Horror Review: Rear Window (1954)

A wheelchair-bound photographer spies on his neighbours from his apartment window and becomes convinced one of them has committed murder.

How in the hell do you review what is essentially an absolutely classic film?!

Some of you maybe aware that I’m a huge fan of Hitchcock’s films, the man truly was a master of his craft, I mean they didn’t call him ‘The Master Of Suspense’ for nothing. It’s features like this that helped cement that legacy and made him become the legend he is known to be and still is all these years later.
The depressing thing is though, is that as time goes on these films seem to be lost more and more to the past. It truly amazes me how many people haven’t seen some of these older films, it really boggles my mind as I was someone who actively went looking for them but I will say they are most definitely missing out.
This feature is, in my opinion, a true masterpiece of a film. From beginning to end it is total perfection. Hitchcock had a great understanding of human nature and we see him delve into that here and with his use of voyeurism (a subject he used a lot in his films) we see that in play with his array of characters.
Talking of the characters, each one is wrote so fantastically. No matter how small the role is each character has a personality to them and you can feel they have a depth of backstory to each one, something that I feel is a lost art in modern film. It’s helped by the fact there isn’t a single bad actor on screen.
This isn’t my best film review and I know that but I admittedly found trying to review “Rear Window” intimidating. As I said at the beginning,”How in the hell do you review what is essentially an absolutely classic film?!”. If you haven’t seen this classic then I urge you to seek it out even more of these classics.
If you want to see the “Rear Window” trailer then just click on the video below:
Miscellaneous facts about the film:
According to Georgine Darcy, the scene in which the man and woman on the fire escape struggle in their attempt to get in out of the rain can be attributed to a prank by Sir Alfred Hitchcock. Each actor and actress in the apartment complex facing Jeff’s rear window wore an earpiece through which they could receive Hitchcock’s directions. Hitchcock told the man to pull the mattress in one direction and told the woman to pull in the opposite direction. Unaware that they had received conflicting directions, the couple began to fight and struggle to get the mattress inside once the crew began filming the scene. The resulting mayhem in which one of the couple is tossed inside the window with the mattress provided humor and a sense of authenticity to the scene, which Hitchcock liked. He was so pleased with the result that he did not order another take.
The entire movie was shot on one set, which required months of planning and construction. The apartment-courtyard set measured ninety-eight feet wide, one hundred eighty-five feet long, and forty feet high, and consisted of thirty-one apartments, eight of which were completely furnished. The courtyard was set twenty to thirty feet below stage level, and some of the buildings were the equivalent of five or six stories high. This movie was shot quickly on the heels of Dial M for Murder (1954), November 27, 1953 to January 13, 1954.
The film negative was considerably damaged as a result of color dye fading as early as the 1960s. Nearly all of the yellow image dyes had faded out. Despite fears that the film had been irrevocably damaged, preservation experts were able to restore the film nearly to its original coloration.
During the month-long shoot, Georgine Darcy (Miss Torso), “lived” in her apartment all day, relaxing between takes as if really at home.
Sir Alfred Hitchcock gave Georgine Darcy free range to choreograph her own dance moves for her character, Miss Torso. Darcy was to dance on her own volition during filming. Hitchcock’s only restriction was that he forbade her to take professional dance lessons, as he wanted her to maintain the imprecision of an amateur dancer.
All the apartments in Thorwald’s building had electricity and running water, and could be lived in.
All of the sound in this movie is diegetic, meaning that all the music, speech, and other sounds all come from within the world of the movie (with the exception of non-diegetic orchestral music heard in the first three shots of the movie).
By most accounts, everyone was crazy about Grace Kelly. According to James Stewart, “Everybody just sat around and waited for her to come in the morning, so we could just look at her. She was kind to everybody, so considerate, just great, and so beautiful.” Stewart also praised her instinctive acting ability and her “complete understanding of the way motion picture acting is carried out.”
In Cornell Woolrich’s short story on which this movie was based, it’s not revealed until the last line that the hero has a broken leg.
While shooting, Sir Alfred Hitchcock worked only in Jeff’s “apartment”. The actors and actresses in other apartments wore flesh-colored earpieces so that he could radio his directions to them.
The only movie in which Grace Kelly is seen with a cigarette. She refused to smoke in movies, except this one.
One thousand arc lights were used to simulate sunlight. Thanks to extensive pre-lighting of the set, the crew could make the changeover from day to night in under forty-five minutes.
In addition to Patrick Mahon, Sir Alfred Hitchcock noted in the modern interview that the 1910 case of Dr. Hawley Harvey Crippen also served as an inspiration for this movie. Crippen, an American living in London, poisoned his wife and cut up her body, then told police that she had moved to Los Angeles. Crippen was eventually caught after his secretary, with whom he was having an affair, was seen wearing Mrs. Crippen’s jewelry, and a family friend searched unsuccessfully for Mrs. Crippen in California. After Scotland Yard became involved, Crippen and his mistress fled England under false names and were apprehended on an ocean liner. Police found parts of Mrs. Crippen’s body in her cellar.
This movie was unavailable for three decades because its rights (together with four other movies of the same period) were bought back by Sir Alfred Hitchcock, and left as part of his legacy to his daughter. They’ve been known for long as the infamous “Five Lost Hitchcocks” amongst movie buffs, and were re-released in theatres around 1984 after a thirty-year absence. The others are The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), Rope (1948), The Trouble with Harry (1955), and Vertigo (1958). However, prior to the theatrical re-releases in the 1980s, this movie was televised once, in 1971, on ABC, although the network technically did not have the legal right to do so.
DIRECTOR CAMEO (Sir Alfred Hitchcock): (At around twenty-five minutes) Winding the clock in the songwriter’s apartment. The songwriter is real-life songwriter Ross Bagdasarian, Creator of Alvin and the Chipmunks.
Sir Alfred Hitchcock supposedly hired Raymond Burr to play Lars Thorwald because he could be easily made to look like his old producer David O. Selznick, who Hitchcock felt interfered too much.
According to Thelma Ritter, Sir Alfred Hitchcock never told actors and actresses if he liked what they did in a scene, and if he didn’t like it, “he looked like he was going to throw up.”
Sir Alfred Hitchcock liked working with James Stewart, especially in comparison to his other most frequent star, Cary Grant, who was fussy and demanding. Stewart, in Hitchcock’s eyes, was an easy-going, workmanlike performer. But Wendell Corey, who appeared with Stewart in several movies, said the actor also had a “whopping big ego” and could intimidate even Hitchcock by out-shouting and out-arguing him if he thought a scene wasn’t going well. “There was steel under all that mush”, Corey said.
Grace Kelly may have been a bit too beautiful and friendly, at least for the Paramount Pictures publicity department and James Stewart’s wife. Known privately as a sexually free young woman, Kelly often had affairs with her leading men, and she made everyone nervous by confessing to gossip columnists that she found Stewart one of the most masculinely attractive men she ever met.
Sir Alfred Hitchcock and James Stewart had a friendship that was oddly intimate while being somewhat proper and distanced. They rarely socialized outside work, and didn’t talk much on the set, but communicated in unspoken glances. Stewart said Hitchcock didn’t discuss a scene with an actor or actress, but preferred to hire people who would know what was expected of them when he said “action”. The most Hitchcock would say to Stewart, according to Stewart, was something like, “The scene is tired”, thereby communicating that the timing was off.
Once during the filming, the lights were so hot that they set off the soundstage sprinkler system.
The love affair between war photographer Robert Capa and Ingrid Bergman is believed to be Sir Alfred Hitchcock’s inspiration for this movie’s romantic aspect.
To accommodate the enormous set, a higher ceiling was required. Sir Alfred Hitchcock had the production company tear out the entire floor of the studio, revealing the basement. What the audience sees as the courtyard was originally the basement level of the studio.
The original story by Cornell Woolrich had no love story and no additional neighbors for L.B. Jefferies to spy on; those elements were created by Sir Alfred Hitchcock and John Michael Hayes. Hayes was encouraged by Hitchcock to spend time with Grace Kelly before writing the Lisa character, and Hayes admitted that elements of Lisa were inspired by the actress.
By the time the movie went before the cameras, Sir Alfred Hitchcock had dropped more than one hundred fifty pounds, and was at perhaps the happiest stage of his life and career. “I was feeling very creative”, he later told François Truffaut. “The batteries were well-charged.”
The set had to have four lighting set-ups always in place for various times of the day. Remote switches located in Jeff’s apartment controlled the lighting. Virtually every piece of lighting that wasn’t employed on another Paramount Pictures movie had to be used (by some counts, one thousand huge arc lights and two thousand smaller ones). At one point, the lights caused the sprinkler system to go off, which shut everything down, and plunged the set into total darkness. Sir Alfred Hitchcock calmly told an assistant to bring him an umbrella and let him know when the “rain” stopped.
The scene in which Jeff speaks to his editor on the telephone was originally scripted to take place in the editor’s office. In fact, Sir Alfred Hitchcock filmed the scene with James Stewart and Gig Young meeting outside of Jeff’s iconic apartment. Ultimately, Hitchcock decided that the departure from the apartment would be too great of a distraction, and he used the audio from the completed scene for the telephone conversation, which made the final cut.
This movie was shot on a specially constructed set that took fifty men two months to build, and cost somewhere between $75,000 and $100,000. In order to get the scale right, the soundstage floor had to be removed so the courtyard could be built in a former storage space in the basement. Therefore, Stewart’s apartment, which appears to be on the second floor, was actually at street level. The set included thirty-one apartments, of which twelve were fully furnished. The whole thing became a marvel that visitors to the studio were eager to see, and it was featured in magazine spreads while shooting was still in progress.
According to Georgine Darcy, there were four separate lighting settings for this movie, which were meant to replicate early morning, afternoon, late evening, and night. She also noted that for some of the settings, the heat from the lights was nearly unbearable for the actors and actresses on the top floor of the apartment building.
Director Sir Alfred Hitchcock spent a great deal of time with costume designer Edith Head on Grace Kelly’s look, which was characteristic of his often obsessive relationship with his leading ladies. One costume he fretted over was the negligee Lisa wears to spend the night at Jeff’s. He quietly pulled Head aside and suggested falsies to give Kelly a bustier look. Head and Kelly, however, made only a few changes in costume construction and posture. Hitchcock was fooled into thinking Kelly had been padded, and approved the look.
One of the photographs on the wall in Jeff’s (James Stewart’s) apartment in this movie is a photograph of him standing in front of a aircraft during World War II. Mr. Stewart served active duty as a U.S. Army Air Forces pilot during the war, flying missions as a B-24 pilot.
Cinematographer Robert Burks devised a system using a camera with a telephoto lens mounted on a crane to bring the camera close enough to film small details through the windows across the courtyard.
The book that Lisa is reading at the end is an actual book, “Beyond the High Himalayas” by Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas.
The 35mm camera that James Stewart holds with the huge telephoto lens attached is an early 1950s Exakta VX (also known as the “Varex” outside the U.S.) manufactured in Dresden, (east) Germany. The lens is a 400mm Kilfitt. The Paramount Pictures property department purposely covered over the name with black masking tape.
The take-out dinner Lisa heats up and serves to L.B. is Lobster Thermidor with Pommes Frites à la Julienne, a very expensive dish, which most likely came from “Musso & Frank Grill”, one of Sir Alfred Hitchcock’s two favorite restaurants in Hollywood. The dish can be found on their 1954 menu. The other favorite restaurant of Hitchcock’s was “Chasen’s”; however, they don’t have the dish on their menu from the same period.
Although uncredited, the ballet music Miss Torso is dancing to in her apartment is Leonard Bernstein’s ballet score “Fancy Free”.
Sir Alfred Hitchcock deliberately shot most of the set-ups so they would appear voyeuristic.
The original trailer for this movie apparently does not exist. Only a re-issue trailer can be found on the DVD.
This movie was inspired in part by the real-life murder case of Patrick Mahon. In 1924, in Sussex, England, Mahon murdered his pregnant mistress, Emily Kaye, and dismembered her body. In the modern interview, Sir Alfred Hitchcock claimed that Mahon threw the body parts out of a train window piece by piece, and burned the head in his fireplace. Another modern source, however, states that Mahon quartered the body and stored it in a large trunk, then removed internal organs, putting some in biscuit tins and a hatbox and boiling others on the stove.
Sir Alfred Hitchcock worked closely with Edith Head on the costume designs, being sure to give the more distant characters a very specific look, not only so audiences could always identify them, but also to point up their connection to the main characters. For example, Miss Lonelyhearts was given emerald green outfits to identify her, and because Lisa later appears in a green suit, Miss Lonelyhearts’ romantic woes are linked to the story’s examination of Lisa and Jeff’s problematic relationship.
Along with Dial M for Murder (1954) and To Catch a Thief (1955), this is one of three movies directed by Sir Alfred Hitchcock in which Grace Kelly appeared.
Sir Alfred Hitchcock briefly considered shooting on location in Greenwich Village, but abandoned the idea in favor of re-creating the setting on Paramount Pictures’ Stage 18. To get the proper Village flavor, he sent four photographers to New York City to shoot from all angles, and under all weather and lighting conditions.
Added to the National Film Registry in 1997.
Based on the photo on Jeff’s (James Stewart’s) wall, Doyle (Wendell Corey) and Jeff flew a de Havilland Mosquito photo reconnaissance plane in World War II. Doyle would have been the pilot, and Jeff would have been the photographer and navigator. The airplane in the background behind Doyle and Jeff appears to be a P-38 Lightning.
Despite big box-office success and four Oscar nominations, the film failed to score a best picture Oscar nomination, any acting nominations, or (most surprisingly) a nomination for the fantastic set design.
Grace Kelly celebrated her birthday on the set (November 12, 1953).
Ranked #3 on the American Film Institute’s list of the 10 greatest films in the genre “Mystery” in June 2008.
In 2007, the American Film Institute ranked this as the 48th Greatest Movie of All Time.
The size of the set necessitated excavation of the soundstage floor. Thus Jeff’s apartment was actually at street level.
James Stewart has stated that of the four movies he made with Sir Alfred Hitchcock, this one is his personal favorite.
At the time, the set was the largest indoor set built at Paramount Pictures Studios.
Franz Waxman’s final score for Sir Alfred Hitchcock.
The cast includes three Oscar winners: James Stewart, Grace Kelly, and Gig Young; and two Oscar nominees: Thelma Ritter and Sir Alfred Hitchcock.
Included among the American Film Institute’s 1998 list of the Top 100 Greatest American Movies.
Screenwriter John Michael Hayes based Lisa on his own wife, who’d been a professional fashion model when they married.
The lens Jeff (James Stewart) used on his camera to spy on his neighbors is reportedly a 400mm prime telephoto, the magnification of which would render it nearly impossible to use effectively without a tripod.
Because all but a few scenes were shot from inside Jeff’s apartment, Sir Alfred Hitchcock remained in that part of the set, communicating with his actors and actresses across the way via short wave radio broadcast to their flesh-colored earpieces.
It is alluded to that Jeff was in the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II. James Stewart, who portrayed him, was also in the U.S. Army Air Forces.
The first German dubbing was created in 1955. After the rights to this movie reverted back to Sir Alfred Hitchcock, all prints of this version were destroyed. When this movie became available again in 1984, a new dubbing had to be created, since the old version could not be located. It is presumed lost.
A major influence on other thrillers, Brian De Palma’s Body Double (1984) and Phillip Noyce’s Sliver (1993) are two notable examples that reveal a debt to this movie.
One of the first examples to firmly establish the auteur theory. Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window is proudly displayed in the opening credits, creating the unmistakable belief that this movie could have only come from Hitchcock’s mind and no one else’s.
Included among the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”, edited by Steven Schneider.
This movie is included on Roger Ebert’s “Great Movies” list.
L.B. Jefferies (James Stewart) broke his leg while taking a photograph of a racing accident. In 1961, a photographer died taking a picture of the deadly Formula 1 accident of German driver Graf Berghe von Trips in Monza.
Joe Flynn was cast in the movie, but his scene was cut.
It is quite plausible that all of Thelma Ritter’s dresses were made from the same pattern.
Kathryn Grant appears in the party scene that takes place in Ross Bagdasarian, Sr.’s apartment.
A bit of prop trickery had to be used when Stella pulls out the binoculars from their leather case hanging on the wall. That brand fits extremely tight within the carrying case, and even creates a vacuum when extracted. She could never have pulled them out with one hand and have the case remain stationary as depicted.
One of Jeff’s neighbors can be heard listening to “To See You (Is to Love You)” performed by Bing Crosby. Grace Kelly starred with Crosby in both High Soceity and The Country Girl.
Stewart mispronounces “Lisa” as “Leeza” throughout the movie.
Trade magazines of the time reported the world premiere was August 4, 1954 at the Rivoli Theatre in New York City. The August 1 date given in the “release dates” section may be erroneous.
The top-grossing film of 1954.
Jeff comments to Stella that when he gets married it will be to “somebody who thinks of life not just as a new dress and a lobster dinner and the latest scandal.” Later when Lisa is introduced, she arrives in a new dress with a lobster dinner, and relates several of the latest scandals to Jeff.

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