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|
|Edited by||George Tomasini|
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures[N 1]|
|Box office||$36.8 million|
Rear Window is a 1954 American mystery thriller film directed by Alfred Hitchcock and written by John Michael Hayes 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 and one of the greatest films ever made. It received four Academy Award nominations and was ranked number 42 on AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies list and number 48 on the 10th-anniversary edition, and in 1997 was added to the United States National Film Registry in the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
Recuperating from a broken leg, adventuresome professional photographer L. B. "Jeff" Jefferies is confined to a wheelchair in his apartment in Chelsea, Manhattan. His rear window looks out onto a courtyard and several other apartments. During an intense heat wave, he watches his neighbors, who keep their windows open to stay cool.
He observes a flamboyant dancer he nicknames "Miss Torso"; a single woman he calls "Miss Lonelyhearts"; a talented, single, composer-pianist; several married couples, one of them newlyweds; a middle-aged couple with a small dog that likes digging in the flower garden; a female amateur sculptor; and Lars Thorwald, a traveling jewelry salesman with a bedridden wife.
Jeff's sophisticated, beautiful socialite girlfriend, Lisa Fremont, visits him regularly, as does the insurance company nurse, Stella. Stella thinks Jeff should settle down and marry Lisa, but Jeff is reluctant due to their disparate lifestyles.
One night during a thunderstorm, Jeff hears a woman scream, "Don't!" and then the sound of breaking glass. Later, he is awakened by thunder and observes Thorwald leaving his apartment, carrying a suitcase in pouring rain. Thorwald makes repeated late-night trips carrying the case. The next morning, Jeff notices that Thorwald's wife is gone, and then sees Thorwald cleaning a large knife and handsaw. Later, Thorwald has moving men haul away a large trunk he tied with rope. Jeff shares all this with Lisa and with Stella, who both think he has an overactive imagination, but come to believe him when they observe Thorwald acting suspiciously.
Jeff becomes convinced that Thorwald has murdered his wife. Jeff calls his friend Tom Doyle, a New York City Police detective, and asks him to investigate Thorwald. Doyle finds nothing suspicious; apparently, Mrs. Thorwald is upstate, and picked up the trunk herself.
Soon after, the neighbor's dog is found dead with its neck broken. The distraught owner yells across the courtyard, wailing about her neighbors' callous disregard. Everyone runs to their windows to see what is happening, except for Thorwald, whose cigar is seen glowing as he sits quietly in his dark apartment.
Certain Thorwald killed the dog, Jeff has Lisa slip an accusatory note under his door so he can observe Thorwald's reaction reading it. As a pretext to get Thorwald out of his apartment, Jeff then telephones him and arranges a meeting at a bar. He believes Thorwald buried something incriminating in the courtyard flower bed, and killed the dog to stop it digging there. When Thorwald leaves, Lisa and Stella dig up the flowers but find nothing.
Much to Jeff's amazement and admiration, Lisa climbs up the fire escape to Thorwald's apartment and clambers in through an open window. When Thorwald returns and confronts Lisa, Jeff calls the police, who arrive in time, arresting her when Thorwald indicates that she broke in. Jeff sees Lisa's hands behind her back, pointing to her finger with Mrs. Thorwald's wedding ring on it. Thorwald also sees this, and, realizing that she is signaling someone, spots Jeff across the courtyard.
Jeff phones Doyle and leaves an urgent message while Stella goes to bail Lisa out of jail. When his phone rings, Jeff assumes it is Doyle, and blurts out that the suspect has left the apartment. When no one answers, Jeff realizes that Thorwald himself called and is coming to confront him. When Thorwald enters, Jeff repeatedly sets off his camera flashbulbs, temporarily blinding him. Thorwald grabs Jeff and pushes him out the open window, as Jeff, hanging on, yells for help. Police enter the apartment as Jeff falls; officers on the ground run over and break his fall. Thorwald confesses to the police soon afterward.
A few days later, the heat has lifted, and Jeff rests peacefully in his wheelchair, now with casts on both legs. The lonely neighbor is chatting with the pianist in his apartment, the dancer's boyfriend returns home from the army, the couple whose dog was killed have a new puppy, Thorwald's apartment is being refurbished and the newlyweds are bickering.
Lisa reclines on the daybed in Jeff's apartment, wearing jeans, reading a book titled Beyond the High Himalayas. After seeing that Jeff is sleeping, Lisa happily opens a fashion magazine.
The film was shot entirely at Paramount Studios, which included an enormous indoor set to replicate a Greenwich Village courtyard. Set designers Hal Pereira and Joseph MacMillan Johnson spent six weeks building the extremely detailed and complex set, which ended up being the largest of its kind at Paramount. One of the unique features of the set was its massive drainage system, constructed to accommodate the rain sequence in the film. They also built the set around a highly nuanced lighting system which was able to create natural-looking lighting effects for both the day and night scenes. Though the address given in the film is 125 W. Ninth Street in New York's Greenwich Village, the set was actually based on a real courtyard located at 125 Christopher Street.
In addition to the meticulous care and detail put into the set, careful attention was also given to sound, including the use of natural sounds and music that would drift across the courtyard and into Jefferies' 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' ballet Fancy Free (1944), Richard Rodgers' song "Lover" (1932), and "M'appari tutt'amor" from Friedrich von Flotow's opera Martha (1844), most borrowed from Paramount's music publisher, Famous Music.
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") written 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.
On August 4, 1954, a "benefit world premiere" was held for the film, with United Nations officials and "prominent members of the social and entertainment worlds" at the Rivoli Theatre 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 Milton S. Eisenhower, brother of President Eisenhower).
On September 25, 2012, Universal Studios Home Entertainment released Rear Window for the first time on Blu-ray as part of the "Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection". This edition included numerous supplemental features such as an audio commentary from John Fawell, excerpts from Hitchcock's interview with François Truffaut, two theatrical trailers, and an interview with the film's screenwriter John Michael Hayes.
On May 6, 2014, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment re-released Rear Window on Blu-ray with the same supplemental features.
Bosley Crowther of The New York Times called the film a "tense and exciting exercise" and deemed Hitchcock as 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 noted that "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."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."
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 reviewer also noted the "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."Harrison's Reports named the film as a "first-rate thriller" that is "strictly an adult entertainment, but it should prove to be a popular one." They further added, "What helps to make the story highly entertaining is the fact that is enhanced by clever dialogue and by delightful touches of comedy and romance that relieve the tension."
Nearly 30 years after the film's initial release, Roger Ebert reviewed the re-release by Universal Pictures 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."
The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reports an approval rating of 99% based on 70 reviews, with an average rating of 9.16/10. The critics' consensus states that "Hitchcock exerted full potential of suspense in this masterpiece." At Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 100 out of 100 based on 18 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".
|Date of ceremony||Award||Category||Subject||Result|
|August 22 to September 7, 1954||Venice Film Festival||Golden Lion||Alfred Hitchcock||Nominated|
|December 20, 1954||National Board of Review Awards||Best Actress||Grace Kelly||Won|
|January 1955||NYFCC Awards||Best Actress||Grace Kelly||Won|
|Best Director||Alfred Hitchcock||2nd place|
|February 13, 1955||DGA Award||Outstanding Achievement in Feature Film||Alfred Hitchcock||Nominated|
|February 28, 1955||Writers Guild of America Awards||Best Written American Drama||John Michael Hayes||Nominated|
|March 10, 1955||BAFTA Award||Best Film||Rear Window||Nominated|
|March 30, 1955||Academy Awards||Best Director||Alfred Hitchcock||Nominated|
|Best Adapted Screenplay||John Michael Hayes||Nominated|
|Best Cinematography - Color||Robert Burks||Nominated|
|Best Sound - Recording||Loren L. Ryder||Nominated|
|April 21, 1955||Edgar Allan Poe Awards||Best Motion Picture Screenplay||John Michael Hayes||Won|
|November 18, 1997||National Film Preservation Board||National Film Registry||Rear Window||Won|
|2002||Online Film & Television Association Award||OFTA Film Hall of Fame - Motion Picture||Rear Window||Won|
In Laura Mulvey's essay "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema," she identifies what she sees as voyeurism and scopophilia in Hitchcock's movies, with Rear Window used as an example of how she sees cinema as incorporating the patriarchy into the way that pleasure is constructed and signaled to the audience. Additionally, she sees the "male gaze" as especially evident in Rear Window in characters such as the dancer "Miss Torso;" she is both a spectacle for Jeff to enjoy, as well as for the audience (through his substitution).
In his book, Alfred Hitchcock's "Rear Window", John Belton further addresses the underlying issues of voyeurism which he asserts are evident in the film. He says "Rear Window's story is 'about' spectacle; it explores the fascination with looking and the attraction of that which is being looked at."
In his 1954 review of the film, François Truffaut suggested "this parable: The courtyard is the world, the reporter/photographer is the filmmaker, the binoculars stand for the camera and its lenses."
John Fawell notes in Dennis Perry's book, Hitchcock and Poe: The Legacy of Delight and Terror, that Hitchcock "recognized that the darkest aspect of voyeurism . . . is our desire for awful things to happen to people . . . to make ourselves feel better, and to relieve ourselves of the burden of examining our own lives." Hitchcock challenges the audience, forcing them to peer through his rear window and become exposed to, as Donald Spoto calls it in his 1976 book The Art of Alfred Hitchcock: Fifty Years of His Motion Pictures, the "social contagion" of acting as voyeur.
In an explicit example of a condemnation of voyeurism, Stella expresses her outrage at Jeffries' voyeuristic habits, saying, "In the old days, they'd put your eyes out with a red hot poker" and "What people ought to do is get outside and look in for a change."
One climactic scene in the film portrays both the positive and negative effects of voyeurism. Driven by curiosity and incessant watching, with Jeff watching from his window, Lisa sneaks into Thorwald's second-floor apartment, looking for clues, and is apprehended by him. Jeff is in obvious anxiety and is overcome with panic as he sees Thorwald walk into the apartment and notice the irregular placement of the purse on the bed. Jeff anxiously jitters in his wheelchair, and grabs his telephoto camera to watch the situation unfold, eventually calling the police because Miss Lonelyhearts is contemplating suicide in the neighboring apartment. Chillingly, Jeff watches Lisa in Thorwald's apartment rather than keeping an eye on the woman about to commit suicide. Thorwald turns off the lights, shutting off Jeff's sole means of communication with and protection of Lisa; Jeff still pays attention to the pitch-black apartment instead of Miss Lonelyhearts. The tension Jeff feels is unbearable and acutely distressing as he realizes that he is responsible for Lisa now that he cannot see her. The police go to the Thorwald apartment, the lights flicker on, and any danger coming toward Lisa is temporarily dismissed. Although Lisa is taken to jail, Jeff is utterly mesmerized by her dauntless actions.
With further analysis, Jeff's positive evolution understandably would be impossible without voyeurism--or as Robin Wood puts it in his 1989 book Hitchcock's Films Revisited, "the indulging of morbid curiosity and the consequences of that indulgence."
Ownership of the copyright in Woolrich's original story was eventually litigated before the Supreme Court of the United States in Stewart v. Abend. 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 distributed by Universal Studios in 1983, although the Hitchcock estate still retains ownership to the copyright to the film.
In 1997, Rear Window was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". By this time, the film interested other directors with its theme of voyeurism, and other reworkings of the film soon followed, which included Brian De Palma's 1984 film Body Double and Phillip Noyce's 1993 film Sliver.
Rear Window was restored by the team of Robert A. Harris and James C. Katz for its 1999 limited theatrical re-release (using Technicolor dye-transfer prints for the first time in this title's history) and the Collector's Edition DVD release in 2000.
American Film Institute included the film as number 42 in AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies, number 14 in AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills, number 48 in AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) and number three in AFI's 10 Top 10 (Mysteries).
Rear Window was remade as a TV 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 a 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.
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.