men haul it away. Jeff discusses these observations with his wealthy socialite girlfriend Lisa Fremont (Grace Kelly) and his insurance company home-care nurse Stella (Thelma Ritter), and becomes obsessed with their theory that Thorwald murdered his wife. He explains their theory to his friend Tom Doyle (Wendell Corey), a New York City Police detective, and asks him to find out whether anyone actually picks up the packing crate. Doyle looks into the situation but finds nothing suspicious, and discovers that "Mrs. Thorwald" picked up the packing crate. After Doyle leaves, Jeff asks Lisa if she thinks it was ethical for him to spy on his neighbor with binoculars and a telephoto lens; Lisa replies that she doesn't know much about "rear window ethics" but comments on their morbid curiosity by asking, "Whatever happened to that old saying, 'Love thy neighbor'?"
Soon after, a neighbor's dog is found dead with its neck broken. When the owner sees the lifeless body of her dog she screams to the courtyard: "You don't know the meaning of the word 'neighbors'. Neighbors like each other, speak to each other, care if anybody lives or dies! But none of you do!" and cries in grief. During the woman's hysterics, the neighbors all rush to their windows to see what has happened, except for Thorwald, whose cigar can be seen glowing as he sits in his dark apartment. Convinced that Thorwald is guilty after all, Jeff has Lisa slip an accusatory note under Thorwald's door so Jeff can watch his reaction when he reads it. Then, as a pretext to get Thorwald away from his apartment, Jeff telephones him and arranges a meeting at a bar. He thinks Thorwald may have buried something in the courtyard flower patch and then killed the dog to keep it from digging it up. When Thorwald leaves, Lisa and Stella dig up the flowers but find nothing.
Lisa then climbs the fire escape to Thorwald's apartment and squeezes in through an open window. When Thorwald returns and grabs Lisa, Jeff calls the police, who arrive in time to save her. With the police present, Jeff sees Lisa with her hands behind her back, wiggling her finger with Mrs. Thorwald's wedding ring on it. Thorwald also sees this, realizes that she is signaling to someone, and notices Jeff across the courtyard.
Jeff phones Doyle, now convinced that Thorwald is guilty of something, and Stella heads for the police station to post bail for Lisa, leaving Jeff alone. He soon realizes that Thorwald is coming to his apartment. When Thorwald enters the apartment and approaches him, Jeff repeatedly sets off his camera flashbulbs, temporarily blinding Thorwald. Thorwald grabs Jeff and pushes him toward the open window as Jeff yells for help. Jeff falls to the ground just as some police officers enter the apartment and others run to catch him. Thorwald confesses the murder of his wife and the police arrest him.
A few days later, the heat has lifted and Jeff rests peacefully in his wheelchair, now with casts on both legs. The lonely neighbor woman chats with the songwriter in his apartment, the dancer's lover returns home from the army, the couple whose dog was killed have a new dog, and the newly married couple are bickering. In the last scene of the film, Lisa reclines beside Jeff, appearing to read a book on foreign travel in order to please him, but as soon as he is asleep she puts the book down and happily opens a fashion magazine.
- James Stewart as L.B. "Jeff" Jefferies
- Grace Kelly as Lisa Carol Fremont
- Wendell Corey as NYPD Det. Lt. Thomas J. Doyle
- Thelma Ritter as Stella
- Raymond Burr as Lars Thorwald
- Judith Evelyn as Miss Lonelyhearts
- Ross Bagdasarian as the Songwriter
- Georgine Darcy as Miss Torso
- Frank Cady and Sara Berner as the husband and wife living above the Thorwalds
- Jesslyn Fax as Sculptor neighbor with a hearing aid
- Rand Harper as the Newlywed man
- Irene Winston as Mrs. Anna Thorwald
- Havis Davenport as the Newlywed woman
- Gig Young as the voice of Jeff's editor at telephone (uncredited)
- Harry Landers as the Miss Lonelyhearts's Guest (uncredited)
- Ralph Smiles as Carl, Lisa's servant (uncredited)
The film was shot entirely at Paramount studios, including an enormous set on one of the soundstages. There was also careful use of sound, including natural sounds and music drifting across the apartment building courtyard to James Stewart's apartment. At one point, the voice of Bing Crosby can be heard singing "To See You Is to Love You", originally from the 1952 Paramount film Road to Bali. Also heard on the soundtrack are versions of songs popularized earlier in the decade by Nat King Cole ("Mona Lisa", 1950) and Dean Martin ("That's Amore", 1952), along with segments from Leonard Bernstein's score for Jerome Robbins's ballet Fancy Free (1944), Richard Rodgers's song "Lover" (1932), and "M'appari tutt'amor" from Friedrich von Flotow's opera Martha (1844).
Hitchcock used costume designer Edith Head on all of his Paramount films.
Although veteran Hollywood composer Franz Waxman is credited with the score for the film, his contributions were limited to the opening and closing titles and the piano tune ("Lisa") played by one of the neighbors, a composer (Ross Bagdasarian), during the film. This was Waxman's final score for Hitchcock. The director used primarily "diegetic" sounds — sounds arising from the normal life of the characters — throughout the film.
A "benefit world premiere" for the film, with United Nations officials and "prominent members of the social and entertainment worlds" in attendance, was held on August 4, 1954 in New York City, with proceeds going to the American-Korean Foundation (an aid organization founded soon after the end of the Korean War and headed by President Eisenhower's brother).
The film received overwhelmingly positive reviews from critics and is considered one of Hitchcock's finest films. On the website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has been universally praised, garnering a 100% certified fresh rating, based on 61 reviews, with the overall consensus stating that "Hitchcock exerted full potential of suspense in this masterpiece."
Critic Bosley Crowther of The New York Times attended that premiere, and in his review called the film a "tense and exciting exercise" and Hitchcock a director whose work has a "maximum of build-up to the punch, a maximum of carefully tricked deception and incidents to divert and amuse." Crowther also notes:
- Mr. Hitchcock's film is not "significant." What it has to say about people and human nature is superficial and glib. But it does expose many facets of the loneliness of city life and it tacitly demonstrates the impulse of morbid curiosity. The purpose of it is sensation, and that it generally provides in the colorfulness of its detail and in the flood of menace toward the end.
Time called it "just possibly the second most entertaining picture (after The 39 Steps) ever made by Alfred Hitchcock" and a film in which there is "never an instant ... when Director Hitchcock is not in minute and masterly control of his material." The same review did note "occasional studied lapses of taste and, more important, the eerie sense a Hitchcock audience has of reacting in a manner so carefully foreseen as to seem practically foreordained."Variety called the film "one of Alfred Hitchcock's better thrillers" which "combines technical and artistic skills in a manner that makes this an unusually good piece of murder mystery entertainment."
Nearly 30 years after the film's initial release, Roger Ebert reviewed the Universal re-release in October 1983, after Hitchcock's estate was settled. He said the film "develops such a clean, uncluttered line from beginning to end that we're drawn through it (and into it) effortlessly. The experience is not so much like watching a movie, as like ... well, like spying on your neighbors. Hitchcock traps us right from the first ... And because Hitchcock makes us accomplices in Stewart's voyeurism, we're along for the ride. When an enraged man comes bursting through the door to kill Stewart, we can't detach ourselves, because we looked too, and so we share the guilt and in a way we deserve what's coming to him."
Hitchcock's fans and film scholars have taken particular interest in the way the relationship between Jeff and Lisa can be compared to the lives of the neighbors they are spying upon. The film invites speculation as to which of these paths Jeff and Lisa will follow. Many of these points are considered in Tania Modleski's feminist theory book, The Women Who Knew Too Much:
- Thorwald and his wife Ana are a reversal of Jeff and Lisa — Thorwald looks after his invalid wife just as Lisa looks after the invalid Jeff. Also, Thorwald's hatred of his nagging wife mirrors Jeff's arguments with Lisa.
- The newlywed couple initially seem perfect for each other (they spend nearly the entire movie in their bedroom with the blinds drawn), but at the end we see their marriage begin to deteriorate as the wife begins to nag the husband for quitting his job prior to their marriage. Similarly, Jeff is afraid of being 'tied down' by marriage to Lisa.
- The middle-aged couple with the dog seem content living at home. They have the kind of uneventful lifestyle that horrifies Jeff.
- The Songwriter, a music composer, and Miss Lonelyhearts, a depressed spinster, lead frustrated lives, and at the end of the movie find comfort in each other: The composer's new tune draws Miss Lonelyhearts away from suicide, and the composer thus finds value in his work. There is a subtle hint in this tale that Lisa and Jeff are meant for each other, despite his stubbornness. The piece the composer creates is called "Lisa's Theme" in the credits.
- Miss Torso, a beautiful dancer, initially seems to live a carefree bohemian lifestyle and often has various men over at her apartment. In the end, however, it is revealed that she has been waiting for her sweetheart, a slight-framed and boyish soldier named Stanley, to return.
The characters themselves verbally point out a similarity between Lisa and Miss Torso (played by Georgine Darcy).
Other analyses, including that of François Truffaut in Cahiers du cinéma in 1954, center on the relationship between Jeff and the other side of the apartment block, seeing it as a symbolic relationship between spectator and screen. Film theorist Mary Ann Doane has made the argument that Jeff, representing the audience, becomes obsessed with the screen, where a collection of storylines are played out. This line of analysis has often followed a feminist approach to interpreting the film. Doane, who used Freudian analysis to claim women spectators of a film become "masculinized", pays close attention to how Jeff's rather passive attitude to romance with the elegant Lisa changes when she metaphorically crosses over from the spectator side to the screen: it is only when Lisa seeks out the wedding ring of Thorwald's murdered wife that Jeff shows real passion for her. In the climax, when he is pushed through the window (the screen), he has been forced to become part of the show.
In his book, Alfred Hitchcock's "Rear Window", John Belton addresses the underlying issues of voyeurism, patriarchy and feminism that are evident in the film. He quotes "Rear Window's story is "about" spectacle; it explores the fascination with looking and the attraction of that which is being looked at." Generally, Belton's book asserts that there is more to Hitchcock's thriller than what initially meets the eye. These issues that society faces today are all more than just present in the film, they are emphasized and strengthened.
Hitchcock uses sound to convey the thematic elements behind Jeff's behavior and the audience's relationship to his subjective point of view. The music in Rear Window is entirely diegetic, and therefore every character in the courtyard hears the sound and acts based on what they hear. Hitchcock is less interested in reality than in how reality is perceived. Thus his use of entirely diegetic sound illustrates the idea that what we see as the audience is real.
The film received four Academy Award nominations: Best Director for Alfred Hitchcock, Best Screenplay for John Michael Hayes, Best Cinematography, Color for Robert Burks, Best Sound Recording for Loren L. Ryder, Paramount Pictures.John Michael Hayes won a 1955 Edgar Award for Best Motion Picture.
American Film Institute recognition
Ownership of the copyright in Woolrich's original story was eventually litigated before the United States Supreme Court in Stewart v. Abend, 495 U.S. 207 (1990). The film was copyrighted in 1954 by Patron Inc. — a production company set up by Hitchcock and Stewart. As a result, Stewart and Hitchcock's estate became involved in the Supreme Court case, and Sheldon Abend became a producer of the 1998 remake of Rear Window.
Rear Window is one of several of Hitchcock's films originally released by Paramount Pictures, for which Hitchcock retained the copyright, and which was later acquired by Universal Studios in 1983 from Hitchcock's estate.
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Rear Window has been repeatedly re-told, parodied, or referenced.
- Michael Davis's Eight Days a Week (1999) pays tribute where the main character, who camps out in the front lawn of the girl he has a crush on over the summer and refuses to leave until they get together, notices the man across the street frequently take garbage bags out of his house but never sees the man's wife anymore. He fears the man killed his wife and is taking the body out, piece by piece.
- Disturbia (2007) is a modern day retelling, with the protagonist (Shia LaBeouf) under house arrest instead of laid up with a broken leg, and who believes that his neighbor is a serial killer rather than having committed a single murder. On September 5, 2008, the Sheldon Abend Trust sued Steven Spielberg, DreamWorks, Viacom, and Universal Studios, alleging that the producers of Disturbia violated the copyright to the original Woolrich story owned by Abend. On September 21, 2010, the U.S. District Court in Abend v. Spielberg, 748 F.Supp.2d 200 (S.D.N.Y. 2010), ruled that Disturbia did not infringe the original Woolrich story.
- The set of the film was the basis for a comedy sketch on a 2009 episode of Saturday Night Live. The sketch featured Jason Sudeikis as Jimmy Stewart and January Jones as a flatulent Grace Kelly whose persistent farting made it impossible to finish filming the scene. Bobby Moynihan was also featured as Alfred Hitchcock.
- Rear Window was remade as a television movie of the same name in 1998, with an updated storyline in which the lead character is paralyzed and lives in a high-tech home filled with assistive technology. Actor Christopher Reeve, himself paralyzed as the result of a 1995 horse-riding accident, was cast in the lead role. The telefilm also starred Daryl Hannah, Robert Forster, Ruben Santiago-Hudson and Anne Twomey. It aired November 22, 1998 on the ABC television network.
- The Simpsons spoofed Rear Window in the episode Bart of Darkness which takes place during the summer. The Simpsons get a swimming pool and Bart later breaks his leg, forcing him to spend time in his bedroom with his leg in a cast. Like Jeff in Rear Window, Bart uses a telescope and watches the residents of Springfield from his bedroom window. He suspects Ned Flanders of murdering his wife Maude, only to discover that Ned killed Maude's plant by accident.
- That '70s Show spoofed Rear Window, along with other Hitchcock films, in season 3, episode 4's "Too Old to Trick or Treat, Too Young to Die" (originally aired October 31, 2000).
- The Flintstones spoofed Rear Window in season 2, episode 4's "Alvin Brickrock Presents"
- The Mathnet episode "View from the Rear Terrace" has Kate Monday in a similar situation to Jeffries after breaking her leg for undisclosed reasons, and she starts spying on her next-door neighbor, named "Raymond Sticker."
- The White Collar episode "Neighborhood Watch" drew various themes from Rear Window.
- The Home Movies episode "Definite Possible Murder" has a similar plot.
- The CSI: NY TV series pays homage Rear Window in the episode Point of view. Mac Taylor is recovering at home following a fall from chasing a murderer. During his recovery, he witnesses some mysterious behaviour in the apartment building across the way which leads to a murder involving a former university professor.
- The Detectives spoofed Rear Window in the series 2 episode also titled "Rear Window".
- Jessie spoofed Rear Window in an episode entitled "Pain in the Rear Window".
- Castle episode 100, entitled "The Lives Of Others," borrows from the plot of Rear Window with Castle laid up at home with a broken kneecap, spying on the neighbors across the street and believing he sees a man murder his cheating girlfriend.
- In the Leverage episode "The Broken Wing Job," Parker has broken her leg and is stuck at headquarters while the rest of the crew is in Japan. She spies on the brew pub via the security cameras and assigns various nicknames to the patrons. She eventually comes to find out that two frequent customers are planning what she believes to be a heist, and attempts to stop it with the help of one of the bar's employees.
- Tiny Toon Adventures also spoofed Rear Window with Plucky Duck as Jeff and Elmer Fudd as Thorwald, except instead of a murder involved, Plucky believes Elmer's growing aliens disguised as eggplants.
- Person of Interest episode 11 included several references to Rear Window. Reese uses the alias "Mr Hayes" for this episode, who was the screenwriter for Rear Window. He is stuck in a wheelchair with an injured leg in an apartment overlooking a courtyard and other apartments. He uses a camera with a long lens to spy on the neighbors, in addition to hacking into their wireless networks and cameras. The courtyard contains a flower patch where he believes a suspect will bury a murder victim. 
- Rear Window (Box office/business) at the Internet Movie Database
- "Rear Window (1954) — Box Office Mojo". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved April 12, 2012.
- "Rear Window Movie Reviews, Pictures — Rotten Tomatoes". Rottentomatoes.com. Retrieved 2012-12-04.
- DVD documentary
- "Exakta Varex VX". Camerapedia.
- A 'Rear Window' View Seen at the Rivoli, an August 5, 1954 review from The New York Times
- Statement by the President on the fund-raising campaign of the American-Korean Foundation from a University of California, Santa Barbara website
- 'The Top Box-Office Hits of 1954', Variety Weekly, January 5, 1955
- The New Pictures, an August 2, 1954 review from Time magazine
- Review of Rear Window, a July 14, 1954 article from Variety magazine
- 1983 Review of Rear Window re-release by Roger Ebert
- IMDB Top 250, A list of the top 250 highest rated movies on IMDB. Rear Window being 28th.
- Modleski, Tania (1989). The Women Who Knew Too Much: Hitchcock and Feminist Theory. New York: Routledge, Chapman & Hall, Inc. ISBN 0-415-97362-7.
- Belton, John (2002). Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window. Cambridge University Press. p. 1.
- "The 27th Academy Awards (1955) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved 2011-08-20.
- "AFI's 10 Top 10". American Film Institute. 2008-06-17. Retrieved 2008-06-18.
- Edith Honan (September 8, 2008). "Spielberg ripped off Hitchcock Classic". Reuters. Retrieved 2008-09-08.
- Chad Bray (September 9, 2008). "2nd UPDATE: Trust Files Copyright Lawsuit Over Disturbia". CNN Money. Retrieved 2008-09-08.[dead link]
- "Rear Window copyright claim rejected". BBC News. 2010-09-22.
- "Rear Window | Video | Saturday Night Live". NBC. Retrieved 2012-12-04.
- Duration: 30 min (2000-10-31). "Watch That '70s Show Season 3 Episode 4 Too Old to Trick or Treat, Too Young to Die". Ovguide.com. Retrieved 2012-12-04.
- Herzog, Kenny (January 31, 2012). "Neighborhood Watch". The A.V. Club. Retrieved February 1, 2012.
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- Rear Window at the Internet Movie Database
- Rear Window at Rotten Tomatoes
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- Rear Window at Box Office Mojo
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