Rear Window (1954)

112 mins | Mystery | September 1954

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HISTORY

The Cornell Woolrich short story on which this film was based was first published in 1942 under the title “It Had to Be Murder.” Prior to the film’s production, the story was republished twice under the title “Rear Window.” A Dec 1988 DV article notes that in 1945, Woolrich assigned the story’s rights to B. G. DeSylva Productions, which in turn sold their interest to Paramount. According to a 1953 Var news item, Joshua Logan and Leland Hayward were the original owners of the story rights and, in Jul 1953, made a deal with producer-director Alfred Hitchcock and actor James Stewart to produce the picture. Warner Bros. was announced as the film’s probable distributor at that time.
       As noted in 1983 studio publicity material and a modern interview with Hitchcock, the film was inspired in part by the real-life murder case of Patrick Mahon. Modern sources disagree about specific aspects of the case, but generally concur that in 1924, in Sussex, England, Mahon murdered his pregnant mistress, Emily Kaye, and dismembered her body. In the modern interview, 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.
       In addition to Mahon, Hitchcock noted in the modern interview that the 1910 case of Dr. Hawley Harvey Crippen also served as an inspiration for the film. Crippen, an American living ... More Less

The Cornell Woolrich short story on which this film was based was first published in 1942 under the title “It Had to Be Murder.” Prior to the film’s production, the story was republished twice under the title “Rear Window.” A Dec 1988 DV article notes that in 1945, Woolrich assigned the story’s rights to B. G. DeSylva Productions, which in turn sold their interest to Paramount. According to a 1953 Var news item, Joshua Logan and Leland Hayward were the original owners of the story rights and, in Jul 1953, made a deal with producer-director Alfred Hitchcock and actor James Stewart to produce the picture. Warner Bros. was announced as the film’s probable distributor at that time.
       As noted in 1983 studio publicity material and a modern interview with Hitchcock, the film was inspired in part by the real-life murder case of Patrick Mahon. Modern sources disagree about specific aspects of the case, but generally concur that in 1924, in Sussex, England, Mahon murdered his pregnant mistress, Emily Kaye, and dismembered her body. In the modern interview, 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.
       In addition to Mahon, Hitchcock noted in the modern interview that the 1910 case of Dr. Hawley Harvey Crippen also served as an inspiration for the film. 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.
       According to studio production notes, the entire picture was shot on one set, which required months of planning and construction. The apartment-courtyard set measured 98 feet wide, 185 feet long and 40 feet high, and consisted of 31 apartments, eight of which were completely furnished. The courtyard was set 20 to 30 feet below stage level, and some of the buildings were the equivalent of five or six stories high. Because most of the shots were from “Jeff’s” point of view, many camera lenses were employed, including a new ten-inch lens, which duplicated the view of a still camera telephoto lens. Actors portraying Jeff’s neighbors, who are seen mostly in long shots, received their cues via short-wave radios and hidden microphones, according to production notes. Although production notes claim that Hitchcock ended up with only 100 feet of outtakes, modern sources state that the director demanded 27 takes of one shot of “Lisa” giving Jeff a kiss.
       According to a 30 Nov 1953 HR news item, Joy Lansing was cast in the picture, but she did not appear in the final film. Hitchcock, who appeared briefly in all of his pictures in some way, is seen in Rear Window winding a clock in the composer’s apartment. All of the songs and instrumentals in the picture, except the composer’s piece, “Lisa,” are heard as radio broadcasts. Bing Crosby sings “To See You,” a song he performed in Paramount’s 1952 film The Road to Bali (See Entry). Some modern historians have speculated that Hitchcock had actor Raymond Burr dye his hair gray and wear glasses for his role as the killer, "Lars Thorwald," to make him resemble producer David O. Selznick, to whom Hitchcock had been under contract for many years and with whom the director had an often contentious working relationship.
       Rear Window was praised by critics and received the following Academy Award nominations: Best Director, Best Sound Recording (Loren L. Ryder, Sound Director), Best Writing (Screenplay) and Best Cinematography. In 1955, screenwriter John Michael Hayes, who wrote Hitchcock’s 1955 release To Catch a Thief and the 1956 pictures The Trouble with Harry and The Man Who Knew Too Much (see entries above and below), received the Mystery Writers of America’s “Best Mystery-Suspense Picture of the Year” award and was nominated for a Writers Guild award. In 1965, HR announced that, unlike George Stevens’ A Place in the Sun (see above entry), Rear Window would not be cut for its first showing on television because Hitchcock had made a “special pact” with the NBC network.
       According to May 1974, Apr 1984 and Dec 1988 DV articles, when Patron, Inc., the film’s production company, dissolved in 1960, the rights to the film were dispersed to Patron’s stockholders, who included Hitchcock, Stewart and Universal Pictures. In Dec 1969, after Woolrich’s death, the Chase Manhattan Bank, acting as agent for the author’s estate, renewed the copyright to the short story “Rear Window.” In early 1972, Sheldon Abend, the owner of Authors Research Co. and American Play Co., bought the rights to “Rear Window” from Chase for $650, plus ten percent of all proceeds from its exploitation.
       In 1974, according to the DV articles, Abend filed his first copyright infringement lawsuits involving Rear Window . That year, Abend sued Hitchcock, Stewart and Universal for $2,000,000 in connection with an ABC network broadcast of the film, and for $500,000 in connection with a segment of the Touch of Evil television series, in which footage from the film was used. Abend argued that the defendants had violated 1909 copyright law when they allowed the film to be broadcast without negotiating a deal with him, the short story’s legal owner. By the 1909 law, a copyright claim was good for only twenty-eight years but could be renewed by the author or his heirs for an additional twenty-eight years. (In 1978, the copyright law was amended to extend the initial copyright period to seventy-five years.) In his suit, Abend contended that despite Woolrich’s promise to renew the copyright, the claim was not renewed by him and therefore the defendants’ use of the property was unauthorized. Abend settled out of court following a $25,000 dispensation, but the underlying copyright issues were left unresolved.
       In Apr 1977, DV reported that actor Stuart Whitman had purchased the rights to remake the story from Abend, hoping to redo the tale as a two-hour television film, but that project never materialized. Rear Window remained out of circulation until Oct 1983, when it was re-released by Universal/MCA two years after Hitchcock’s death. An Apr 1983 HR item stated that Hitchcock had “bought back” the rights to the film years before, but had so many demands regarding its re-issue, including control over which theaters it would be shown in, that no company wanted to re-release it. In Apr 1983, MCA acquired the rights to the picture from Hitchcock’s estate, along with rights to several other of his films.
       In Apr 1984, Abend filed a third complaint in the U.S. District Court for California against MCA, Hitchcock’s estate and Stewart. In his 1984 suit, Abend attempted to recover monies earned on the 1983 re-issue, the grosses of which were estimated at $7,847,320. According to a Dec 1988 DV article, Judge Andrew Hauk of the District Court ruled in favor of the defendants, stating that a copyright renewal by the original copyright holder extended to heirs of the copyright holder. In Dec 1988, however, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the District Court’s decision in favor of Abend. As noted in the Dec 1988 DV article, the appeals court ruled that the rights renewal was “eliminated with the author’s death.” The appeals court did deny Abend’s request that an injunction barring further distribution of the film be issued, noting that Woolrich’s story played only a small part in the film’s success. The court also pointed out the possible harm in denying the public “the opportunity to view a classic film for many years to come.”
       According to a Mar 1989 HR article, in Jan 1989, MCA filed a petition for a rehearing of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision. Lawyers for MCA argued that, in addition to Rear Window , the appeals court’s decision could have serious repercussions for many other films with underlying properties purchased prior to 1978, whose authors died without renewing, because it would prohibit not only re-releases, but video and television releases as well. In Jan 1990, the case was presented before the U.S. Supreme Court. In May 1990, the Supreme Court issued a six-to-three decision in favor of Abend. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote the majority opinion, stating that the picture could not be shown without permission of the short story’s current copyright holder. At that time, the film had grossed over 12 million dollars.
       In Jan 2000, a newly restored version of Rear Window was released theatrically. According to a Jan 2000 New Yorker article, Robert Harris and James Katz spent two years cleaning the film, frame by frame, and reprinting the negative using dye-transfer technology. Rear Window was ranked 48th on AFI's 2007 100 Years…100 Movies--10th Anniversary Edition list of the greatest American films, moving down from the 42nd position it held on AFI's 1997 list.
       On 21 Nov 1998, a television version of Woolrich’s story was broadcast on the ABC network. In the Hallmark Entertainment production, directed by Jeff Bleckner, actor Christopher Reeve, in his first leading role since being paralyzed in a horse-riding accident in 1995, played the Stewart character as a paralyzed architect, and Daryl Hannah played Reeve’s love interest. More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
American Cinematographer
1 Feb 54
pp. 76-78, 97.
Box Office
17 Jul 54
p. 18.
Box Office
24 Jul 1954.
---
Daily Variety
15 Dec 1953.
---
Daily Variety
13 Jul 54
p. 3.
Daily Variety
31 May 1974.
---
Daily Variety
25 Apr 1977.
---
Daily Variety
18 Apr 1984
p. 1, 20, 23.
Daily Variety
28 Dec 1988
pp. 1-2.
Daily Variety
10 Jan 1990.
---
Film Daily
13 Jul 54
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
20 Nov 1953
p. 14.
Hollywood Reporter
30 Nov 1953
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
2 Dec 1953
p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Dec 1953
p. 13.
Hollywood Reporter
16 Dec 1953
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
15 Jan 1954
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
26 Feb 1954
p. 3, 6.
Hollywood Reporter
13 Jul 1954
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
11 Feb 1955
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
22 Apr 1955.
---
Hollywood Reporter
18 Nov 1965.
---
Hollywood Reporter
31 May 1974.
---
Hollywood Reporter
22 Apr 1983.
---
Hollywood Reporter
25 Aug 1983.
---
Hollywood Reporter
23 Mar 1989
p. 1, 65.
Life
16 Aug 1954
pp. 88-90.
Los Angeles Examiner
12 Aug 1954.
---
Los Angeles Times
10 Nov 1953.
---
Los Angeles Times
23 Jan 2000.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
17 Jul 54
p. 65.
New York Times
5 Aug 1954
p. 18.
New Yorker
24 Jan 2000.
---
Newsweek
9 Aug 1954.
---
Time
7 May 1990.
---
Variety
22 Jul 1953.
---
Variety
14 Jul 1954
p. 6.
Village Voice
25 Jan 2000.
---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANIES
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
2d asst dir
PRODUCER
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Set dec
COSTUMES
Cost
MUSIC
Mus score
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec photog eff
MAKEUP
Makeup supv
PRODUCTION MISC
Tech adv
Prod mgr
Scr supv
COLOR PERSONNEL
Technicolor col consultant
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the short story "It Had to Be Murder" by Cornell Woolrich in Dime Detective (Feb 1942).
MUSIC
"That's Amore" by Jack Brooks and Harry Warren
excerpt from the ballet Fancy Free by Leonard Bernstein.
SONGS
"Lisa," words and music by Franz Waxman
"Mona Lisa," words by Ray Evans, music by Jay Livingston
"To See You," words by Johnny Burke, music by James Van Heusen
+
SONGS
"Lisa," words and music by Franz Waxman
"Mona Lisa," words by Ray Evans, music by Jay Livingston
"To See You," words by Johnny Burke, music by James Van Heusen
excerpt from the opera Martha, oder Der Markt von Richmond , libretto by Friedrich Wilhelm Riese, music by Friedrich von Flotow.
+
DETAILS
Release Date:
September 1954
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 4 August 1954
Los Angeles opening: 11 August 1954
Production Date:
27 November 1953--13 January 1954
addl scenes began 26 February 1954
Copyright Claimant:
Patron, Inc.
Copyright Date:
1 September 1954
Copyright Number:
LP3992
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Recording
Color
Technicolor
Widescreen/ratio
1.66:1
Duration(in mins):
112
Length(in reels):
12
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
16938
SYNOPSIS

Laid up with a broken leg during the height of summer, renowned New York magazine photographer L. B. “Jeff” Jeffries enters his last week of home confinement, bored and anxious. A bachelor, Jeff has been spending his days sitting in a wheelchair, watching his neighbors through the rear window of his two-room apartment. Although Stella, the nurse who drops by to massage his back and prepare his meals, disapproves of his “peeping” and counsels him to marry his girl friend, model Lisa Carol Fremont, Jeff insists that Lisa is too “perfect” and refined for his adventurous lifestyle. Later, after observing a pair of amorous newlyweds moving into one of the buildings adjacent to his, Jeff is visited by the glamorous Lisa. When Lisa, who has brought Jeff a lavish restaurant meal, suggests that he give up his globe-trotting and become a fashion photographer, Jeff reacts with disdain. Jeff and Lisa then watch as a neighbor whom Jeff calls “Miss Lonely Hearts” entertains an imaginery dinner date, and “Miss Torso,” an attractive dancer, juggles the attentions of three male admirers in her apartment. Jeff also notices the traveling salesman who lives in a second-story apartment directly across the courtyard, arguing with his bed-ridden wife. After admiring the piano playing of Jeff’s neighbor, a struggling composer, Lisa confronts Jeff about their relationship, challenging his perception that their romance is doomed because of their different lifestyles. Jeff, however, insists that the pampered Lisa would never be happy enduring hardships in exotic locales and refuses to consider changing his ways. Before leaving, Lisa announces that she cannot continue seeing him without a commitment, then ... +


Laid up with a broken leg during the height of summer, renowned New York magazine photographer L. B. “Jeff” Jeffries enters his last week of home confinement, bored and anxious. A bachelor, Jeff has been spending his days sitting in a wheelchair, watching his neighbors through the rear window of his two-room apartment. Although Stella, the nurse who drops by to massage his back and prepare his meals, disapproves of his “peeping” and counsels him to marry his girl friend, model Lisa Carol Fremont, Jeff insists that Lisa is too “perfect” and refined for his adventurous lifestyle. Later, after observing a pair of amorous newlyweds moving into one of the buildings adjacent to his, Jeff is visited by the glamorous Lisa. When Lisa, who has brought Jeff a lavish restaurant meal, suggests that he give up his globe-trotting and become a fashion photographer, Jeff reacts with disdain. Jeff and Lisa then watch as a neighbor whom Jeff calls “Miss Lonely Hearts” entertains an imaginery dinner date, and “Miss Torso,” an attractive dancer, juggles the attentions of three male admirers in her apartment. Jeff also notices the traveling salesman who lives in a second-story apartment directly across the courtyard, arguing with his bed-ridden wife. After admiring the piano playing of Jeff’s neighbor, a struggling composer, Lisa confronts Jeff about their relationship, challenging his perception that their romance is doomed because of their different lifestyles. Jeff, however, insists that the pampered Lisa would never be happy enduring hardships in exotic locales and refuses to consider changing his ways. Before leaving, Lisa announces that she cannot continue seeing him without a commitment, then promises to return the next night. After she goes, Jeff hears a woman scream and glass break, but sees nothing of note outside. During a middle-of-the-night rain shower, Jeff awakens in front of the window and notices the salesman leaving his place with his sample case. Over the next few hours, Jeff drifts in and out of sleep and sees the salesman coming and going with his case. Early the next morning, while Jeff is asleep, the salesman leaves the building with a woman, and by the time Jeff is up, the salesman has returned, alone. After Jeff mentions the salesman and his wife to Stella, the salesman looks down at the courtyard, intently watching an older couple’s dog sniffing around his garden. Intrigued by the salesman’s behavior, Jeff begins to watch him, first through a pair of binoculars, then through the telephoto lens of his camera. Jeff sees the salesman wrapping a saw and a butcher knife in newspaper and, later that evening, tells Lisa about the salesman’s late-night activities and the fact that he spent the day at home but never went into his sick wife’s bedroom. When Jeff suggests that the man might have murdered his wife, Lisa dismisses his suspicions until she spies the salesman wrapping a rope around a large trunk. Believing that the wife’s body is in the trunk, Lisa crosses the courtyard to look at the salesman’s mailbox and tells Jeff over the phone that his name is Lars Thorwald. The next morning, Jeff calls police detective Thomas J. Doyle, a friend from his war days, and tells him about Thorwald. Jeff and Stella observe two movers carrying out Thorwald’s trunk, and Stella runs downstairs to check the name on the moving truck. Although Stella is unable to get the moving company’s name, Jeff fills Tom in on all the other details when he comes by that night. Tom is unconvinced, but promises to look into the matter, unofficially. Later, after Jeff sees Thorwald shooing the neighbors’ dog away from his flowers, Tom telephones to report that Thorwald and his wife were seen leaving together the previous morning by three witnesses, including Thorwald’s superintendent, who also stated that, according to Thorwald, Mrs. Thorwald took the train to Meritsville. Jeff is unimpressed by Tom’s evidence, pointing out that the woman may not have been Mrs. Thorwald. Despite Jeff’s pleas, Tom refuses to pursue the investigation, adding that he found a postcard with a Meritsville postmark in Thorwald’s mailbox, signed, apparently, by Mrs. Thorwald. Discouraged but not defeated, Jeff continues to spy on Thorwald, becoming excited when he sees him pulling his wife’s jewelry out of her handbag. When Jeff tells Lisa about the handbag, she insists that, as a woman, Mrs. Thorwald would not have left without her bag or her jewelry. Before they can act on their latest discoveries, Tom stops by to announce that Thorwald’s trunk, which he had tracked down, contained only Mrs. Thorwald’s clothes and was picked up by her at the Meritsville train station. After Tom leaves, Lisa admits that she is strangely disappointed to learn that Thorwald is not a killer after all. Lisa then slips into a negligee she brought in a purse-sized overnight bag, hoping to prove her resourcefulness to Jeff, but moments later, the courtyard erupts with noise when the older couple’s dog is found strangled. Jeff observes that only one person—Thorwald—did not look out during the ruckus. Convinced that Thorwald killed the dog because of its snooping, Jeff studies some slides he took of the courtyard two weeks before and shows Lisa and Stella that Thorwald’s zinnias are now shorter. Hoping to lure Thorwald out, Jeff writes him an anonymous note, asking, “What have you done with her?” After Lisa slips the note under his door, Thorwald reads it and begins packing. Jeff looks up Thorwald’s phone number and calls him, identifying himself as the note writer and demanding that they meet at a hotel. As soon as Thorwald leaves, Lisa and Stella race down to the courtyard and start digging under the zinnias, but when they fail to unearth anything, Lisa climbs the fire escape and sneaks through Thorwald’s open window. Soon after, Thorwald returns and finds Lisa, who is looking for Mrs. Thorwald’s wedding ring. Thorwald begins assaulting Lisa, but Jeff calls the police in time to save her. While the police are getting a statement from Thorwald, Lisa, aware that Jeff is watching her through his telephoto lens, lets him know that she found the wedding ring. Thorwald catches her gesturing to Jeff, however, and deduces in which apartment he is hiding. After Lisa is hauled to the police station, Jeff sends Stella out with some bail money and frantically calls Tom. Thorwald then bursts in, but Jeff, sitting in the dark, momentarily blinds him by taking flash pictures with his camera. Despite the flashes, Thorwald grabs Jeff, who yells to alert the neighbors. The courtyard fills with on-lookers as Thorwald wrestles with Jeff and dangles him upside-down out the window. Although Tom arrives with some back-up, the police can only break Jeff’s subsequent fall. The police apprehend Thorwald, who confesses that he deposited most of his wife’s body in the East River, except for her head, which he first buried in the garden and then packed in a hatbox. Later, while Miss Lonely Hearts and the composer celebrate the publication of his song, and Miss Torso welcomes home her soldier sweetheart, Jeff, who now was two broken legs, is back in his wheelchair, with the devoted Lisa by his side. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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