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Film / Rear Window

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"I'm not much on rear window ethics."
Lisa Fremont

Rear Window is a classic 1954 thriller film directed by Alfred Hitchcock, starring Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly.

L. B. "Jeff" Jeffries (Stewart) is a photojournalist who broke his leg during a dangerous assignment. He is confined to his small Greenwich Village apartment while recuperating, and out of boredom begins to spy on his various neighbors across the courtyard. He sees one of the neighbors, Lars Thorwald (Raymond Burr), acting suspiciously, and eventually becomes convinced that Thorwald killed his wife Anna (Irene Winston), a bedridden invalid who has gone missing. Jeff's girlfriend, Lisa Carol Fremont (Kelly), doesn't believe him at first, but soon changes her mind. After trying—and failing—to convince Jeff's police detective friend Tom Doyle (Wendell Corey) of the crime, Jeff, Lisa, and Jeff's nurse Stella (Thelma Ritter) come up with a plan to catch the killer themselves.

Adapted from Cornell Woolrich's 1942 short story "It Had to Be Murder," this is widely regarded as one of Hitchcock's very best films. It was remade in 1998 as a Made-for-TV Movie starring the late Christopher Reeve, who was actually paralyzed from the neck down. The 2007 film Disturbia with Shia LaBeouf is a modern day retelling, and it's far from the only one.

Tropes used in Rear Window:

  • Acoustic License: The audibility of sounds from across the courtyard varies widely for dramatic weight. Some sounds carry, while others that would be just as loud or louder aren't audible. For example, some conversational words are clearly audible, while shouted speech in other situations is just a faint muffle. Early in the film, Jeff is awoken by the sound of a door closing from a hundred feet away.
  • Actor Allusion: One photo in Jeff's apartment is him standing in front of a bomber during World War II. James Stewart had been a pilot during the war.
  • Adaptation Expansion: The film is based on Cornell Woolrich's short story "It Had to Be Murder," which didn't have the characters of Lisa and Stella.
  • Adaptation Title Change: As noted above, the source material's original title was "It Had to Be Murder," which was presumably renamed to give the movie a more memorable title and to keep the audience guessing about Thorwald.
  • Age-Gap Romance: There's a 21-year age difference between James Stewart and Grace Kelly. It's never acknowledged in dialogue. Stella even calls Jeff a "young man" when discussing his relationship with a "young woman," though she might be being facetious.
  • Anti-Hero: Jeff has no particularly heroic traits. He's obsessed with snooping on his neighbors and is a fairly lousy boyfriend to his "perfect" girlfriend. His interest in solving the murder is more about being right than seeking justice. In the climax of the film, he even prioritizes his own safety over that of Lisa's by continuing to hide in the shadows and remain silent while watching her be attacked.
  • Anti-Villain: Thorwald is not a particularly nefarious villain. He's a Henpecked Husband who seems to treat his wife well, serving her dinner in bed with a flower on the tray and fluffing her pillows, in spite of presumably carrying on an affair. When the neighbor's dog starts snooping around the garden the first time, he gently shoos it away rather than hit or yell at it. When Jeff confronts him about the murder, Thorwald seems to want to talk Jeff out of blackmailing him at first, and he makes no threats. Ultimately he comes across as a rather ordinary man who crossed a moral line.
  • Author Appeal: Grace Kelly is one of many blond leading ladies for Hitchcock.
  • Awful Wedded Life: The two scenes of the Thorwalds before Mrs. Thorwald vanishes make it clear their marriage is this. The newlyweds also descend into bickering by the end of the film.
  • Big Applesauce: Jeff's apartment is in Greenwich Village, and at one point he says that Lisa "belongs to the rarefied atmosphere of Park Avenue" to convey to idea that she is wealthy and upper-crust.
  • Binocular Shot: At several points we view things through Jeff's binoculars and/or telephoto lens.
  • Blinding Camera Flash: Jeff uses his camera's flash to temporarily stall Thornwald.
  • Bottle Episode: The action rarely leaves the perspective of Jeff's apartment, which means that the action is limited to Jeff's home, what he can see in the courtyard of the residential complex and the windows of other apartments. The only time that the movie leaves this limited perspective is when Thorwald pushes Jeff out of his window. While the effect is similar, Rear Window was the opposite of most TV Bottle Episodes, shot to save money: The entire courtyard was constructed on a sound stage; one of the largest in film history at the time. This gave Hitchcock precise control over lighting and camera angles — on the enormous courtyard set he often had to give actors direction via radio while he was shooting from the opposite side.
  • Bridal Carry: The newlyweds first enter their new apartment normally, getting everything settled with the landlord. Then they walk out just so he can carry her in this way.
  • Book Ends: The film begins and ends with Jeff resting in his wheelchair, except in the end, both of his legs are in cast.
  • Bury Your Disabled: It appears that Mrs. Thorwald is an invalid and implied that the stress of caring for her led her husband to adultery and murder.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The flashbulb (from the camera) that Jeff initially plans to use to signal Lisa to leave Thorwald's apartment comes in handy when Thorwald comes to Jeff's apartment. He uses the flash to stall Thorwald just long enough before Doyle and Lisa arrive to see what's happening.
  • Closed Circle: Jeff can't leave his apartment because of his broken leg.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: Miss Lonelyhearts wears a dark green dress on an especially bad night for her—she brings a man home, but he tries to rape her. She wears a light green one at the film's conclusion as she and the composer are hitting it off.
  • Come Back to Bed, Honey: At the beginning of the movie, a newly wed couple moves into an apartment close to Jeff's. They close their blinds and are not seen for a while. After a few days, the man is seen leaning out of the window, and his wife calls him back.
  • Convenient Photograph: L.B. Jeffries just happens to have a photograph taken across the apartment courtyard, revealing that the shrubs in Thorwald's garden have been disturbed, another indication Thorwald may have murdered his wife.
  • Creator Cameo: Hitch is seen tinkering with the clock in the songwriter's apartment.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Stella and Jeff.
  • Didn't Think This Through:
    • Despite knowing full well that Thorwald's seen him and knows who knows his secret, Jeff's nurse leaves him alone in his apartment—with the door unlocked!—while she goes to bail Lisa out of jail. Jeff's just damn lucky everyone returned when they did.
    • Thorwald gets blinded by Jeff's flashbulbs four times in a row. After the first time, you'd expect that he'd know what was about to happen when Jeff swaps out a new bulb, slaps his hand over his eyes, and holds up his camera. Instead, Thorwald stops, winces, adjusts his glasses and waits for his eyes to recover each and every time.
    • The mere fact that Thorwald is coming to kill Jeff in the first place. Despite the fact that he must know that the cops are already suspicious of him, he's trying to do something that would undoubtedly get him caught.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?:
    • Unable to see into an apartment with a pair of binoculars, Jeff picks up a telescopic lens—in other words, longer—and is visibly satisfied now that he can see better. An analysis of the film outright describes this as "an optical erection." Plus the fact that voyeurism is already a sexually deviant activity (even though this isn't the reason Jeff is spying on his neighbors), it's pretty obvious this is typical of Hitchcock's style.
    • Also, at the beginning of the movie, after watching Miss Torso dance around in her underwear, he reaches into his pants and... relieves an itch with a wooden backscratcher under his cast. The look of relief on his face is amazing.
  • Drowning His Sorrows: The struggling songwriter comes home drunk and scatters the sheet music off his piano in frustration, much to Jeff's amusement.
  • Failed Attempt at Drama: When Jeff tells Lisa that their lifestyles are too different and their relationship can't work, she's about to leave:
    Lisa: Goodbye, Jeff.
    Jeff: You mean, 'Good night.'
    Lisa: I mean what I said.
    Jeff: Well, Lisa, couldn't we just, uh, couldn't we just keep things status quo?
    Lisa: Without any future?
    Jeff: Well, when am I gonna see you again?
    Lisa: Not for a long time... At least not until tomorrow night.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: At the end, Miss Lonelyhearts and the Songwriter get together after his music gets her out of her suicide attempt and after Jeff's successful yet perilous run-in with Thorwald (where the neighbors were rushing out to the courtyard).
  • Fourth Wall Psych: When Thornwald finally locks eyes with Jeff, he is also staring at the audience.
  • The Fourth Wall Will Not Protect You: Jeff becomes a victim of this In-Universe: after Thornwald catches Lisa's signal to Jeff, he immediately detects Jeff observing him through the camera and follows up on his threat by calling Jeff's phone before invading the apartment.
  • Free Wheel: The photographs seen in the opening credits indicate that this is how Jeff broke his leg: being struck by a flying wheel while photographing a crash at a motor race.
  • Friend on the Force: Doyle to Jeff.
  • The Ghost: Thorwald's lover, whom he speaks to on the phone long-distance.
  • Girl Friday: Lisa to Jeff. The trope is even discussed by them:
    Lisa: You're not up on your private eye literature. When they're in trouble, it's always their Girl Friday who gets them out of it.
    Jeff: Well, is she the girl that saves him from the clutches of the seductive showgirls and the overpassionate daughters of the rich?
    Lisa: The same.
    Jeff: That's the one, huh? It's funny, he never ends up marrying her, does he, huh? That's strange.
    Lisa: Weird.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: A scream and the sound of breaking glass is all we and Jeff hear of Mrs. Thorwald's murder.
  • Heat Wave: The film takes place during a heat wave, which explains why everyone has their windows and drapes pulled wide open for easy viewing.
  • Henpecked Husband: A running theme. Jeff notes that the Thorwalds across the street consist of a nagging wife and her husband. He claims that all women inevitably start nagging when they get married, and he fears that Lisa will do the same should he marry her. Doyle seems perpetually unenthusiastic about returning home to his wife. When he wryly claims that modern women don't "nag," they "discuss," it sounds like he's repeating something his wife told him. In the end, we see that the young newlywed wife across the way has already started nagging her husband. note 
  • Heroic Seductress: Lisa pretty much defines the trope phrase "not every sexy girl in fiction is evil." She feels ashamed about their suspicions:
    Lisa: You and me with long faces, plunged into despair because we find out a man didn't kill his wife. We're two of the most frightening ghouls I've ever known. You'd think we could be a little bit happier that the poor woman is alive and well. Whatever happened to that old saying: "Love thy neighbor"?
  • Hidden Depths: At the beginning, Jeff is considering breaking up with Lisa because he thinks she isn't intrepid enough to keep up with him. By the time she slips Thorwald the note, it's safe to say he's beginning to revise his opinion.
  • Hypochondria: Implied in the case of Anna Thorwald. She languishes in bed all day, waited on by her husband, who serves her dinner in bed after fluffing up her pillows. However, when she hears him on the phone, presumably to his mistress, she seems perfectly capable of getting out of bed, confronting him and laughing derisively at him. Her hypochondria is presumably what drove the couple apart.
  • I Take Offense to That Last One: When Jeff is trying to convince Lisa that she couldn't adapt to his lifestyle:
    Jeff: Did you ever get shot at? Did you ever get run over? Did you ever get sandbagged at night because somebody got unfavourable publicity from your camera? Did you ever... Those high heels, they'll be great in the jungle and the nylons and those six ounce lingerie...
    Lisa: Three!
  • In-Universe Camera: This occurs when Jeff uses his camera to get a better look at his neighbors.
  • In-Universe Soundtrack: Most of the background music comes from the apartment of Jeff's neighbor, a songwriter playing the piano. At one point, Lisa acknowledges that the neighbor's music conveniently sets the mood of her dinner with Jeff.
    Lisa: It's almost as if it were being written especially for us.
  • Incriminating Indifference: Jeff and Lisa have begun to have doubts about Thorwald's guilt when they notice his reaction—that is none at all—to the woman hysterically shrieking about her murdered dog—everyone else comes to their window to see what the fuss is all about while he continues to smoke in his dark apartment.
  • Insatiable Newlyweds: The newlywed couple close the blinds to commence lovemaking and aren't seen again for some time.
  • Insistent Terminology: When Jeff says that wives inevitable start nagging, Doyle replies that modern women don't "nag," they "discuss." Jeff counters that from where he's sitting, "discussing" looks a lot like "nagging."
  • Interrupted Suicide: Miss Lonelyhearts sets a fistful of pills beside a glass of water by her bedside, sits down with a Bible, and later can be seen writing something out at her desk. Jeff doesn't catch on until it's almost too late and calls the cops. Luckily, she's inspired by the Composer's music to call it off.
  • Kick the Dog: Subverted. Jeff and the neighbors fear for the dog because it messes with Thorwald's flowers, and he's a murderer. When he first encounters the dog digging in his flower bed, however, he gently shoos it away. The dog later turns up dead, however, and Jeff immediately identifies Thorwald as the killer.
  • Kuleshov Effect: Used extensively. Stewart actually complained that Hitchcock used the editing of the film in general to create a different performance than the one that was given.
  • Lap Pillow: Lisa holds Jeff's head in her lap after Thorwald throws him out of the window.
  • Last-Name Basis: Everybody calls L. B. Jeffries "Jeff."
  • Lingerie Scene: Lisa has one. She calls it "preview of coming attractions."
  • Logo Joke: The Paramount logo appears on Jeff's blinds as they close during the end of the movie.
  • The Loins Sleep Tonight: Jeff's inability to pop the champagne cork on the bottle Lisa brings him has been deemed by film analysts as symbolic of his impotence.
  • Love Epiphany: Jeff, about Lisa, after she leaves Thorwald the note. She runs back to the apartment, breathlessly asking what his reaction was, and Jeff's look seems to fit in with this trope.
  • Maybe Ever After: Jeff and Lisa are a couple at the end - the question is whether they are going to last. Early on, Jeff says that their relationship can't work out, because their lifestyles are too different. Lisa can't really counter this, but they still remain together. The ending scene shows the ambiguity of their future; Lisa is wearing a shirt and pants instead of her earlier, impractical high fashion outfits, and she reads a book called Beyond the High Himalayas. However, once she notices that Jeff has fallen asleep, she trades the for a fashion magazine and smiles, suggesting that she hasn't quite given up on her fashionista lifestyle.
  • Meta Twist: Unlike many other Hitchcock movies, the plot is entirely straightforward.
  • Missed Him by That Much: Lisa just barely escapes detection by Thorwald after slipping him the note. She isn't as lucky the next time when she sneaks into his apartment.
  • Mood Killer: When Lisa is making out with Jeff, he kills the mood by rambling on about the suspicious things going on in Thorwald's apartment. Lisa eventually pulls away and gets upset, but once she sees something suspicious herself, she's ready to actually hear him out.
  • Ms. Fanservice: One of Jeff's neighbours, "Miss Torso," is a ballet dancer, who dances around in her bra and panties.
  • Naughty Birdwatching: Jeff watching "Miss Torso" with his binoculars.
  • No Name Given: Jeff's first name is never revealed, and neither is Stella's last name. Aside from Thorwald, none of the people living in the apartment are given names either, only nick names such as "Miss Torso" or "Miss Lonelyhearts."
  • Nosy Neighbor: Jeff, though only because he's bored.
  • Not So Above It All: Jeff thinks Lisa is super-snobbish and wealthy because she has on a designer dress and eats lobster for dinner. She tartly informs him the dress is on loan and the food was free to press, and she cooks her own meals, thank you very much.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Thorwald and Jeffries when Thorwald finally notices Jeffries watching him. It's quite an experience watching this scene with an audience.
    • Jeff's reaction after he picks up the phone and starts babbling to Doyle... only to be greeted with dead silence and realize that it wasn't Doyle calling him, but Thorwald.
  • Only Known by Initials: L. B. "Jeff" Jeffries.
  • Pair the Spares: Miss Lonelyhearts and Songwriter, who spent the whole movie bemoaning their lack of luck at love, meet and fall in love at the end.
  • The Peeping Tom: Jeff entertains himself for weeks by watching his neighbors from his rear window. And by extension the viewer.
  • Phallic Weapon: The telescopic lens that Jeff uses to spy on people, especially since it's visibly longer than the binoculars he was using.
  • Police Are Useless: Jeff is forced to do his own investigations after Doyle, an NYPD detective, gives up on the case.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: Gently, as Lisa turns on some lamps after waking up Jeff:
    Reading from top to bottom, Lisa... Carol... Fremont.
  • Put Off Their Food: Stella's musing over murder methods put Jeff off his breakfast.
    "Now just where do you suppose he cut her up?"
    (Jeff stops just before putting some bacon in his mouth)
    "Oh — Of course! In the bathtub. That's the only place he could wash away the blood."
    (Jeff puts down the bacon)
  • Reality Has No Soundtrack: With the exception of music coming from the composer's apartment or what people are playing on their own radios, there's no music in the film.
  • Rear Window Investigation: The Trope Namer. Lisa sneaks into Thorwald's apartment while is is out to look for evidence to prove Jeff's theory.
  • Rear Window Witness: The Trope Namer. Jeff is laid up with a broken leg and sees enough to make him suspect that his neighbour has murdered his wife. Later he can only watch as the might-be killer returns to the apartment while his girlfriend is searching it.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: The woman who's dog gets killed is so distraught that one of her neighbors is likely responsible that she directs an angry rant at the entire apartment block:
    WHICH ONE OF YOU DID IT? WHICH ONE OF YOU KILLED MY DOG? You don't know the meaning of the word 'neighbors'! Neighbors like each other, speak to each other, care if somebody lives or dies! BUT NONE OF YOU DO!
  • Redhead In Green: Miss Lonelyhearts has auburn hair and tends to wear green dresses in the film.
  • Remaster: By 1997, the original negative had deteriorated so badly, the scene where Lisa wakes Jeff had a green tint. Robert A. Harris and James Katz fixed the colors by creating a new technique of restoring a film's yellow layer.
  • Right Place, Right Time, Wrong Reason: Jeff discovers the murder because of his voyeurism.
  • Running Gag: Lisa awkwardly waves at Jeff whenever she's "on assignment" in his view.
  • Servile Snarker: Stella.
  • Shadow Archetype: Miss Torso and Miss Lonelyhearts are this to Lisa, and she draws a comparison between them. Many of the movements Miss Lonelyhearts makes are similar to Lisa's in the same scene, and Lisa empathizes with Miss Torso fending off advances of "wolves."
  • Shotgun Wedding: When Stella is asking about Jeff's trouble with Lisa, she asks if Mr. Fremont is "loading up the shotgun" and quips that the world's happiest marriages happened under a shotgun.
  • Slip into Something More Comfortable:
    Lisa: (removing jacket) Why don't I slip into something more comfortable?
    Jeff: Oh, by all means.
    Lisa: I mean like the kitchen and make us some coffee.
    • Later, she does put on a sexy nightgown.
    Lisa: Preview of coming attractions.
  • Something Else Also Rises: Jeff using a telescopic lens for his voyeurism has been described as an "optical erection"—note how satisfied he is now that he can see better with it than the binoculars he was using.
  • Source Music: All of the music is diegetic.
  • Stay in the Kitchen: A subversion — Lisa is proud she can cook for herself, and not rely on anyone else.
  • Subtext:
    • One interpretation of the movie is that it is a commentary on the institution of marriage, and the story is really about Jeff and Lisa more than it is about Thorwald. The fact that the once happy newlywed couple has begun to bicker also raises the ominous hint that they might end up like the Thorwalds.
    • More often, it's viewed as a commentary on the medium of film itself and the window it gives the audience into other people's stories.
  • Title Drop:
    Jeff: I wonder if it is ethical to watch a man with binoculars and a long focus lens. Do you, do you suppose it's ethical even if you prove that he didn't commit a crime?
    Lisa: I'm not much on rear window ethics.
  • Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: The pretty ballet dancer who has spent the film fending off the advances of several male model types is seen happily welcoming home her chubby, bespectacled lover at the end of the movie.
  • Unlimited Wardrobe: Lisa, even lampshaded.
    Jeff: Is this the Lisa Fremont who never wears the same dress twice?
    Lisa: Only because it's expected of her.
  • The Voice: Gunnison, Jeff's editor at the magazine (voiced by Gig Young).
  • Weaponized Camera: The Blinding Camera Flash that Jeff uses to temporarily stall Thorwald.
  • Window Watcher: The film revolves entirely around this trope.
  • World of Snark: Jeff, Lisa, Stella and Doyle all get in some stinging one-liners.
  • You Bastard!: Jeff is a Peeping Tom who secretly observes his neighbors for entertainment as he has nothing better to do. It's almost as if Jeff is watching a movie.
  • Your Door Was Open: Her dialogue isn't very clear, but this seems to be one of the excuses Lisa gives Thorwald for being in his apartment.