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A protagonist is caught in a situation where he is forced to watch a crime (or what he thinks is a crime) but is powerless to do anything to stop it. Later on he may be unable to prove a crime has occurred, or he may find himself targeted by the killer looking to eliminate any witnesses.


May or may not lead to a Rear Window Investigation.

Examples of Rear Window Witness include:


Film

  • The Trope Namer is Alfred Hitchcock's classic 1954 film Rear Window, in which Jimmy Stewart is laid up with a broken leg and sees enough to make him suspect that his neighbour has murdered his wife. Later he can only watch as the might-be killer returns to the apartment while his girlfriend is searching it.
    • Remade in 1998, with wheelchair-bound, paralyzed Christopher Reeve playing the wheelchair-bound, paralyzed protagonist. A particularly effective moment comes when the murderous neighbor breaks into Reeve's apartment and unplugs his ventilator, a situation that you just know Reeve had either experienced or had nightmares about.
      • Reeve actually spoke without a ventilator during filming.
  • Absolute Power: Clint Eastwood's Cat Burglar character is trapped in a special safe/closet with a one-way mirror when burglarizing a mansion. A couple comes in, they have rough sex, and the man's bodyguards mistakenly shoot and kill the woman. The woman was the elderly homeowner's trophy wife, and the man was the President of the United States. Clint initially tries to flee the country, but instead he vows to expose the truth.
  • In The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, the hero is trapped between two sets of sliding glass doors when he witnesses a murder attempt on a young woman.
  • Body Double
  • Disturbia (2007), where the protagonist is confined to his house by a house-arrest legband.
  • In what should be the most ridiculous possible example, but isn't, 2003's Mimic: Sentinel was pitched as "Rear Window with giant cockroaches". Here, the protagonist is confined to his house by an acute immune system disorder caused by the last outbreak of the giant cockroaches. Surprisingly watchable, and easily the best of the Mimic movies; Rear Window is apparently a Bullet Proof Script.
  • ...and then along comes Abominable to disprove that theory, where the villain-across-the-street is none other than Bigfoot. Yeah.
  • In Sorry Wrong Number, a crossed line causes an invalid to overhear two people planning to kill her.
  • Clubhouse Detectives is a kid-friendly version from the 90s, where a kid spots the murder from the bathroom window, and tries to convince his mom and the police. Since this is a kids movie, Adults Are Useless and they have to take matter into their own hands.
  • In Burglar, based on The Burglar in the Closet by Lawrence Block, Whoopi Goldberg's character is hiding in a closet during a burglary when she witnesses an extended bed-rattling session, followed by a killing. She isn't able to see the face of the murderer, however.
  • In the third Home Alone movie, the protagonist is home sick from school and witnesses the burglary of a neighbor's home, but can't get anyone to believe him.
  • The Other Side Of The Street is 2004 Brazilian film. Regina, a lonely and retired grandmother, defies social expectations maintaining a very active lifestyle in Rio de Janeiro's urban life. She does this largely by supplying the police with tips on criminal activities in the area. When she witnesses what she believes is a murder across the street, she tries to obtain incriminating statements from the supposed perpetrator but in the process her whole world changes...
  • In the movie The Bay Boy, the main character witnesses a murder through a store window by a crooked cop, but is scared by the cop into not telling anyone.

Literature

  • In the Agatha Christie novel 4:50 from Paddington and its film version Murder She Said, a character on a train witnesses a murder happening on another train on a parallel track.
  • There was a Goosebumps book involving this trope.

Live Action TV

  • In an episode of Highlander the Series, Tessa witnesses a murder and then can't convince the police of the fact.
  • The NCIS episode "Witness".
  • In an episode of Due South Fraser witnesses a crime through his hospital window.
  • Gary gets caught up in a plot while stuck in his apartment with a broken leg in an episode of Early Edition
  • The Unusuals has an episode along these lines.
  • Psych The episode "Mr. Yin Presents" was filled with references to Hitchcock including a point where the characters in the show are forced to portray Hitchcock film alter egos. Shawn, at one point, plays James Stewart (and manages a convincing Stewart voice to boot) by sitting in a wheelchair on a "set" created by the villain.
  • In an episode of Doctor Who, Harriet Jones is witness to a murder by the Slitheen while hiding in a cabinet. Later, just as she and Rose uncover the Prime Minister's corpse, one of the Slitheen catches them in the act and moves in for the kill. Cue Cliff Hanger ending.
  • Happens to Daisy in Downton Abbey.
  • In an episode of ALF, the titular character (house-bound because he's an alien) thinks he witnesses a neighbour commit murder.
  • Jonathan Creek: In "The Problem at Gallows Gate", Adam's sister Kitty witnesses a murder through a pair of high-powered binoculars during a badger watch.
  • The season 6 episode "Point of View" of CSI New York pays homage to the Rear Window where Mac Taylor is severely injured during the pursuit of a suspect and is confined to his apartment, observing the neighbors. Mac witnesses a shady deal similar to L.B. Jeffries and his suspicion of his murderous neighbor.
  • The Return Of The Saint episode "Signal Stop" has a variation where a woman on a train reports a murder being committed in an empty building next to the line.
  • The now-forgotten 1979-80 ABC sitcom The Last Resort had an episode about this; see a vintage promo for it here.
  • Mathnet, the Law and Order-style show-within-a-show on Square One TV, used this plot: One detective is housebound with a broken leg and suspects her neighbor is a mad bomber. Luckily, her partner believes her (and is significantly more mobile).

Video Games

  • In Dead Space, you witness a worker of the Ishimura get brutally killed by a Lurker with a pane of indestructible glass separating you. You can't do anything to help him, and must eventually go into the room after the door unlocks.
  • April May in the second case of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney is initially set up as one. But it turns out she knows a lot more about the crime than a mere 'witness' should...

Western Animation

  • Parodied in an episode of The Simpsons in which Ned Flanders accidentally kills his wife's plant and a wheelchair-bound Bart thinks he killed his wife.
  • Rocko in the episode "Ed is Dead", where he thinks Bev killed Ed during an argument. Cue Rear Window Investigation, and The Reveal that what actually got destroyed and buried was only a meatloaf sculpture of Ed, and that Ed was at the doctor's having a wart removed from his butt.
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