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. He 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 Lt. 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.
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:
- 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.
- Adult Fear: Mrs. Thorwald's death, given that the disabled are especially prone to abuse and violence. It also foreshadows Jeff's situation at the end. Related to that, there's the possibility of a once presumably happy marriage being strained to the point of adultery and murder by one's illness.
- Author Appeal: Grace Kelly is one of many blonde leading ladies for Hitchcock.
- Awful Wedded Life: The two scenes of the Thorwalds before Mrs. Thorwald vanishes make it clear their marriage is this.
- Binocular Shot: At several points we view things through Jeff's binoculars and/or telephoto lens.
- Blinding Camera Flash: Used to stall the killer.
- Bottle Episode: The action rarely leaves the perspective of Jeff's apartment, which means that the action is limited to Jeff's apartment, what he can see in the courtyard of the apartment 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Creator Cameo: Hitch is seen tinkering with the clock in the songwriter's apartment.
- Deadpan Snarker: Stella and Jeff.
- Death of a Child: The dog and technically, Mrs. Thorwald—she's an adult, but she's disabled, a demographic usually covered by this trope.
- 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.
- Exploring the Evil Lair
- 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 got together after her music got her out of her suicidal attempt and after Jeff's successful yet perilous run-in with Thorwald (where the neighbors were rushing out to the courtyard).
- Friend on the Force: Doyle to Jeff.
- 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.
- Heat Wave / Empathic Environment: At the beginning of the movie, the camera shows a thermometer that reads about 90 degrees but it's a more comfortable 70 something after the murderer is caught and the other residents of the building begin to happily go on with their lives.
- 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.
- 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: See Come Back to Bed, Honey
- Interrupted Suicide: Miss Lonelyhearts. The composer playing music stops her from taking the pills.
- 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...
- Kick the Dog: Thorwald kills a neighboring couple's dog because it had discovered the corpse (well, part of it) of his wife in the flower bed.
- Initially averted, though — when he first catches the dog digging around, you expect him to do something but he gently shoos it away.
- 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."
- 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.
- Logo Joke: The Paramount logo appears on Jeff's blinds as they close during the end of the movie.
- 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. 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 puts the book away, and starts reading a fashion magazine — showing that she hasn't really changed.
- 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:
- Lisa kisses Jeff in Slow Motion and strikes a semi romantic conversation, but the darkness of the apartment at the time prompts Jeff to ask: "Who are you?"
- Later, when they're making out, Jeff kills the mood again with talking about the suspicious things going on in Thorwald's apartment.
- 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 Accounting for Taste: Jeff and Lisa know that their relationship wouldn't work, because their lifestyles are way too different, but they're still unable to break up.
- 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 Lonely-Hearts."
- 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.
- Not So Different / Shadow Archetype: There is a theory floating around that Miss Torso and Miss Lonely-Hearts are this to Lisa. This isn't so far-fetched when you consider that many of the movements Miss Lonely-Hearts makes are similar to Lisa's in the same scene and that Lisa empathizes with Miss Torso (and bears a slight resemblance to her) fending off advances of "wolves."
- Plus the possibility that Jeff and Lisa's relationship might not work out. Lovely and charming as she is, Lisa might end up just as lonely as Miss Lonely-Hearts — who, ironically, is finally taking steps to come out of her shell and improve her life as the film ends.
- She explicitly draws a comparison between them, albeit as a bitter aside to Jeff in their first scene together after their big argument.
- There are similarities with Mrs. Thorwald as well, seen sniping at her husband as he serves her dinner, again mirroring the strained relationship between Jeff and Lisa.
- 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, it was Thorwald.
- Only Known by Initials: L. B. "Jeff" Jeffries.
- Pair the Spares: Miss Lonely-Hearts 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. And by extension the viewer.
- Police Are Useless: Jeff's friend, Doyle, who is a police detective, dismisses his theory, but it's subverted in that his arguments are very convincing.
- 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.
- Redhead In Green: Miss Lonely-Hearts 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.
- Servile Snarker: Stella.
- 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.
Lisa: Preview of coming attractions.
- Later, she does put on a sexy nightgown.
- 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.
- And the fact that the once happy newlywed couple has begun to bicker 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.
- Too Dumb to Live: Despite knowing full well that Thorwald's seen him and knows who knows his secret, Jeff's nurse leaves him alone in his apartment while she goes to bail Lisa out of jail. Jeff's just damn lucky everyone returned when they did.
- 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. And what little we see of Mrs. Thorwald implies that she's better-looking than her husband.
- Unbuilt Trope: Lisa wasn't a very common female name in America at the time (in fact, this film seems to have contributed to its future popularity), so at the time the European pronunciation "Leeza" was more common and that's what gets used in the film. Today, it seems like a case of It Is Pronounced Tropay.
- 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 against 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.
- Your Cheating Heart: It appears the reason Thorwald killed his wife is because he was having an affair.