Rear Window - Film (Movie) Plot and Review





USA, 1954


Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Production: Paramount Pictures; Technicolor, 35mm; running time: 112 minutes. Released 1954. Filmed 1954 in Paramount studios and backlots.


Producer: Alfred Hitchcock; screenplay: John MichaelHayes, from the novel by Cornell Woolrich; photography: Robert Burks; editor: George Tomasini; sound: Harry Lindgren and John Cope; production designers: Hal Pereira, Ray Mayer, Sam Comer, and MacMillan Johnson; music: Franz Waxman; special effects: John P. Fulton; costume designer: Edith Head.

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 ); Ross Bagdasarian ( The Composer ); Georgine Darcy ( Miss Torso, the dancer ); Jesslyn Fax ( Sculptress ); Rand Harper ( Honeymooner ); Irene Winston ( Mrs. Thorwald ).


Awards: New York Film Critics' Award, Best Actress to Grace Kelly for The Country Girl , Rear Window , and Dial M for Murder , 1954.


Publications


Books:

Rohmer, Eric, and Claude Chabrol, Hitchcock , Paris, 1957.

Amengual, Barthélemy, Hitchcock , Paris, 1960.

Bogdanovitch, Peter, The Cinema of Alfred Hitchcock , New York, 1962.

Manz, Hans-Peter, Alfred Hitchcock , Zurich, 1962.

Perry, George, The Films of Alfred Hitchcock , London, 1965.

Wood, Robin, Hitchcock's Films , London, 1965.

Truffaut, François, Le Cinéma selon Hitchcock , Paris, 1966; as Hitchcock , New York, 1985.

Kittredge, William, and Steven M. Krauzer, editors, Stories into Film , New York, 1979.

Douchet, Jean, Alfred Hitchcock , Paris, 1967.

Simsolo, Noel, Alfred Hitchcock , Paris, 1969.

Russell Taylor, John, Hitch , New York, 1978.

Bellour, Raymond, L'Analyse du film , Paris, 1979.

Hemmeter, Thomas M., Hitchcock the Stylist , Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1981.

Narboni, Jean, editor, Alfred Hitchcock , Paris, 1982.

Rothman, William, Hitchcock—The Murderous Gaze , Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1982.

Villien, Bruno, Hitchcock , Paris, 1982.

Weis, Elisabeth, The Silent Scream: Alfred Hitchcock's Sound Track , Rutherford, New Jersey, 1982.

Spoto, Donald, The Life of Alfred Hitchcock: The Dark Side of Genius , New York, 1982; London, 1983.

Phillips, Gene D., Alfred Hitchcock , Boston, 1984.

Barbier, Philippe, and Jacques Moreau, Alfred Hitchcock , Paris, 1985.

Deutelbaum, Marshall, and Leland Poague, A Hitchcock Reader , Ames, Iowa, 1986.

Humphries, Patrick, The Films of Alfred Hitchcock , Greenwich, Connecticut, 1986.

Kloppenburg, Josef, Die Dramaturgische Funktion der Musik in Filmen Alfred Hitchcocks , Munich, 1986.

Sinyard, Neil, The Films of Alfred Hitchcock , London, 1986.

Modleski, Tania, The Women Who Knew Too Much: Hitchcock and Feminist Theory , New York, 1988.

Thomas, Tony, A Wonderful Life: The Films and Career of James Stewart , Secaucus, New Jersey, 1988.

Finler, Joel W., Hitchcock in Hollywood , New York, 1992.

Sterritt, David, The Films of Alfred Hitchcock , New York, 1993.

Arginteanu, Judy, The Movies of Alfred Hitchcock , Minneapolis, 1994.

Boyd, David, editor, Perspectives on Alfred Hitchcock , New York, 1995.

Auiler, Dan, Hitchcock's Notebooks: An Authorized and Illustrated Look Inside the Creative Mind of Alfred Hitchcock , New York, 1999.

Freedman, Jonathan, and Richard Millington, editors, Hitchcock's America , New York, 1999.

Harris, Robert A., Complete Films of Alfred Hitchcock , Secaucus, New Jersey, 1999.


Articles:

Sondheim, Steve, in Films in Review (New York), October 1954.

May, Derwent, in Sight and Sound (London), October-December 1954.

Borneman, Ernest, in Films and Filming (London), November 1954.

Arland, R. M., in Arts (Paris), 6 April 1955.

Garson, G., in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), April 1955.

Chabrol, Claude, in Téléciné (Paris), May-June 1955.

Positif (Paris), November 1955.

"Hitchcock Issue" of Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), August-September 1956.

Pett, John, in Films and Filming (London), November and December 1959.

Douchet, Jean, "Hitch and His Public," in New York Film Bulletin , no. 7, 1961.

Agel, Alfred, "Alfred Hitchcock," in New York Film Bulletin , no. 15, 1961.

Higham, Charles, "Hitchcock's World," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), December 1962-January 1963.

Sweigert, William R., "James Stewart," in Films in Review (New York), December 1964.

Sonbert, Warren, "Alfred Hitchcock: Master of Morality," in Film Culture (New York), Summer 1966.

Hitchcock, Alfred, in Take One (Montreal), December 1968.

Scarrone, C., in Filmcritica (Florence), January 1981.

Delpeut, P., and E. Kuyper, in Skrien (Amsterdam), September 1981.

"Hitchcock Issue" of Camera/Stylo (Paris), November 1981.

Stam, R., and R. Pearson, "Hitchcock's Rear Window : Reflexivity and the Critique of Voyeurism," in Enclitic (Minneapolis), Spring 1983.

Strick, Philip, in Films and Filming (London), November 1983.

Wood, Robin, "Fear of Spying," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), November 1983.

Chion, M., "Le Quatrième Côte," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), February 1984.

Jenkins, Steve, "Hitchcock [x] 2: Refocusing the Spectator," in Monthly Film Bulletin (London), February 1984.

Magny, Joel, in Cinéma (Paris), February 1984.

Kehr, Dave, "Hitch's Riddle," in Film Comment (New York), June 1984.

Aubenas, J., in Revue Belge du Cinéma (Brussels), Autumn 1984.

Duval, B., and R. Lefèvre, "Hitchcock Dossier," in Revue du Cinéma (Paris), January 1985.

Perlmutter, Ruth, " Rear Window : A 'Construction-Story,"' in Journal of Film and Video (River Forest, Illinois), Spring 1985.

Palmer, R. Barton, "The Metafictional Hitchcock: The Experience of Viewing and the Viewing of Experience in Rear Window and Psycho ," in Cinema Journal (Champaign, Illinois), Winter 1986.

Miller, G., "Beyond the Frame: Hitchcock, Art and the Ideal," in Post Script (Jacksonville, Florida), Winter 1986.

Allen, Jeanne T., and R. Barton Palmer, "Dialogue on Spectatorship," in Cinema Journal (Champaign, Illinois), Summer 1986.

Harris, Thomas, " Rear Window and Blow Up : Hitchcock's Straight-forwardness vs Antonioni's Ambiguity," in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), vol. 15, no. 1, 1987.

Atkinson, D., "Hitchcock's Techniques Tell Rear Window Story," in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), January 1990.

Weinstock, J., "5 Minutes to Alexanderplatz," in Camera Obscura (Bloomington, Indiana), September 1991.

Smith, J., "The Strange Case of Lars Thorwald: Rounding Up the Usual Suspect in Rear Window ," in New Orleans Review , no. 2, 1992.

Leconte, B., "Fenetre sur film," in Review du Cinéma (Paris), July-August 1992.

Odabashian, B., "The Unspeakable Crime in Hitchcock's Rear Window: Hero as Lay Detective, Spectator as Lay Analyst," in Hitchcock Annual (Gambier, Ohio), Fall 1993.

Reid's Film Index (Wyong), no. 13, 1994.

Mooney, J., "Grace Kelly in Rear Window ," in Movieline (Escondido), vol. 7, January/February 1996.

Garmon, Ronald Dale, "Stalking the Blue-Chip Nightmare: The Two Legacies of Cornell Woolrich," in Scarlet Street (Glen Rock, New Jersey), no. 21, Winter 1996.

Valley, Richard, "The Hayes Office: John Michael Hayes," in Scarlet Street (Glen Rock, New Jersey), no. 21, Winter 1996.

Stempel, Tom, " Rear Window : A John Michael Hayes Film," in Creative Screenwriting (Washington, D.C.), vol. 4, no. 4, 1997.

Ehrlich, L.C., "Courtyards of Shadow and Light," in Cinemaya (New Delhi), no. 37, Summer 1997.

Mogg, K., " Rear Window in the News," in Macguffin (East Melbourne), no. 23, November 1997.

Care, Ross, "Rear Window: The Music of Sound," in Scarlet Street (Glen Rock, New Jersey), no. 37, 2000.


* * *


In his article on "Film Production" for the 1968 Encyclopaedia Britannica Alfred Hitchcock gave the following example of "pure cinema:" "Show a man looking at something, say a baby. Then show him smiling. By placing these shots in sequence—man looking, object seen, reaction to object—the director characterizes the man as a kindly person. Retain shot one (the look) and shot three (the smile) and substitute for the baby a girl in a bathing costume, and the director has changed the characterization of the man." In these terms, his 1954 film, Rear Window , would be a sustained exercise in pure cinema. It is a film about the power, the pleasure, and the moral (and even physical) danger inherent in the shot/countershot alternation Hitchcock takes to be at the heart of cinematic representation. His protagonist, the news photographer L. B. Jeffries (James Stewart), confined to a wheelchair with a broken leg, experiences alternately the thrills and fears of a filmmaker and a moviegoer as he unravels a murder story from the fragmentary evidence he manages to glimpse from the rear window of his second storey apartment.

Hitchcock had an unusually large set constructed to represent the interior courtyard of a New York City apartment complex in a lower middle-class neighborhood. The array of characters visible to the peeping Jeffries exteriorize the tensions and dynamics of his sexual fantasies. They are known to us by the names he assigns them: Miss Torso, a scantily dressed dancer attracts his prurient interest as she exercises or entertains her many suitors; the Newlyweds carry on behind a drawn shade, but when the husband appears at the window for a respite his insatiable wife calls him back for more activity; a middle-aged Miss Lonelyhearts comes to the verge of suicide in her failure to find a suitable companion; an older couple sleep on the fire escape hot summer nights, head to foot; a father is briefly seen dressing his very young daughter. At opposite ends of the courtyard are two artists, of image and sound, corresponding to the two tracks of a film. A middle-aged woman at one side makes modernist sculpture: her annular creation, Hunger , suggests sexual as well as gastronomic need. Her opposite is a young male composer of songs, who drinks too much until his music brings him together with Miss Lonelyhearts.

In the center of this psychic microcosm, a row of windows like a strip of cinematic frames looks in on the apartment of the unhappily married Lars Thorwald (Raymond Burr) and his bedridden wife. When Mrs. Thorwald disappears, Jeffries convinces himself, his doting girlfriend, Lisa (Grace Kelly), and eventually his visiting nurse, Stella (Thelma Ritter), that Thorwald has murdered her, dismembered her body in the bath-tub, buried some of her limbs in the courtyard, and mailed the rest in a trunk.

Most of the drama is concentrated in the confines of Jeffries's small apartment. Lisa, an affluent fashion designer, is so eager to get a permanent commitment from the reluctant Jeffries that she has his meals catered from the Stork Club, and ignores his discouragement when she comes to spend the night in the apartment. Stella, a voice of earthy common sense, insists that there must be something wrong with Jeffries to reject the attention of someone like Lisa. Although she puts up a formidable resistance to his "ghoulish" fascination with the Thorwalds, she too enters his fantasy and joins Lisa in a hunt for limbs under flower beds in the yard.

Behind the witty comedy of Lisa's seductions and Stella's homely analogies, Hitchcock explores the sexual trauma at the core of Jeffries's fear of marriage as if it were linked to the scopophiliac pleasure involved in film-viewing. As Jeffries becomes engrossed with the evidence of his murder story, he uses his large telephoto lens to get close-up views of Thorwald's rooms. The changes of lenses indicates an optical erection. Lisa instinctually recognizes that the way to Jeffries's heart is through his eyes. She calls her overnight lingerie a "preview of coming attractions." She threatens to rent a back apartment and do Salome's dance of the seven veils unless he pays more attention to her. When threats and enticements fail, she actually enters his fantasy, first digging with Stella in the yard, then climbing into Thorwald's apartment, when he is out, to find incriminating evidence: his wife's ring. Thorwald catches her in the act, but Jeffries saves her by telephoning the police.

Significantly, it is when she signals to Jeffries that she has found the ring—by putting it on her finger and waving it behind her back toward his window—that Thorwald triangulates the view and thus spots Jeffries as a mortal threat. This is the moment when Lisa's fantasy, symbolized by the wearing of the ring, coincides with Jeffries's masochistic excitement at seeing her gravely threatened. Thorwald then breaks the cinematic analogy by looking directly at Jeffries, as if an actor could see a spectator.

Within the psychodynamics of the film as well as the rules of the genre, this is the beginning of the inevitable denouement. Once the immobile Jeffries becomes the potential victim his identification with Mrs. Thorwald is complete. His latent fantasy of being the victim of male aggression comes to the fore, and the Oedipal nature of his erotic confusion is underlined by his last minute efforts to blind temporarily the attacking Thorwald with flashes of his camera lights.

Jeffries survives the attacks with another broken leg, whereby Hitchcock suggests that his fantasy is doomed to repetition. A series of black jokes about the limb the police have recovered culminates in a Freudian topos: they have it in a hatbox. This body part which we never see, but seek through the second half of the film, is both Mrs. Thorwald's head and imaginatively her castrated phallus; for the latter fantasy is central to Jeffries's voyeurism and his fear of women.

—P. Adams Sitney



Other articles you might like:

Follow City-Data.com Founder
on our Forum or Twitter

Also read article about Rear Window from Wikipedia

User Contributions:

Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic: