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I'm not much on rear window ethics.—Lisa Fremont
The main charcter, L. B. "Jeff" Jeffries (Stewart) is a photographer who broke his leg during a dangerous assignment. He is confined to his small apartment and, out of boredom, starts to spy on his neighbors. He sees one of his neighbors, Lars Thorwald (Raymond Burr), acting suspiciously. He eventually becomes convinced that Thorwald killed his wife Anna (Irene Winston), a bedridden invalid who has gone missing.
Jeff's girlfriend, Lisa Carol Fremont (Kelly), doesn't believe him at first, but soon changes her mind. After the police don't believe them, Jeff, Lisa, and Jeff's nurse, Stella (Thelma Ritter) try to come up with a plan to catch the killer.
Jeff calls Thorwald, acts as if he's going to blackmail him, and arranges a meeting at a bar. While Thorwald is away, Lisa and Stella dig up his garden, but they find nothing. Lisa breaks into Thorwald's house to look for evidence. She finds Mrs. Thorwald's wedding ring, but Thorwald comes back, and almost strangles her to death. Jeff calls the police, who arrive just in time.
Since the police didn't see Thorwald strangling her, they arrest Lisa for breaking in. Jeff sends Stella to bail her out, and Thorwald attacks him when he's alone. Jeff is thrown out of the window, and breaks his other leg. The police catch Thorwald, and everything is back to normal.
Contains examples of:
- Adaptation Expansion: The film is based on Cornell Woolrich's short story "It Had to Be Murder", which didn't have the characters of Lisa and Stella.
- Affectionate Parody: The episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents entitled "Mr. Blanchard's Secret" which featured a female Nosy Neighbor, sure that her neighbor killed his wife. One of the very few episodes of his series directed by the Master himself.
- Blinding Camera Flash: Used to stall the killer.
- Bottle Movie: The action never leaves the perspective of Jeff's apartment, which means that the action is limited to Jeff's apartment, what he can see in the courtyard of the apartment complex and the windows of other apartments. The only time that the movie leaves this limited perspective is when Thorwald pushes Jeff out of his window.
- While the effect is similar, Rear Window was the opposite of most TV Bottle Episodes, shot to save money: The entire courtyard was constructed on a soundstage, one of the largest in film history at the time. This gave Hitchcock precise control over lighting and camera angles - on the enormous courtyard set he often had to give actors direction via radio while he was shooting from the opposite side.
- Closed Circle: Jeff can't leave his apartment because of his broken leg.
- Come Back to Bed, Honey: At the beginning of the movie, a newlywed couple moves into an apartment close to the Jeff's. They close their blinds, and are not seen for a while. After a few days, the man is seen leaning out of the window, and his wife calls him back.
- Creator Cameo: Hitch is seen tinkering with the clock in the songwriter's apartment.
- Deadpan Snarker: Stella and Jeff.
- Exploring the Evil Lair
- Failed Attempt At Drama: When Jeff tells Lisa that their lifestyles are too different and their relationship can't work, she's about to leave:
Lisa: Goodbye, Jeff.
Jeff: You mean, 'Good night.'
Lisa: I mean what I said.
Jeff: Well, Lisa, couldn't we just, uh, couldn't we just keep things status quo?
Lisa: Without any future?
Jeff: Well, when am I gonna see you again?
Lisa: Not for a long time... at least not until tomorrow night.
- Friend on the Force: Doyle.
- Heat Wave: At the beginning of the movie, the camera shows a thermometer that reads about 90 degrees.
- Insatiable Newlyweds
- Interrupted Suicide: Miss Lonelyhearts. The composer playing musics stops her from taking the pills
- I Take Offense to That Last One: When Jeff is trying to convince Lisa that she couldn't adapt to his lifestyle:
Jeff: Did you ever get shot at? Did you ever get run over? Did you ever get sandbagged at night because somebody got unfavorable publicity from your camera? Did you ever...those high-heels, they'll be great in the jungle and the nylons and those six ounce lingerie...
- Kick the Dog: Thorwald kills a little dog, because it had discovered the corpse (well, part of it) of his wife in the garden.
- Kuleshov Effect: Used extensively. Stewart actually complained that Hitchcock used the editing of the film in general to create a different performance than the one that was given.
- Lap Pillow: Lisa holds Jeff's head in her lap after Thorwald throws him out of the window.
- Last-Name Basis: Everybody calls L. B. Jeffries "Jeff".
- Lingerie Scene: Lisa has one. She calls it "preview of coming attractions".
- Love Epiphany: Jeff, about Lisa, after she leaves Thorwald the note. She runs back to the apartment, breathlessly asking what his reaction was, and Jeff's look seems to fit in with this trope.
- Ms. Fanservice: One of Jeff's neighbors, "Miss Torso," is a ballet dancer, who dances around in her underwear.
- Naughty Birdwatching: Jeff watching "Miss Torso" with his binoculars.
- No Accounting for Taste: Jeff and Lisa know that their relationship wouldn't work, because their lifestyles are way too different, but they're still unable to break up.
- No Name Given: Jeff's first name is never revealed, neither is Stella's last name. Aside from Thorwald, none of the people living in the apartment are given names either, only nick-names such as "Miss Torso" or "Miss Lonely-Hearts."
- Nosy Neighbor: Jeff.
- Oh Crap: Thorwald finally spotting Jeffries watching him. It's quite an experience watching this scene with an audience.
- Only Known by Initials: L. B. "Jeff" Jeffries.
- Pair the Spares: Miss Lonely-Hearts and Songwriter, who spent the whole movie bemoaning their lack of luck at love, meet and fall in love at the end.
- The Peeping Tom: Jeff.
- Playing Against Type: Jimmy Stewart, usually cast as a nice guy, plays a character here, who has bitter ideas about marriage and a touch of voyeurism in him. Became a bit of a theme in his post World War II career.
- Police Are Useless: Jeff's friend, Doyle, who is a police detective, dismisses his theory, but it's subverted in that his arguments are very convincing.
- Put Off Their Food: Stella's musing over murder methods put Jeff off his breakfast.
"Now just where do you suppose he cut her up?"
(Jeff stops just before putting some bacon in his mouth)
"Oh — of course! In the bathtub. That's the only place he could wash away the blood."
(Jeff puts down the bacon)
- Rear Window Investigation: Trope Namer
- Rear Window Witness: Trope Namer
- Right Place, Right Time, Wrong Reason: Jeff discovers the murder because of his voyeurism.
- Servile Snarker: Stella.
- Slip Into Something More Comfortable:
Lisa: (removing jacket) Why don't I slip into something more comfortable?
Jeff: Oh, by all means.
Lisa: I mean like the kitchen and make us some coffee.
- Later, she does put on a sexy nightgown.
- Source Music: All of the music is diegetic.
- Subtext: One interpretation of the movie is that it is a commentary on the institution of marriage, and the story is really about Jeff and Lisa more than it is about Thorwald.
- Title Drop: The page quote.
- Tsundere: Lisa.
- Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: The pretty ballet dancer who has spent the film fending off the advances of several male model types is seen happily welcoming home her chubby, bespectacled lover at the end of the movie.
- Unlimited Wardrobe: Lisa, even lampshaded.
Jeff: Is this the Lisa Fremont who never wears the same dress twice?
Lisa: Only because it's expected of her.