Over the years there have been countless variations on the movie's basic plot--someone thinking they see a murder through a window. Two that come to mind are "Fade to Black", a USA Pictures TV-movie with Heather Locklear, and Brian DePalma's Body Double. What makes Rear Window so special is the camera work. Filming was done entirely on one set, a courtyard of apartments. The other tenants are viewed only through the main character's window. You never see closeups of them, and you must strain to hear their conversations, so you feel like you're watching people through your window instead of in a movie. The camera never goes inside their apartments, and you can only see what Jeff sees. Neither the viewer nor Jeff ever see the murder. In both of the remakes I mentioned the murder occurs on screen and the heroes go outside to other locations attempting to prove what they saw.
L. B. "Jeff" Jeffries (STEWART), a LIFE magazine photographer, is confined to his New York City apartment with a broken leg. He's counting the days until he "emerges from the plaster cocoon". What is a man used to such an active lifestyle to do without HBO or satellite TV? (It's the '50's, remember.) Spy on his neighbors, of course! It's during a summer heat wave so everybody's window is open day and night. He even names them. "Miss Torso" is a blonde dancer who does suggestive routines in bikini tops. "Miss Lonelyhearts" is a spinster who fantasizes a lover in her apartment. She even sets the table and pours wine for him. (One of my favorite scenes reveals just how involved Jeff has become in their lives. She raises her glass in a toast to her invisible man, and Jeff raises his glass as well.) The newlyweds are the only people in the film who pull their shades down, only after the groom carries his bride over the threshhold; the songwriter composes his masterpiece; a couple sleep on the fire escape with their toto-like dog that they lower in a pulley-line basket when he needs to be taken out; and then there's a jewelry salesman (a pre-Perry Mason BURR) with an invalid wife who's apparently not too sick to constantly nag him.
A voyeur by profession (photojournalist), Jeff is so obsessed with the neighbors that he ignores gorgeous model girlfriend, Lisa Fremont (KELLY), even after she brings a waiter from New York's famous 21 Club to the apartment with a lobster dinner and wine. (I envy Jeff. I wouldn't mind a broken leg at all if the 21 Club would personally deliver to my house.) "She's too perfect," he tells his nurse, Stella (RITTER), who comes every day to massage his back and take his temperature. "she's too talented, too sophisticated...I need a woman who views life as more than a new dress and a lobster dinner...who's willing to go anywhere and do anything and love it." Stella disagrees: "When a man and woman like each other they should come together like two taxis on Broadway, not sit around analyzing each other. Lisa's loaded to her fingertips with love for you...marry her!" Jeff refuses to settle down and give up his free lifestyle. He tries to persuade Lisa to find someone else. (Can you imagine a man who isn't gay rejecting Grace Kelly??) "Face it, Lisa, You're not meant for my kind of life..those nylons...they'll make a big hit in Finland just before you freeze to death...and sometimes the food you eat is made from things you couldn't even look at when they're alive!"
One night while dozing off Jeff hears a woman scream and breaking glass. He watches the salesman leave his apartment with his sample case and return three times. The next morning the wife is gone. Jeff graduates from naked eye to binoculars to a huge telephoto camera lense as he monitors the man's activities and sees him wrap a saw blade and butcher knife in newspaper. That evening Lisa is back in Jeff's arms (why I don't know), but he's engrossed in solving the puzzle: "Why would a man leave his apartment three times on a rainy night with a suitcase and come back three times?" Lisa's only interested in turning him on until, in the middle of a passionate kiss, he asks her the burning romantic question: "Just how would you start to cut up a human body?"
"Jeff, if you could only see yourself!" Lisa pulls his chair away from the window and threatens to leave if he doesn't stop. "A murderer would never parade his crime in front of an open window." Then they see the salesman in his wife's empty bedroom tying up a large wooden crate, and Lisa is convinced that Jeff is on to something. So that Jeff can call his police detective friend to start an investigation she runs over to the man's mailbox to find out the name: Mr. & Mrs. Lars Thorwald. That's just the first of many daring things Lisa does to get information and Jeff's interest in her is suddenly piqued. The more she becomes involved in the Thorwald mystery the greater Jeff's attraction...she's become his adventurous woman. Stella, actually my favorite character because she has all the best dialogue bits, also turns detective. In a funny scene she's serving him breakfast. He's about to take a forkful of bacon and eggs with ketchup when she ponders out loud: "Just where do you suppose he cut her up? 'Course, the bathtub! The only place he could have washed away the blood. He better get that trunk out of there before it starts to leak."
I won't spoil the rest, but at the end, Jeff is twice as bad off for being a voyeur. This movie is a joy to watch. I find something new in each screening. Rent it, but pull your shades and close your blinds..someone may be watching you.
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