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REAR WINDOW
DIRECTED BY
ALFRED HITCHCOCK
1954
Based on a 1942 short story by Cornell Woolrich called
“It Had to be Murder”
ACADEMY AWARD NOMINATIONS
Best Director - Hitchcock
Best B & W Cinematography
Best Soundtrack
Best Screenplay
PRIMARY CAST
James Stewart
L. B. Jefferies
Grace Kelly
Lisa Carol Fremont
Wendell Corey
Det. Lt. Thomas J. Doyle
Thelma Ritter
Stella
Raymond Burr
Lars Thorwald
Judith Evelyn
Miss Lonelyheart
Ross Bagdasarian Musician
Georgine Darcy
Miss Torso
Sara Berner
Wife living above Thorwalds
Frank Cady
Husband living above Thorwalds
(Childless Couple)
Rand Harper
Newlywed man
Havis Davenport
Newlywed woman
MAIN CHARACTERS
*L.B. Jeffries - photographic journalist, confined to
his apartment with a broken leg.
*Lisa Fremont - Jeff’s girlfriend - a fashion
consultant/buyer. She wants to get married; he doesn’t.
*Stella - an insurance company nurse who takes
care of Jeff.
*Lt. Doyle - an old friend of Jeff’s from the war; a
policeman.
COURTYARD NEIGHBORS
*Miss Lonely Hearts - a lonely, unmarried woman looking
for a husband.
*Miss Torso - an aspiring ballet dancer.
*The Musician - frustrated, struggling to write a song.
*Childless Couple - treat their dog as if he were
their child.
*Newlyweds - spend most of their time behind closed
blinds - need we say more?
*The Salesman - sells costume jewelry; lives with his
invalid wife; they often fight.
Each apartment has the story of its
occupants told, almost entirely visually.
All of them have something to
say about relationships, and relate in
some way to Jeff and Lisa.
PLOT INTRO
In 1950s New York, an
adventuresome free-lance
photographer finds himself
confined to a wheelchair in his tiny
apartment while a broken leg
mends. With only the occasional
distraction of a visiting nurse and
his frustrated love interest, a
beautiful fashion consultant, his
attention is naturally drawn to the
courtyard outside his "rear
window" and the occupants of the
apartment buildings which
surround it.
Soon he is consumed by the
private dramas of his neighbors’
lives which play themselves out
before his eyes. There is "Miss
Lonelyhearts," the frustrated
composer, the shapely dancer “Miss Torso”, the newlyweds who
are concealed from their neighbors
by a window shade, and a bungling
middle-aged couple with a little
yapping dog who sleep on the fire
escape to avoid the sweltering heat
of their apartment …
… and then there is the
mysterious salesman whose
nagging, invalid wife's sudden
absence from the scene
ominously coincides with
middle-of-the-night forays into
the dark, sleeping city with his
sample case. Where did she
go? What's in the trunk that
the salesman ships away?
What's he been doing with the
knives and the saw that he
cleans at the kitchen sink?
*Hitchcock started in silent movies, and it is obvious
in Rear Window.
*The entire film takes place either inside of Jeff’s
apartment, or looking out his rear window across
the courtyard.
*The film is almost entirely made up of the
“subjective” - we see the movie from
Jeff’s point of view, then see his reaction.
*The view across the courtyard is a microcosm
of society, especially relationships.
*Rear Window has been described as Hitchcock’s
most perfectly constructed film - constructed
to manipulate both the narrative and the
viewer’s experience of it.
Hitchcock saw Rear Window as a stimulating challenge:
“It was a possibility of doing a purely
cinematic film. You have an immobilized
man looking out. That’s one part of the
film. The second part shows what he sees,
and the third part shows how he reacts.
This is actually the purest expression of a
cinematic idea.”
In discussing Rear Window, Hitchcock stresses
the importance of the pictorial, or visual, in filmmaking:
“Dialogue should simply be a sound among other
sounds, just something that comes out of the
mouths of people whose eyes tell the story in
visual terms.”
Hitchcock’s interest is not so much in the stories
in his films, but “in the way they are told.”
USE OF SOUND
Rear Window makes very good use of both
*Ambient sound the sounds of the courtyard and the street
*Dubbed sound especially in the climatic scene
…AND MUSIC
which in Rear Window plays a
role as important as the dialogue
and the visuals. To ignore the
music is to eliminate an ironic
component essential to the vision
of the film.
The main function of Hitchcock's aural deep focus is irony. He
achieves a depth of meaning that derives from the
juxtaposition of one sound against various images. To be
more specific, a given song takes on a new and frequently
different meaning as it is associated with each neighbor, as
well as with Jeff's own situation. For example, the first night's
activities are accompanied by the song "Lover," the source of
which is unspecified. Its first line— "Lover, when you're near
me"—has ironic references to at least three couples. The first
is a couple sharing a mattress on a fire escape. The second
is Jeff and his fiancee, who has just walked out on him after a
quarrel. The third is Thorwald and his wife; it is her perpetual
nearness—she is an invalid—that presumably drives him to
murder her later the same night.
A second song that refers to
several situations is "Waiting
For My True Love to Appear." It
is being played at the party of
the musician. The lyrics apply
equally well to Jeff, whose
fiancee has not yet shown up
for her evening visit, and Miss
Lonelyhearts, who eventually
gives up "waiting" and goes to a
restaurant to pick up a man.
By the time Miss Lonelyhearts
returns from the restaurant,
the musician's guests are
singing "Mona Lisa," a song
obviously associated with
Jeff's girlfriend, whose name is
Lisa.
THEMES
*Relationships
*Voyeurism
*Ethics
And two of Hitchcock’s favorite recurring themes:
*You can never be safe.
*It can be difficult to distinguish good people
from bad people.
Many of Hitchcock's films, and really
all movies, indirectly employ the use
of voyeuristic framing to make the
viewer feel like they are witnessing the
events portrayed on screen. The
frame is likened to a window through
which the audience may satisfy its
impulse to pry into the intimate details
of the character's lives. In Rear
Window, this voyeuristic framing
technique is taken to a literal level in
an attempt to expand the emotional
involvement of the viewer.
THE MORALITY OF VOYEURISM
"The New York State sentence for a Peeping Tom is six
months in the work house ... You know, in the old days,
they used to put your eyes out with a red-hot poker," warns
Stella.
"If you could only see yourself [with those binoculars] ... It’s
diseased," Lisa scolds and comments that we are turning
into "a race of Peeping Toms.”
Jeff ponders whether it is ethically acceptable to spy
on people through his long-focus lens. "I’m not
much on rear-window ethics," replies Lisa to his
semi-rhetorical question.
At first both Lisa and Stella disapprove of Jeff’s
snooping ("window shopper," accuses Stella), but
later become keen peepers themselves, as does
the audience.
The suspected murderer only realizes he is being
watched when, following Lisa’s worried hand
movements, he notices the position of his observer.
At this dramatic moment Jeff changes from being
the watcher to being the watched, and all of a
sudden his former victim gains the upper hand.
On two occasions Jeff’s suspicions about the crime
appear to be unfounded. The main characters in
the film, as well as the audience, are temporarily
disappointed that no murder had been committed
after all. This feeling of disappointment induces a
sense of guilt which gets the audience even more
closely involved in the course of the story. Whether
in fact a murder has been committed is of
importance also from the point of view of the moral
acceptance of peeping. "I wonder if it’s ethical [to
watch a man], even if you prove that he didn’t
commit a crime?" muses Jeff.
Hitchcock’s movies have much more humor than
most people realize. The humor is usually very dry,
much like his own sense of humor.
Hitchcock also liked to include a lot of sexual
innuendo in his films. The Hollywood Production
Code (industry censorship) of the time was very strict,
but Hitchcock believed that sex was part of the human
experience, and should be a part of films.
Hitchcock made a short cameo appearance in all of
his movies.
HITCHCOCK’S CAMEO
in
REAR WINDOW

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