L. B. “Jeff” Jefferies is a professional photographer who suffered a broken leg while taking action photos at an automobile race. With his leg in a cast, he is now in a wheelchair confined to his apartment in Greenwich Village in New York City. It is summertime in the 1950s and the heat of the city has everyone with their windows open trying to get some fresh air (no air conditioners at this time). To entertain himself, Jeff gazes out the window of his apartment and watches the various neighbors across the courtyard. Peeping Tom? Yes! But what he witnesses leads him to believe he has seen a murder.
This is the setting of our Reel Classic entitled Rear Window. This isn’t just a classic movie but has also been deemed by many critics as one of Alfred Hitchcock’s finest films. The cast is excellent with James Stewart as Jeff, Grace Kelly as his “socialite” girlfriend Lisa Fremont, Thelma Ritter as the visiting nurse Stella, and Wendell Corey as Jeff’s friend (and police detective) Tom Doyle. Raymond Burr plays the mysterious neighbor across the courtyard, Lars Thorwald, who has gathered Jeff’s attention with his behaviors.
The neighbors across the courtyard have all been given nicknames by Jeff, who persistently watches them through their open windows. There is “Miss Lonelyheart” who struggles with relationships and loneliness. There is the “Songwriter” who works at his piano composing and playing. Also across the way we find “Miss Torso” who is constantly dancing and moving, “Miss Hearing Aid,” “The Newlyweds,” and the couple who sleep on the fire escape (because of the heat). However, it is Lars Thorwald and his bed-ridden wife that intrigues Jeff the most.
The entire movie was shot on the set of the apartment complex which was constructed inside the movie studio. It took two months and nearly $100,000 to construct and consisted of thirty-one apartments. Most of the shots were filmed from Jeff’s window, and Alfred Hitchcock set up in that space to direct the film. Actors across the courtyard wore earpieces so Hitchcock could direct them from across the way. Also included in the set was an array of one thousand arc lights to simulate daylight.
Grace Kelly and James Stewart both appeared in multiple Hitchcock films. Kelly also appeared in Dial M for Murder (with Ray Milland)and To Catch a Thief (with Cary Grant). Stewart appeared in Rope, The Man Who Knew Too Much (with Doris Day), and Vertigo (with Kim Novak). James Stewart stated that of the four movies he made with Alfred Hitchcock, Rear Window was his favorite.
Interestingly, Grace Kelly was offered the opportunity to appear in the film On The Waterfront at the same time but chose Rear Window as she felt the role of fashionable Lisa suited her better. I believe most people would agree with that assessment. Another interesting note—if you look closely you may recognize the man sleeping on the mattress on the fire escape. That is Frank Cady, who also played the part of Sam Drucker in the TV series Petticoat Junction and Green Acres. Let me add one other little tidbit about the cast regarding the “Songwriter.” He is played by Ross Bagdasarian (aka David Seville), the creator of Alvin & The Chipmunks.
The film was based on a 1942 short story “It Had to Be Murder” by Cornell Woolrich, a well-known mystery writer at the time. It was released in 1954 and was nominated for four Academy Awards. It earned $5.3 million from box offices in North America. In 1997 the film was added to the National Film Registry and in 2007 was ranked 48th in the American Film Institute’s “Greatest Movies Of All Time.” The Internet Movie Data Base rates Rear Window at 8.5 out of 10. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 98% score from critics and 95% score from audience reviews.
Rear Window, along with four other Hitchcock films (The Man Who Knew Too Much, Rope, The Trouble With Harry, and Vertigo) were unavailable to the public for about thirty years as the rights to those films were purchased by Hitchcock and given to his daughter. They were commonly referred to as the “Five Lost Hitchcocks.” They were eventually re-released to theaters in the 1980s and found their way to DVDs.
A television remake with the same title was released in 1998 starring Christopher Reeve, who was in actuality paralyzed following an accident in 1995. Daryl Hannah played the love interest. (Note: For you music buffs out there, Daryl Hannah is now the love interest of Neil Young).
I can’t end this piece regarding an Alfred Hitchcock movie without mentioning his cameo appearances in his movies. Some viewers focus on “when will he appear?” I’m going to make it easy for you. There is a scene where the “Songwriter” is at his piano in his apartment and a gentleman visitor is winding the clock. Keep an eye out.
I searched the streaming apps and found only one offering Rear Window for free. The app is named Movieland.Tv (I found it via my Roku. It does have commercials.). It is also available at the Clark County Public Library in a collection entitled “Alfred Hitchcock, The Masterpiece Collection, Vol 3.”
Rear Window is full of suspense with a dash of romance. I highly recommend it to you. Until next time, I hope you will enjoy this “Reel Classic” and, as usual, you will find the trailer below.