Watching it is like watching a living, breathing ecosystem, with the added thrill of a murder mystery thrown in for good measure. Hitchcock relishes the film's particularly postmodern scenario: we, the viewers, are entranced by the actions of these characters, who are in turn entranced by the actions of still other characters. It's a vicious circle of obsession laced with black humor and a dash of sexiness.
The film received four Academy Award nominations, including Best Director, but won none. In 1997, it was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress and it is ranked at number 48 on AFI's list of 100 Greatest Movies.
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PlotJeff Jeffries (James Stewart) is a successful photojournalist sidelined with a broken leg. Stuck in a wheelchair all day, he has nothing better to do than spy on his neighbors through the rear window of his two-room apartment. Or at least that's what he claims, because his fashion model girlfriend (and would-be wife) Lisa (played by a surprisingly carnal Grace Kelly in one of her final roles before retiring) and his cranky caretaker Stella (Thelma Ritter) perceptively observe that he's merely addicted to the thrill of voyeurism.
The notion of anyone able to keep their eyes off a character as beautiful and luminous as Lisa is hard to believe, until Jeff begins to suspect one of his neighbors (a glowering Raymond Burr) of murdering his wife. Soon enough, Jeff has dragged Lisa and Stella into the mystery, obsessively studying Burr's character's behaviour for signs of his guilt. But as Jeff's furtive investigation advances, so do the ongoing stories of all of his other neighbors, oblivious to the nefarious plot possibly unfolding literally right next door.
Indeed, although the nosey Jeff discovers a murder in his urban hamlet, it's the numerous romances transpiring in the other units that first draw his attention to the courtyard peepshow. It's wholly ironic that his obsessions with the love lives of his neighbors prevent him from acknowledging the romantic interest of Lisa. In fact, the bachelor in Jeff looks to his neighbors as an excuse to ward off her advances. It is only when his actions put her in danger that he finally understands that what he has in front of him is better than anything he can see out the window.
ProductionThe film was based on a short story by American crime writer, Cornell Woolrich which was first published in "Dime Detective Magazine" in 1942 under the title "It Had to Be Murder." The story was partly based on a real-life murder in 1924 in England and also partly drew from the 1910 case of Dr. Crippen, an American living in London, who poisoned his wife, cut up her body, and told police that she had moved back to America. The title "Rear Window" had twice before been used in re-publications of the story prior to the film's production.
Hitchcock first considered shooting the movie on location in Greenwich Village but eventually abandoned the idea in favor of recreating the whole set in the Paramount studios. For maximum freedom, he constructed an intricate replication of a crowded and constantly bustling New York City tenement building and its equally busy courtyard. In all, 31 apartments were built, 8 of them furnished, in an area 98 feet wide, 185 feet long and 40 feet high.
Each window offers a glimpse into another life and in effect tells another story. In one unit, a composer hunches over his piano struggling with his latest work. In another, a dancer practices compulsively. One apartment houses a lonely woman, unlucky in love, and another an amorous newly-wed couple.
In order to show shots from the point of view of the wheelchair-bound Jeff, cinematographer Robert Burks used many camera lenses, including a newly developed lens which showed the view as from a still camera. He also used a camera with a telephoto lens mounted on a crane to enable him to film small details through the windows across the courtyard.
Actors in apartments adjoining Jeff's are seen generally in long shot and had to receive instructions from Hitchcock via shortwave radio.
Hitchcock' trademark was to make a brief cameo appearance in all of his pictures, and he is seen in 'Rear Window' winding a clock in the apartment of Jeff's composer neighbour.
Main CastJames Stewart ... L. B. 'Jeff' Jefferies
Grace Kelly ... Lisa Carol Fremont
Wendell Corey ... Det. Lt. Thomas J. Doyle
Thelma Ritter ... Stella
Raymond Burr ... Lars Thorwald
Judith Evelyn ... Miss Lonelyhearts
Ross Bagdasarian ... Songwriter
Georgine Darcy ... Miss Torso
Sara Berner ... Wife living above Thorwalds
Frank Cady ... Husband living above Thorwalds
Jesslyn Fax ... Sculpting neighbor with hearing aid
Rand Harper ... Newlywed man
Irene Winston ... Mrs. Anna Thorwald
Havis Davenport ... Newlywed woman
Marla English ... Girl at songwriter's party
CreditsDirector ... Alfred Hitchcock
Producer ... Alfred Hitchcock
Production Company ... Patron, Inc., Paramount Pictures
Story by ... Cornell Woolrich (from a short story)
Screenplay ... John Michael Hayes
Cinematography ... Robert Burks
Format ... Color (Technicolor)
Duration ... 112 mins
Release Date ... 1 August, 1954
Academy AwardsNo Wins:
Four Unsuccessful Nominations:
Director ... Alfred Hitchcock
Writing (Screenplay) ... John Michael Hayes Cinematography (Color) ... Robert Burks
Sound Recording ... Loren L. Ryder (Paramount SSD)