The Alfred Hitchcock master piece ‘Rear Window’ (1954) was released 57 years ago today. Based on the 1942 short story “It Had to Be Murder” by Cornell Woolrich; the film stars James Stewart as a housebound photographer who spies on his neighbours while recuperating from a broken leg, Grace Kelly as his girlfriend, Thelma Ritter as his nurse, Wendell Corey as a police detective and Raymond Burr as one of the neighbours.
After breaking his leg during a dangerous assignment, professional photographer L. B. “Jeff” Jeffries (Stewart) is confined in his Greenwich Village apartment, using a wheelchair while he recuperates. His rear window looks out onto a small courtyard and several other apartments. During a summer heat wave, he passes the time by watching his neighbors, who keep their windows open to stay cool. The tenants he can see include a dancer, a lonely woman he nicknames “Miss Lonelyheart”, a songwriter, several married couples, and Lars Thorwald (Burr), a salesman with a bedridden wife.
After Thorwald makes repeated late-night trips carrying a large case, Jeff notices that Thorwald’s wife is gone and sees Thorwald cleaning a large knife and handsaw. Later, Thorwald ties a large packing crate with heavy rope and has moving men haul it away. Jeff discusses these observations with his wealthy girlfriend Lisa (Kelly) and his home-care nurse Stella (Ritter), then explains to his friend Tom Doyle (Corey), a local police detective, that they believe Thorwald murdered his wife. Doyle looks into the situation but finds nothing suspicious…
The film was shot entirely on soundstages at Paramount Studios, utilising one enormous set, the biggest ever built by the studio at that time. Hitchcock makes the viewer an accomplice in James Stewart’s voyeurism. We’re watching Stewart, who represents the audience, as he becomes obsessed with the ‘screen’, the apartment block framed by his window.
The film received four Academy Award nominations: Best Director for Alfred Hitchcock, Best Screenplay for John Michael Hayes, Best Colour Cinematography for Robert Burks, Best Sound Recording for Loren L. Ryder. Hitchcock was also nominated for a Directors Guild Award and Screenwriter John Michael Hayes won the Edgar Allan Poe Award for BEst Motion Picture in 1955.
The film remade for television in 1998 featuring the paralysed Christopher Reeve as a housebound patient in a high-tech apartment. It was also retold as ‘Disturbia’ (2007) which featured Shia LaBeouf as a teenager under house arrest who believes that his neighbour is a serial killer. Both remakes pale by comparison to the original.