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- TCM's The Essentials:Rear Window: Read a TCM article about why this film is an 'Essential'
- TCM's The Essentials - Pop Culture: Rear Window: Read a TCM article about the pop culture influence of this film
- TCM's The Essentials - Trivia:Rear Window: Read a TCM article covering trivia for this film
- TCM's The Essentials - The Big Idea:Rear Window: Read a TCM article covering The Big Idea for this film
- TCM's The Essentials - Behind the Camera:Rear Window: Read a TCM article covering Behind the Camera for this film
- TCM's The Essentials - The Critics Corner:Rear Window: Read a TCM article covering The Critics Corner for this film
Professional photographer L.B. "Jeff" Jeffries is confined to a wheelchair in his Greenwich Village apartment after an on-the-job accident, attended by Stella, an insurance nurse, and his fashion-industry girlfriend Lisa Fremont. Passing the time by looking out of his window into all the other apartments surrounding his rear courtyard, Jeff comes to believe that one of his neighbors has killed his wife, chopped up her body and disposed of it. At first, Lisa and Stella are skeptical, but eventually they get swept up in the mystery. Although Jeff has always felt his relationship with Lisa was doomed by her urban refinement and unrealistic expectations, when she puts herself in jeopardy to help him solve the crime, he begins to see her in a new light.
Producer/Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Screenplay: John Michael Hayes, based on the story "It Had to Be Murder" by Cornell Woolrich
Cinematography: Robert Burks
Editing: George Tomasini
Art Direction: Joseph MacMillan Johnson, Hal Pereira
Music: Franz Waxman, Jay Livingston
Cast: James Stewart (L.B. "Jeff" Jeffries), Grace Kelly (Lisa Fremont), Thelma Ritter (Stella), Wendell Corey (Lt. Tom Doyle), Raymond Burr (Thorwald), Judith Evelyn (Miss Lonelyheart).
Why Rear Window is Essential
A simple plot synopsis of Rear Window cannot reveal what makes this Alfred Hitchcock film a constant delight after repeated viewings but also a serious object of study for film students and theorists. It works on so many levels: as a crowd-pleasing exercise in suspense, an insider study of the act of watching a film and a bleakly humorous love story. And, as director/film scholar Peter Bogdanovich and others have observed, it is "perhaps the best example of what Hitchcock's cinema stood for." According to the director's daughter Pat, this is "Hitchcock 101 - you have the anti-hero, the cool blonde, the humor, a grisly murder, a love story, and dialogue about food."
You also have Hitchcock's examination of what the act of making and viewing a movie is all about. By now, everyone is familiar with the myriad comments on how skillfully the movie puts us in the position of voyeur by filming all but a couple very brief moments from James Stewart's point of view looking out from his character's apartment. Rear Window was also Hitchcock's greatest demonstration of Kuleshov's theories of how editing effects perception. The Russian film theorist noted how you could take a shot of an actor's essentially blank face and, depending on what you intercut with it, change what the audience believes to be the emotion the actor is expressing. By showing us what Stewart sees (or thinks he sees) and cutting back to him, Hitchcock makes us complicit in his voyeurism and in his emotional responses. On the other hand, by giving us a quick glimpse of what Stewart misses, Hitchcock demonstrates his manipulation of suspense: let the audience in on a plot point the characters don't know and you get a much bigger payoff than relying on the simple and fleeting element of surprise.
By Hitchcock's own admission, Rear Window is his most fully cinematic work, and he was very pleased with the way he was able to tell so much of the story visually (as when we are introduced to James Stewart's character in a pan of his apartment that gives us all the information we need about his profession, his injury and the kind of man he is). But beyond the visual look and pace of the film, the use of sound is equally and impressively cinematic. Everything we hear on screen after the opening title sequence is diagetic, meaning there is no music or sound effect that isn't supposed to be coming from a source within the story. The sounds pop in and out of our ears, some loud and demanding our focus, others barely heard, fragments drifting by, offering not only clues to the mystery plot but amplifying and coloring the characters and their relationships. Not surprisingly, the studio sound technicians were honored with an Academy Award nomination for their work.
No one comes away from this film, however, feeling as if they've just witnessed a mere technical stunt. What makes it a great movie is the way the director's use of technique, suspense, even humor, work so strongly in the service of the human story beneath the mystery plot -- the complex, obviously sexual relationship between Jeff and Lisa, as played by Stewart and Grace Kelly. The murder in this case is more or less the MacGuffin, rather like the bottled uranium in Notorious (1946), another Hitchcock movie in which the plot is really the framework for a darkly intricate love story. All of the lives Jeff observes from his rear window have one common denominator; they all in some way reflect different aspects of love and relationships. They all have a bearing on Jeff's view of love and marriage. Even when Lisa goes into the murderer's apartment, the proof she finds of his crime is his wife's wedding ring, which she places on her finger and points to for the benefit of the watching Jeff. On one level, she's letting him know she found the vital clue; on another, she's challenging him (now that she's "proved" herself) to stop coming up with excuses and marry her.
Everyone has a different favorite Hitchcock film, but regardless of preference, just about everyone has affection and admiration for this movie. In its perfect wedding of pure cinema to a rich and enjoyable human story, Rear Window is arguably the most characteristic Hitchcock, the kind of movie that, in critic David Thomson's view, led the director to become "a way of defining film, a man exclusively intent on the moving image, and the compulsive emotions of the spectator."
by Jeremy Arnold, Rob Nixon and Jeff Stafford
Rear Window (1954)
Pop Culture 101 - REAR WINDOW
Rear Window was remade in China as Hou Chuang (1955) and as a TV movie starring Christopher Reeve in 1998. The TV remake made use of the fact that in real life, Reeve was paralyzed after a horseback riding accident. The new version added several updates to the story, including an apartment fitted out in high-tech living-assistance gadgets and a gay couple as two of the neighbors Reeve sees from his window. The movie also featured Robert Forster as the skeptical detective friend played by Wendell Corey in the original. That same year, Forster also appeared in Gus Van Sant's remake of Hitchcock's Psycho (1960).
The film was painstakingly restored by Robert A. Harris and James C. Katz, who also restored Vertigo (1958) and other movies. According to Katz, when Hitchcock got the rights to the film from Paramount in 1967, "he also got terrible advice on storing it in a non-air-conditioned warehouse in L.A. And he was advised, too, to junk many parts of it." By 1983, when Universal got the rights to this film and four others from the Hitchcock estate, the remaining negatives were yellowed, faded and heavily damaged by handling, according to Harris, who began the full-scale restoration in 1997.
Working with Universal Studios' restoration chief, Bob O'Neill, the two employed complicated techniques and digital tweaking to achieve the stunning new print that exists today.
This wasn't the first time Hitchcock set himself the challenge of restricting his story to only one set: Lifeboat (1944), Rope (1948), and most of Dial M for Murder (1954).
The film features an extended scene of James Stewart and Grace Kelly kissing and talking intimately, echoing very similar scenes in Hitchcock's Notorious (1946) and North by Northwest (1959).
It has been said that Jeff and Lisa's relationship was partly inspired by screenwriter John Michael Hayes' marriage to a fashion model and by the affair Ingrid Bergman was having with photographer Robert Capa while filming Notorious (1946). Hayes also used the element of career/marriage conflict in another Hitchcock picture, The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956).
Stewart referred to the murdered dog in the picture as "The Dog Who Knew Too Much," after Hitchcock's British-made 1934 thriller. In 1956, Stewart starred in the remake of that movie.
Evil doings overseen from windows and through various types of magnifying lenses have figured into several suspense films, among them The Window (1949), The Bedroom Window (1987) and Body Double (1984), one of the many references and homages to Hitchcock by director Brian De Palma. The equation of filmmaking and viewing, voyeurism and murder was most strikingly pushed to its limits in Michael Powell's Peeping Tom (1960), which, in its shocking approach and affect on critics and audiences, was to England what Psycho (1960) was to the U.S.
A similar premise was used in the Woody Allen comedy Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993), in which Diane Keaton struggles to convince husband Allen that their neighbor may be involved in murder. Allen's film refers to plot and suspense elements of Rear Window but also resembles it in its use of a thriller story (albeit a comic one) to examine a faltering romantic relationship.
Regardless of what pen name he used (and he had several), Cornell Woolrich's stories have formed the basis for a number of suspense films and crime thrillers, including Phantom Lady (1944), which was produced by Joan Harrison, who worked on the screenplays for five Hitchcock movies and appeared in the original The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934). Woolrich's stories were also adapted for several episodes of Hitchcock's TV show; Mississippi Mermaid (1969), directed by Francois Truffaut; and The Window (1949), no relation to Rear Window, although its storyline does follow the perils of a young boy who witnesses a murder from a city fire escape.
Songs used in the background as somewhat ironic comments on the movie's themes and relationships appeared in other movies. "Mona Lisa" won the Best Song Academy Award when it first appeared in the Alan Ladd picture Captain Carey, U.S.A. (1950). "To See You (Is to Love You)" was sung by Bing Crosby in Road to Bali (1952). Miss Torso is seen practicing her dance moves to Leonard Bernstein's ballet music "Fancy Free." Dean Martin's hit, "That's Amore," has appeared in at least 10 other movies, including Moonstruck (1987).
Composer Franz Waxman borrowed themes and passages from his other film scores, including A Place in the Sun (1951) and Elephant Walk (1954).
by Rob Nixon
Rear Window (1954)
REAR WINDOW - Trivia and Other Fun Stuff
The movie premiered in August 1954 at New York's Rivoli Theater as a benefit for the American-Korean Foundation, a postwar relief fund. By May 1956 the film had grossed more than $10 million.
Ad campaigns for the film's re-release featured Hitchcock saying: "Rear Window is such a frightening picture that one should never see it unless accompanied by an audience."
Alfred Hitchcock makes his traditional director cameo winding a clock in the composer's apartment.
Cinematographer Robert Burks had a long and successful beginning in the mid-1940s and cut short by his death in a house fire in 1968 at the age of 58. He was the director of photography on a number of well-known pictures, including King Vidor's The Fountainhead (1949), The Spirit of St. Louis (1957), starring James Stewart, and The Music Man (1962). But it was his work for Hitchcock for which he'll always be best known. Beginning with Strangers on a Train (1951), he shot every Hitchcock film through Marnie (1964) except Psycho (1960) - 12 movies in all. He was Oscar®-nominated for Strangers on a Train, Rear Window, and one non-Hitchcock movie, A Patch of Blue (1965). He won for his gorgeous color photography of the Riviera in To Catch a Thief (1955).
Hitchcock and costume designer Edith Head first worked together on Notorious (1946). After Hitchcock contracted with Head's home studio, Paramount, in the 1950s, she designed the clothing for 10 more of his pictures, beginning with this one and extending through his last, Family Plot (1976). She received an Oscar® nomination for To Catch a Thief (1955). Her 34 nominations and eight awards make her both the most-honored costume designer and most-honored woman in Academy Award history to date.
When Hitchcock found good collaborators, he liked to continue working with them. Beginning with Rear Window, editor George Tomasini made nine films with the director, through Marnie (1964). He was nominated by the Academy for North by Northwest (1959).
In spite of his attachment to those with whom he worked most successfully, Hitchcock could also be petty, according to biographer Donald Spoto, especially in the case of screenwriter John Michael Hayes, with whom he did three more pictures after this. Hayes claimed Hitchcock told him he would get a bonus for Rear Window since his salary was so low but that they would have to wait and see if it worked on film first, then see if the critics liked it, then audiences. The director kept putting off the bonus until, during a disagreement over the script for To Catch a Thief (1955), he threatened not to release it. Hayes asked him to please stop mentioning the alleged bonus. Hitchcock never mentioned it again, and Hayes never received it. And when Hayes showed Hitchcock his Edgar Allan Poe Award for writing the screenplay, the director shoved the ceramic statuette back across the table to him dismissively, saying, "You know, they make toilet bowls from the same material."
James Stewart was supposed to have worked with Grace Kelly again in the MGM comedy Designing Woman (1957), but she dropped out of that project to marry Prince Rainier of Monaco. The movie was eventually made with Lauren Bacall and Gregory Peck.
In the story, Lisa (Grace Kelly) casually drops the name of producer/agent Leland Hayward into a conversation. Hayward owned the film rights to the story before Hitchcock and was set as the original producer.
The composer who struggles throughout the film with the theme song, "Lisa," was played by Ross Bagdasarian, prolific songwriter and, under the pseudonym David Seville, the creator of the novelty "band" The Chipmunks. Bagdasarian was the cousin of author William Saroyan, with whom he collaborated on Rosemary Clooney's hit song "Come On-a My House."
One of the guests at the composer's party is played by Kathryn Grant (here credited under her real name, Kathryn Grandstaff), who later married Bing Crosby. The movie features a background recording of Crosby singing "To See You (Is to Love You)" from Road to Bali (1952).
Thorwald's apartment, according to the script, is at 125 West Ninth St. West Ninth actually ends at Sixth Ave. (aka Avenue of the Americas) and is known as Christopher St. after that point. The building that inspired the exact design of Thorwald's building on the set is at 125 Christopher St. That means Jeff's building across the courtyard is situated on Tenth St. near Hudson, which explains why the police arrive so quickly; the Sixth Precinct is located on Tenth directly across from the building where Jeff's is meant to be.
JEFF (James Stewart): If you don't pull me out of this swamp of boredom, I'm gonna do something drastic.
GUNDERSON (Uncredited): Like what?
JEFF: Like what, I'm gonna get married, then I'll never be able to go anywhere.
GUNDERSON: It's about time you got married, before you turn into a lonesome and bitter old man.
JEFF: Yeah, can you just see me, rushing home to a hot apartment to listen to the automatic laundry and electric dishwasher and the garbage dispose-all and the nagging wife?
STELLA (Thelma Ritter): We've become a race of peeping toms. What people ought to do is get outside their own house and look in for a change.
STELLA: When General Motors has to go to the bathroom ten times a day, the whole country's ready to let go.
JEFF: I need a woman who's ready to go anywhere, do anything, and love it.
STELLA: When a man and a woman see each other and like each other, they ought to come together - Wham! - like a couple of taxis on Broadway.
LISA (Grace Kelly): How's your leg?
JEFF: Hurts a little.
LISA: Your stomach?
JEFF: Empty as a football.
LISA: Anything else bothering you?
JEFF: Yes, who are you?
LISA: Reading from top to bottom: Lisa, Carol, Fremont.
JEFF: That's no ordinary look. That's the kind of look a man gives when he thinks somebody may be watching him.
LISA: Let's start from the beginning again, Jeff. Tell me everything you saw, and what you think it means.
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: Is she the girl who saves him from the clutches of the seductive showgirls and the over-passionate daughters of the rich?
LISA: The same.
JEFF: That's the one, huh? Funny, he never ends up marrying her, does he? That's strange.
DOYLE (Wendell Corey): That's a secret, private world you're looking into out there. People do a lot of things in private they couldn't possibly explain in public.
LISA: Like disposing of their wives.
JEFF: I wonder if it's ethical to watch a man with binoculars and a long-focus lens. Do you suppose it's ethical even if you prove he didn't commit a crime.
LISA: I'm not much on rear window ethics.
LISA: If someone came in here, they wouldn't believe what they'd see. 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.
STELLA: Let's go down and find out what's buried in the garden.
LISA: Why not? I've always wanted to meet Mrs. Thorwald.
Compiled by Rob Nixon
Rear Window (1954)
The Big Idea Behind REAR WINDOW
Cornell Woolrich's story "It Had to Be Murder" first appeared in Dime Detective Magazine in February 1942, credited to one of his pseudonyms, William Irish. Told in the first person, it featured a man named Jeff confined to his apartment with a broken leg who spends the day staring at his neighbors' apartments through his back window and discovers that one of them may have murdered his wife. The story gave Jeff a close friend, a police detective whose investigative help he enlists, and a black man attending to him during his incapacitation. According to Woolrich's biographer, Francis Nevins, he was inspired to write the story after being spied on in his New York apartment by two little girls.
The screen rights were optioned shortly after publication by producer Buddy DeSylva and sold after his death in 1952 to theater director Joshua Logan and producer/agent Leland Hayward. The project was to have been a "trial balloon" for Logan, a screen directorial debut before taking on the task of putting his stage hit Mr. Roberts on film.
The characters of insurance nurse Stella and Jeff's girlfriend Lisa were not in the story and the details of the other (non-murderous) neighbors were rather sketchy. Logan's first treatment added a girlfriend named Trink, an actress determined to keep her career despite Jeff's insistence she quit the business to marry him. Trink, little more than a charming bubblehead in Logan's version, gets to prove her acting mettle by venturing into murderer Thorwald's apartment and having to talk her way out.
To Logan's dismay, his agent Lew Wasserman sold the rights to the story (which had since been published in a book under the title Rear Window) right out from under his nose to Hitchcock. (Wasserman also sold Logan's stage play to John Ford.) It was then announced that Logan and Hayward would produce the Hitchcock picture for Warners with James Stewart in the lead.
Prior to this project, Hitchcock had often worked with multiple writers and relied heavily on his wife Alma Reville for script development. When she withdrew from day-to-day film work in the early 50s, he decided to trust the script of the Woolrich story to one man, John Michael Hayes, primarily a radio writer. Hitchcock was familiar with his work because Hayes had written for the radio show Suspense, which Hitchcock had helped to create.
From the beginning, Hitchcock had decided he wanted to transform Woolrich's simple mystery story into another Lifeboat (1944), in his view "a small universe" that encompassed "a real index of individual behavior." He later told Francois Truffaut that what appealed to him about the story was "the possibility of doing a purely cinematic film."
Hitchcock decided to keep the girlfriend Logan added to the story (although she would become drastically changed) and focus on the relationship between the two leads, not only on the characters but on the actors who would play them. When he first made the deal with Hayes, Hitchcock told him the roles would have to be written for James Stewart, the star of his earlier three character study, Rope (1948), and Grace Kelly, who was then working with the director on Dial M for Murder (1954).
Hitchcock told Hayes that Kelly was charming and talented but went "through the motions as if she is in acting school." He charged his writer with spending some time with the actress to "bring something out of her." Kelly enjoyed Hitchcock professionally and personally and liked the script, so she turned down the female lead in On the Waterfront (1954) to do this picture.
Hitchcock found inspiration for the actual murder in two real-life crime stories (of which he was an avid follower): the case of Patrick Mahon, who killed a girl, chopped her up, and burned her head in a fireplace; and Dr. Crippen, who murdered his wife, told people she had moved, and was tripped up when he allowed his secretary/mistress to wear some of his wife's jewelry.
Hayes claimed it was his idea to beef up the part of the sarcastic insurance nurse Stella (although Hitchcock had already cast Thelma Ritter, long known for her wisecracking character parts). Hayes said he told Hitchcock the way to unite the audience in the experience right from the start was with humor, and that's why he wrote the comic opening conversation between Stella and Jeff.
It was Hitchcock's idea to turn Lisa into a model and Jeff into a Robert Capa-style photojournalist, and he has been credited with adding and fleshing out the other neighbors missing from Woolrich's story and Logan's treatment.
Although Hayes always insisted Hitchcock left it up to him to create the scenes, his version has been disputed by both Grace Kelly and assistant director Herbert Coleman. Kelly talked about how Hitchcock described ideas for Rear Window in great detail while they were still making Dial M for Murder together. And Coleman insisted Hitchcock worked with Hayes just as he had done with others: outlining the story scene by scene, generating specific story ideas and visual instructions, with Hayes often taking dictation in these detailed initial meetings. The director laid out every detail except the dialogue, Coleman said, but would tell his writer, "Now, Mr. Hayes, the dialogue must convey this meaning."
As with many movies by great directors, it's hard to sort out who gets credit for much of the initial script work. Hitchcock rather flatly claimed Hayes was only brought in to do dialogue, as Coleman's story seems to support. By Hayes' own admission, dialogue was his "strong point, rather than construction." The truth most likely lay more in a later statement by the writer: "The stamp of Hitchcock's genius is on every frame of the finished film, but the impression that he did every bit of it alone is utter nonsense."
Regardless of who was responsible for which idea, Hitchcock and Hayes worked well together. Hayes was a fast writer who could keep up with the director's breakneck pace, and the two continued "writing by camera," according to Hayes, going over the script line by line while Hitchcock sketched out each shot on a large pad. The relationship was so pleasing to Hitchcock, he hired Hayes for three more pictures.
The initial script ran into problems with Production Code Administrator Joseph Breen, who criticized a number of elements of the story: Miss Torso's sexiness, the physical actions between Miss Lonelyheart and the pick-up she brings home, Stella's toilet humor, the incessant sex between the newlywed couple and the strong suggestion of a sexual relationship between Jeff and Lisa, especially when she announces she's spending the night with him and unveils a sexy negligee. By the time the film was ready to begin production, however, Breen was nearing retirement and his replacement, an Englishman named Geoffrey M. Shurlock, was more liberal and didn't follow through on Breen's objections.
Warner Brothers ended up not making the picture. Instead, Hitchcock signed with Paramount for what would become perhaps the most fruitful period of his American career. Stewart's company, Patron Films, partnered with Hitchcock, with the star taking a smaller salary in favor of percentages that paid off handsomely.
by Rob Nixon
Rear Window (1954)
Behind the Camera on REAR WINDOW
By the time Rear Window went before the cameras, Hitchcock had dropped more than 150 pounds and was at perhaps the happiest stage of his life and career. "I was feeling very creative," he later told Francois Truffaut. "The batteries were well-charged."
Hitchcock briefly considered shooting on location in Greenwich Village but abandoned the idea in favor of recreating the setting on Paramount's Stage 18. To get the proper Village flavor, he sent four photographers to New York to shoot from all angles and under all weather and lighting conditions.
The picture was shot on a specially constructed set that took 50 men two months to build and cost somewhere between $75,000 and $100,000. It was 38 feet wide, 185 feet long and 40 feet high. In order to get the scale right, the soundstage floor had to be removed so the courtyard could be built in a former storage space in the basement. Therefore Stewart's apartment, which appears to be on the second floor, was actually at street level. The set included 31 apartments, of which 12 were fully furnished. The whole thing became a marvel that visitors to the studio were eager to see, and it was featured in magazine spreads while shooting was still in progress.
The set had to have four lighting set-ups always in place for various times of the day. Remote switches located in Jeff's apartment controlled the lighting. Virtually every piece of lighting that wasn't employed on another Paramount picture had to be used (by some counts 1,000 huge arc lights and 2,000 smaller ones). At one point, the lights caused the sprinkler system to go off, which shut everything down and plunged the set into total darkness. Hitchcock calmly told an assistant to bring him an umbrella and let him know when the "rain" stopped.
Cinematographer Robert Burks devised a system using a camera with a telephoto lens mounted on a crane to bring the camera close enough to film small details through the windows across the courtyard.
Because all but a few scenes are actually shot from inside Jeff's apartment, Hitchcock remained in that part of the set, communicating with his actors across the way via short wave radio broadcast to their flesh-colored earpieces.
The director had a bit of fun and achieved a memorable effect using the short-wave system. Giving directions in the scene where the couple with the dog are sleeping on their fire escape and get caught in the rain, he had the wife, actress Sara Berner, turn off her earpiece while he gave one set of instructions to Frank Cady, playing her husband. Then he asked Cady to turn off his earpiece and gave an opposite set of directions to Berner. When the rain started and they were supposed to grab their mattress and run inside, they each moved in separate directions, resulting in a comically bumbling bit that ended with Cady falling through the window into their apartment.
Hitchcock worked closely with Edith Head on the costume designs, being sure to give the more distant characters a very specific look, not only so audiences could always identify them but also to point up their connection to the main characters. For example, Miss Lonelyheart was given emerald green outfits to identify her, and because Lisa later appears in a green suit, Miss Lonelyheart's romantic woes are linked to the story's examination of Lisa and Jeff's problematic relationship.
Hitchcock spent a great deal of time with Head on Kelly's look, which was characteristic of his often obsessive relationship with his leading ladies. One costume he fretted over was the negligee Lisa wears to spend the night at Jeff's. He quietly pulled Head aside and suggested falsies to give Kelly a bustier look. The designer and the actress, however, made only a few changes in costume construction and posture. Hitchcock was fooled into thinking Kelly had been padded and approved the look.
Hitchcock had Raymond Burr made up in short curly white hair and glasses, costumed in white button-down shirts, and depicted as a heavy smoker - all to evoke Hitchcock's first American producer David O. Selznick, with whom he had a complex and contentious relationship.
Thelma Ritter said Hitchcock never told you if he liked what you did in a scene, and if he didn't like it, "he looked like he was going to throw up."
Hitchcock and Stewart had a friendship that was oddly intimate while being somewhat proper and distanced. They rarely socialized outside work and didn't talk much on the set but communicated in unspoken glances. Stewart said Hitchcock didn't discuss a scene with an actor but preferred to hire people who would know what was expected of them when he said "action." The most Hitchcock would say to Stewart, according to the actor, was something like, "The scene is tired," thereby communicating that the timing was off.
The director liked working with Stewart, especially in comparison to his other most frequent star, Cary Grant, who was fussy and demanding. Stewart, in Hitchcock's eyes, was an easy-going, workmanlike performer. But Wendell Corey, who appeared with Stewart in several films, said the actor also had a "whopping big ego" and could intimidate even Hitchcock by out-shouting and out-arguing him if he thought a scene wasn't going well. "There was steel under all that mush," Corey said.
By most accounts, everyone was crazy about Grace Kelly. "Everybody just sat around and waited for her to come in the morning, so we could just look at her," Stewart said. "She was kind to everybody, so considerate, just great, and so beautiful." Stewart also praised her instinctive acting ability and her "complete understanding of the way motion picture acting is carried out."
Kelly may have been a bit too beautiful and friendly, at least for the Paramount publicity department and James Stewart's wife. Known privately as a sexually free young woman, Kelly often had affairs with her leading men, including William Holden and Bing Crosby. She made everyone nervous by confessing to gossip columnists that she found Stewart one of the most masculinely attractive men she ever met.
by Rob Nixon
Rear Window (1954)
The Critics' Corner on REAR WINDOW
"As in Dial M for Murder , Mr. Hitchcock uses color dramatically. Without any gory demonstrations, he strongly suggests the stain of blood. In the polychromes seen from a rear window on steaming hot summer days and nights, and in the jangle and lilt of neighborhood music, he hints of passions, lust, tawdriness, and hope." - Bosley Crowther, New York Times, August 1954.
"It is rare to find such a precise idea of the world in a film." - Francois Truffaut, The Films in My Life (Simon & Schuster, 1975).
"In no other Hitchcock film, perhaps not even in Notorious , do the events of the adventure play such an integral part in the development of the love story." - Vincent Canby, New York Times, October 9, 1983.
"The method of Rear Window - a voyeur in the dark inspecting other lives - is the principle of cinematic spectacle. Hitchcock's best films all grow out of his instinctive employment of our impulses and fantasy life in the cinema. And his moral seriousness consists of showing us the violent, psychotic fruits of some of those impulses and shyly asking us to claim them as our own." - David Thomson, A Biographical Dictionary of Film (Knopf, 1994).
"This level of danger and suspense is so far elevated above the cheap thrills of the modern slasher films that Rear Window, intended as entertainment in 1954, is now revealed as art." - Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun Times, February 20, 2000.
"Of all Hitchcock's films, this is the one which most reveals the man...There is suspense enough, of course, but the important thing is the way that it is filmed; the camera never strays from inside Stewart's apartment, and every shot is closely aligned with his point of view...Quite aside from the violation of intimacy, which is shocking enough, Hitchcock has nowhere else come so close to pure misanthropy, nor given us so disturbing a definition of what it is to watch the 'silent film' of other people's lives, whether across a courtyard or up on a screen." - Chris Preachment, TimeOut.
"Hitchcock often oversold Rear Window as an experience of 'delicious terror,' but it's also a subtle romantic comedy." - Wesley Morris, San Francisco Examiner, February 4, 2000.
"An undisputed masterpiece...Much has been written about this film being about how we are all Peeping Toms, and indeed we do watch his neighbors with curiosity and concern....A related and equally important theme (central to most Hitchcock films) is that even the most predictable people are capable of doing wildly unpredictable things; Burr can commit murder, the stacked blonde neighbor can fall for a shrimp who likes to eat, and Kelly, who's the type to fret over a broken fingernail, can be gallant enough to climb up a railing into a murderer's apartment." - Danny Peary, Guide For the Film Fanatic.
"Rear Window showcases another side of Hitchcock's vulgar modernism. It's a blatantly conceptual movie, self-reflexively concerned with voyeurism and movie history, the bridge from Soviet montage to Andy Warhol's vacant stare, as well as a construction founded on the 20th-century idea of the metropolis as spectacle - or, more specifically, on the peculiar mixture of isolation and overstimulation the big city affords." - J. Hoberman, Village Voice, January 19-25, 2000
Awards and Honors
Rear Window was chosen in 1997 to be one of the motion pictures preserved on the National Film Registry at the Library of Congress.
It received Academy Award® nominations for Best Director, Screenplay, Color Cinematography and Sound Recording.
Other honors included:
-British Academy Award nomination for Best Film.
-National Board of Review and New York Film Critics Circle Best Actress awards to Grace Kelly.
Edgar Allan Poe (mystery writers) Award to screenwriter John Michael Hayes.
Writers Guild of America nomination for John Michael Hayes.
Compiled by Rob Nixon & Jeff Stafford
Rear Window (1954)
In Rear Window (1954), one of director Alfred Hitchcock's greatest achievements, James Stewart plays a worldly news photographer confined to a wheelchair in his apartment, having suffered a broken leg. It's a sweltering summer in Greenwich Village, and to pass the time, Stewart takes to spying on his neighbors across the courtyard. In the course of his spying, he begins to suspect his neighbor (Raymond Burr, made up to look like Hitchcock's real-life nemesis, David O. Selznick) of murdering his wife. Naturally police detective Wendell Corey doesn't believe him, so Stewart and his breathtakingly gorgeous girlfriend, Grace Kelly, try to prove it on their own. Along the way, Stewart watches the other inhabitants of the building play out their own little stories. Like little movies themselves, they are full of humor, drama, and tragedy.
Hitchcock later said of making this picture, "I was feeling very creative at the time. The batteries were well charged." Any scene of the movie proves this point. Take the opening: within seconds after the credits, we know who James Stewart is, what he does for a living, and why he is confined to a cast and a wheelchair, all without a word of dialogue. It's extremely economical visual storytelling, and the great beauty of Rear Window is that you can notice such techniques while still simply being entertained. The film is so overflowing with suspense, romance, and comedy that it looks like it was the easiest, most effortless movie in the world to make. Hitchcock knew that audiences love to work - to piece things together visually, to understand relationships through editing, staging or camera movement, and that is why Rear Window is so captivating.
The strong subjective point of view of "us-watching-Stewart-watch-neighbors" was actually embodied in the original Cornell Woolrich story, It Had to be Murder (1942), on which the screenplay was based. But Woolrich's yarn contained only the murder storyline. There was no Grace Kelly, no Thelma Ritter (Stewart's housekeeper), no policeman or other neighbors. Hitchcock wanted to expand it and laid out his ideas to writer John Michael Hayes. He also asked Hayes to spend some time with Grace Kelly, at the time working on Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder (1954), because he wanted her for the new picture. Hayes and Hitchcock both found Kelly's acting in Dial M to be stiff - despite the fact that neither man saw any inhibitions in her in real life. So Hayes wrote the part for her, consciously trying to work in her natural charm and outgoing nature.
Ms. Kelly recalled (in Alfred Hitchcock: The Dark Side of Genius by Donald Spoto) that during the filming of Dial M for Murder "the only reason he could remain calm was because he was already preparing his next picture, Rear Window. He sat and talked to me about it all the time, even before we had discussed my being in it...He talked to me about the people who would be seen in other apartments opposite the rear window, and their little stories, and how they would emerge as characters and what would be revealed. I could see him thinking all the time, and when he had a moment alone he would go off and discuss the building of the fantastic set. That was his great delight."
A 35-page treatment was good enough for Hitchcock, Stewart and Paramount all to commit to the project, and Hitchcock then left Hayes alone to write the script. The director liked what he read, and then, remembered Hayes, turned 200 numbered scenes into 600 by inserting all his visualized camera setups. In the interview collection, Hitchcock by Francois Truffaut, the master of suspense admitted that "The killing presented something of a problem, so I used two news stories from the British press. One was the Patrick Mahon case and the other was the case of Dr. Crippen. In the Mahon case the man killed a girl in a bungalow on the seafront of Southern England. He cut up the body and threw it, piece by piece, out of a train window. But he didn't know what to do with the head, and that's where I got the idea of having them look for the victim's head in Rear Window."
Shooting was done entirely in a soundstage on the Paramount lot. (With few dramatic exceptions, the camera never leaves Stewart's apartment during the movie.) Studio art director Henry Bumstead, at the cusp of a distinguished and still ongoing career (credits include Vertigo, 1958, To Kill a Mockingbird, 1962, Unforgiven, 1992, and Mystic River, 2003), had the idea of cutting out the floor of the stage so that the basement could function as the courtyard level, with Stewart's apartment on the main stage floor. The set "went all the way from the basement to the grids." Sound was recorded live from Stewart's window across the stage, in order to achieve a hollow, distanced effect which reinforced the audience's alignment with Stewart.
When Rear Window first opened, many critics noted the connection between James Stewart's voyeuristic photographer and the moviegoing public. As Hitchcock said to Truffaut in an interview, "He's a real Peeping Tom. In fact, Miss Lejeune, the critic of the London Observer, complained about that. She made some comment to the effect that Rear Window was a horrible film because the hero spent all of his time peeping out of the window. What's so horrible about that? Sure, he's a snooper, but aren't we all?" But other significant Hitchcock themes also emerge in the course of the film. In Guide for the Film Fanatic, author Danny Peary writes, "First: people are into such dull, regimented lives that when they do anything that varies from their routine (as Burr does), neighbors will become suspicious and may suspect them of doing something terrible. A related and equally important theme...is that even the most predictable people are capable of doing wildly unpredictable things; Burr can commit murder, the stacked blonde neighbor can fall for a shrimp who likes to eat, and Kelly, who's the type to fret over a broken fingernail, can be gallant enough to climb up a railing into a murderer's apartment."
For several years Rear Window and other key Hitchcock films like Vertigo were withdrawn from distribution for contractual reasons and were unavailable for viewing. Luckily, the legal issues were resolved and the films became available again in the early eighties thanks to the work of film restorers Robert Harris and James Katz who managed to repair and save the negative of Rear Window. It was in terrible shape when they began their work. The yellow color layer had been stripped away due to repeated lacquering, and they spent six months developing a new restoration technique to put the layer back, something that had not been done before.
Producer/Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Film Editing: George Tomasini
Production Design: Hal Pereira, Ray Moyer
Music: Franz Waxman
Sound: Harry Lindgren, John Cope
Cast: James Stewart (L. B. Jeffries), Grace Kelly (Lisa Fremont), Wendell Corey (Detective Thomas J. Doyle), Thelma Ritter (Stella), Raymond Burr (Lars Thorwald), Judith Evelyn (Miss Lonely Hearts).
C-115m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.
by Jeremy Arnold & Jeff Stafford