Rear Window (1954) - Illustrated Reference

Rear Window was directed by Alfred Hitchcock and premiered on 1st August 1954. Starring James Stewart, Grace Kelly, Wendell Corey, Thelma Ritter and Raymond Burr. Screenplay by John Michael Hayes. Music by Franz Waxman. 112 mins.

Photographer L.B. Jeffries is confined to his apartment with a broken leg. Bored he passes the time by looking out of his window and observing his neighbours. Regular visitors to his apartment are his nurse Stella and girlfriend Lisa. One night Jeffries hears a noise and a scream but isn’t sure where it came from, the next day he notices the wife of one of his neighbours seems to have disappeared.

Rear Window was based on a 1942 short story by Cornell Woolrich titled “It had to be Murder”. The film was also inspired by the real life murder case of Patrick Mahon, he killed and dismembered his mistress throwing body parts out of a train. Hitchcock noted in an interview the 1910 case of Dr. Crippen, an American living in London who poisoned his wife, was also an inspiration. Crippen claimed his wife had returned to the States, but her remains were found in the cellar. He was tried and hanged.

James Stewart (1908-1997) / L.B. Jeffries. A professional photographer.

Born in Indiana, Pennsylvania, James Stewart was one of the most popular stars of Hollywood’s golden age. He was Oscar nominated 5 times, winning for The Philadelphia Story (1940). His films include – Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), Rope (1948), Winchester 73 (1950), Broken Arrow (1950), Harvey (1950), The Glenn Miller Story (1954), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), The Spirit of St. Louis (1957), Vertigo (1958), Anatomy of a Murder (1959), The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), How the West Was Won (1962) and The Shootist (1976).

Lisa: How's your leg?
Jeff: Hurts a little.
Lisa: Your stomach?
Jeff: Empty as a football.
Lisa: And your love life?
Jeff: Not too active.
Lisa: Anything else bothering you?
Jeff: Uh-huh, who are you?

Grace Kelly (1929-1982) / Lisa Carol Fremont. Jeffries beautiful fashion model girlfriend.

Born in Philadelphia, Grace Kelly starred in 10 films before marrying Prince Rainier in 1956 and becoming Princess Grace of Monaco. She received a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for Mogambo (1953) and won Best Actress for The Country Girl (1954). She also starred in High Noon (1952, Dial M for Murder (1954), Green Fire (1954), The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1954), To Catch a Thief (1955), The Swan (1956) and High Society (1956).

Wendell Corey (1914-1968) / Det. Lt. Thomas J. Doyle. A detective friend of Jeffries.

Born in Massachusetts, Wendell Corey’s films include – I Walk Alone (1948), Sorry Wrong Number (1948), The Big Knife (1955), The Rainmaker (1957) and Loving You (1957).

Lisa: What's he doing? Cleaning house?
Jeff: He's washing and scrubbing down the bathroom walls.
Stella: Must've splattered a lot. Come on, that's what were all thinkin'. He killed her in there, now he has to clean up those stains before he leaves.
Lisa: Stella... your choice of words!
Stella: Nobody ever invented a polite word for a killin' yet.

Thelma Ritter (1902-1969) / Stella. Jeffries home-care nurse.

Born in Brooklyn, New York, Thelma Ritter was nominated for 6 Supporting Actress Oscars, they are – All About Eve (1950), The Mating Season (1951), With a Song in My Heart (1952), Pickup on South Street (1953), Pillow Talk (1959) and Birdman of Alcatraz (1962).

Raymond Burr (1917-1993) / Lars Thorwald. A neighbour of Jeffries, suspected of murdering his wife.

Born in British Columbia, Canada, Raymond Burr’s films include – Gorilla at Large (1954), A Man Alone (1955), Godzilla King of the Monsters (1956), and Airplane II The Sequel (1982). Burr was very popular on TV as Perry Mason (1957-1966) and as Ironside (1967-1975).

Jeff: You know, much as I hate to give Thomas J. Doyle too much credit, he might have gotten a hold of something when he said that was pretty private stuff going on out there. I wonder if it is ethical to watch a man with binoculars and a long-focus lens. 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.

In the original short story by Cornell Woolrich there was only one neighbour, Thorwald, and no girlfriend.

Alfred Hitchcock had murder suspect Lars Thorwald, played by Raymond Burr, made up to look like Hollywood producer David O.Selznick who was always interfering with Hitchcock’s films in the 1940’s.

The courtyard set was the biggest set built at Paramount at that time, part of a road was built at the back with the occasional car driving past.

Some of the actors playing Jeffries neighbours lived in their “apartments” during shooting, some apartments had electricity and running water. Hitchcock only worked in Jeffries apartment radioing instructions to the other tenants.

Playing the other tenants are Judith Evelyn (Miss Lonelyhearts), Ross Bagdasarian (The Songwriter, Ross was a songwriter, singer and pianist in real life), Georgine Darcy (Miss Torso), Sara Berner and Frank Cady (the couple with the dog), Rand Harper and Havis Davenport (The Newlyweds), Jesslyn Fax (Miss Hearing Aid) and Irene Winston (Emma Thorwald).

Lisa: The last thing Mrs. Thorwald would leave behind would be her wedding ring. Stella, do you ever leave yours at home?
Stella: The only way somebody would get that would be to chop off my finger. Let's go down to the garden and find out what's buried there.
Lisa: Why not? I always wanted to meet Mrs. Thorwald.

The film does stray from Jeffries apartment a few times, when the dog dies and at the end when Jeffries is being attacked and falls out the window.

Rear Window, Rope, The Trouble With Harry, The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) and Vertigo were all taken out of circulation for years. Hitchcock held the rights to the films and there are conflicting reports as to why he was holding them back. They finally reappeared in cinemas after Hitchcock's death and premiered on home video in 1983.

For those that have to know, James Stewart’s camera was a 35mm Exakta VX with a Killfit 400mm telephoto lens.

Watch out for Hitchcock’s cameo, he can be spotted about 25 minutes into the film winding a clock in the songwriter’s apartment

Franz Waxman only composed music for the opening and closing titles and the tune “Lisa” played in the songwriter’s apartment. The rest of the film used natural sounds to produce a rich ambient soundtrack which was revolutionary at the time.

Rear Window was nominated for four Oscars – Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography and Best Sound. At the British Academy Awards it was nominated for Best Film.

It ranks #3 on the American Film Institute/s Top 10 Mystery films, #14 on the 100 Most Thrilling Films list and #42 on the AFI’s 100 Greatest American Films list.

Hitchcock loved a challenge, in Lifeboat (1944) the drama and entire cast were confined to a small boat out at sea, here all the action plays out on one courtyard set and from the point of view of the crippled hero trapped in his apartment. The result was one of Hitchcock’s most acclaimed and best loved films.

The Critics Wrote –

"Hitchcock confines all of the action to this single setting and draws the nerves to the snapping point in developing the thriller phases of the plot. He is just as skilled in making use of lighter touches in either dialog or situation to relieve the tension when it nears the unbearable. Interest never wavers during the 112 minutes of footage." (Variety)

"Corresponds most closely to the Hitchcockian ethos; it's extremely suspenseful, macabre and technically innovative... Much has been written, of course, about Stewart's window being a cinema screen and, indeed, Hitchcock's great movie is a definition and a celebration of cinema itself." (Adrian Turner)

"Hitchcock had already refined his use of subjective camera - putting the audience in the mind of the characters; in this film he pushes the technique to new heights.

As our heroes gibe and quibble over the suspected murder (which we never see), we take refuge in the anonymity and safe distance of Jeff's flattening long lens - until the terrifying moment when Thorwald stares right back. It's an astonishing visual and psychological coup." (Michael Sragow)

"I was still a working critic the first time I saw Rear Window, and I remember writing that the picture was very gloomy, rather pessimistic, and quite evil. But now I don't see it in that light at all; in fact, I feel it has a rather compassionate approach.

What Stewart sees from his window is not horrible but simply a display of human weaknesses and people in pursuit of happiness." (Francois Truffaut, 1966)

"One of the most skilful and exciting thrillers ever made, with a heart-stopping climax. The ingenuity of it lies in the way we witness almost every event through the hero's eyes, and piece the evidence together as he does." (Chris Tookey)

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Comments 13 comments

FloraBreenRobison profile image

FloraBreenRobison 4 years ago

Hi! This is excellent. I love everything about this hub and about this movie. I've read the short story. Interesting that the documentary university students did doesn't mention the most important difference from the movie. In the short story, each apartment in Thorwald's building was being renovated one at a time and the hero figured out that the killer had hidden his wife's body under the floorboards by the fact that when the construction workers walked across the living room, their heads were at a different height in Thorwald's apartment than they were in the others. There was no need to dismember the body.

Also, Thelma Ritter's character was a male servant of some kind.

Raymond was born in Burnaby (same place Michael J. Fox grew up), about 45 minutes west of where I live. He is buried there next to his parents.

I am very familiar with all these actors and their careers. I just saw Wendell Corey in holiday Affair.

I cannot choose my favourite photograph. But my favourite poster is the second one. I also love the later line "If your nerves can stand it after Psycho!"

I saw this movie in Vancouver on the big screen. It is the only Hitch film I've seen on the big screen. It was my first Hitch film. I saw it after Raymond died, because it was the only film he was proud of making. I had thought he was a horror director.

thanks for this excellent hub!

I saw it for the first time before I knew about David O. Selznick and couldn't dfigure out why Raymond had white hair. But then it made perfect sense. He does look just like DOS in this film.

I would love to own Kelly's dresses in

this film. But I have nowhere to wear them. Sigh.

I will visit this later. I must watch The Thin Man on TCM now.


Steve Lensman profile image

Steve Lensman 4 years ago from London, England Author

Hi Flora, I'm glad you liked it. I did this hub for you, Xmas pressie. Cogerson's pressie was the Raiders of the Lost Ark hub. And luckily both films are huge favourites of mine too. :)

I'm hoping to watch North by Northwest and Rear Window at the weekend if all goes well. I've already watched Psycho twice this year.

Thanks for commenting!


Cogerson profile image

Cogerson 4 years ago from Virginia

Very well done Steve. This is one of my favorite Hitchcock movies...probably second right behind North by Northwest.

Some of the interesting things I learned from reading your Illustrated Reference....(1) that Hitch dressed up Burr to look like David O. Selznick...I always liked Hitch's sense of humour...(2)that the courtyard set was the biggest one Paramount ever built and (3) that the actors actually lived on the set....I can imagine that set.

Another winning hub with once again awesome photos and awesome posters that I have never seen before...so that is 2 hubs down and 4 hubs to go....voted up and awesome and very very interesting.


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK

Steve, another great hub with amazing photos again! I remember the first time I saw this, i was about 12 or 13 and complained that it was 'all in the same room' but I was soon hooked!


Steve Lensman profile image

Steve Lensman 4 years ago from London, England Author

Cogerson, Jools, your comments and kind words are always appreciated.

The first time I watched Rear Window was on it's video premiere here in the UK nearly 30 years ago. I remember I liked it so much I rewound the tape and watched it again the same evening.

One of my favourite photos on this hub is the one where both Jeffries and Stella are looking into the courtyard with binoculars and telephoto lens, hilarious! And than I added a shot of Hitchcock's cameo after to make it look like they're watching him. I was in a silly mood.


Cogerson profile image

Cogerson 4 years ago from Virginia

I had to go back and see your two favorite photos....very sly....I think Hitch would have been proud. Hey I have a great idea....you should figure out a way to photoshop a SteveLensman into all of your hubs....looking at this hub you could have put a SteveLensman image in the second photo above the girl wearing only her undergarments and in one of the windows. Just think about all of the possibilities.....lol.


Steve Lensman profile image

Steve Lensman 4 years ago from London, England Author

Ha! I wish I was that good at photoshopping, there was one guy on my forum who was always photoshopping his cat in every picture, very convincingly too. If it was a black and white movie still we'd look in the background and there was this persian cat staring at the camera, same pose. eerie.


Cogerson profile image

Cogerson 4 years ago from Virginia

I think you can do it...I have faith you can master the art of photoshop....congrats on getting close to the 20,000 mark on hits....you have gone very fast from 10K to 20K....all of your hard work is paying off.


Steve Lensman profile image

Steve Lensman 4 years ago from London, England Author

Thanks Cogerson, I've recently been averaging about 1000 hits a week. While you're doing 1000 hits a hub! I should reach 100k some time in 2013 if I'm still around. :)


Breen Bergstrome 4 years ago

This is fantastic; very enjoyable reading that almost brings the film to life on this very hub:)

Such a great film, there's always something new to experience..love Grace Kelly and Thelma Ritter together. They are soooo funny.. and Raymond Burr is such a thrill...Makes me glow a little that he's Canadian:)

Happy Holidays.


Steve Lensman profile image

Steve Lensman 4 years ago from London, England Author

Thank you Mrs. Bergstrome, a merry Xmas and Happy Holidays to you too! Your daughter Flora is one of my favourite people here in hubpages. I'm old enough to remember Burr as Ironside on TV. So many great shows back in the 70's (and 60's too). Thanks for commenting.


Breen Bergstrome 4 years ago

Please, Breen:)

Every Saturday night Mom and my brother and I would watch the next episode of Perry Mason. It was also the night we splurged on Oh Henry chocolate bars and a bottle of coke each! What great memories.


Steve Lensman profile image

Steve Lensman 4 years ago from London, England Author

Hi Breen, oh yeah I would watch Ironside and Columbo, remember Cannon? Kojak. MacMillan and Wife, Six Million Dollar Man, so many tv shows with my parents, loved them all. My favorite tv show is still 60's Star Trek. Good times indeed.

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