Release Date: Sept. 1 1954
Based On: “It Had to Be Murder" (1942 short story by Cornell Woolrich)
Directed By: Alfred Hitchcock
Starring: James Stewart, Grace Kelly, Wendell Corey, Thelma Ritter, Raymond Burr
Budget: $1 million
Box Office: $36.8 million
Photographer L. B. Jeffries is confined to his small New York City apartment while healing from a broken leg. He spies on his neighbors to pass the time, but grows concerned when one starts acting suspiciously.
Rear Window certainly deserves the praise it gets for using the setting’s confined space to its full potential. Jeff is unable to leave his apartment due to his broken leg and so neither does the audience, restricting them to have the same exact limited amount of observation Jeff has. Doing so helps to build the suspense. When his girlfriend, Lisa, starts snooping in a neighbor’s apartment, the viewer doesn’t see interspersed shots in him coming back, her snooping and Jeff cringing. Rather, Jeff sees it all and the viewer is left to feel as helpless as the character. Furthermore, in the final confrontation, the silence between the characters is perfectly uncomfortable, just enough for the viewer to pay complete attention and not try to think how it’s going to end up.
The cinematography helps to give the same effect as being able to see everything Jeff sees too. He’s watching the apartments, can’t see well enough with binoculars and picks up a telescopic lens and whenever he’s looking through the lens, the viewer is looking through the same lens, only able see what he sees. This helps to further the voyeuristic style Hitchcock was known for.
Even then, non-sexual voyeurism is a main point of the film, maybe even a commentary on how voyeuristic the idea of television and film is, watching the lives of strangers and other unknown people. As Jeff sits and peeks into all the apartments, he sees them go throughout their daily lives and they aren’t just random inserts to make it look like Jeff isn’t only watching one specific neighbor. Each apartment tells its own little story. There’s a dancer prancing around in her underwear, and she brushes off the advances of every guy who approaches her, only to welcome a lover at the end of the film. There’s a couple who hangs out on their fire escape with a dog and the woman becomes enraged when the dog is killed in the latter half of the movie. They end up with a new one. There’s a woman bemoaning her lack of love and a frustrated composer who has no success. At one point, his playing stops her from committing suicide and the two end up together. Finally, there’s a newlywed couple who are insatiable at the beginning and end up fighting at the end.
The voyeurism is furthered in how the viewer never knows their names, only the nicknames Jeff’s nurse calls them. It could also be, in addition to the voyeurism, that Hitchcock was pointing out how while there is a main story going on with Jeff, there are stories to be found everywhere and individual stories might interconnect at times, such as the entire neighborhood surfacing when the lady screams about her dog.
A fascinating aspect the film is its ending doesn’t completely end Jeff and Lisa’s story. Early on, Jeff says their lifestyles are too different and the relationship would never work out. In the end though, Lisa is wearing low end fashion and reading a novel. Yet, eventually she starts reading a fashion magazine. It shows she hasn’t changed in the immediate context of the film. Still, since the film shows how lives and stories change, it could be implying the change for these two is gradual.