The adventuresome free-lance photographer L.B (Jeff) Jeffries (Jimmy Stewart) finds himself confined to a wheelchair in his tiny apartment while a broken leg mends. With only the occasional distraction of a visiting nurse and his frustrated love interest (Grace Kelly), a beautiful fashion consultant, his attention is naturally drawn to the courtyard outside his "rear window" and the occupants of the apartment buildings which surround it. Soon he is consumed by the private dramas of his neighbors lives which play themselves out before his eyes.
"We've become a race of Peeping Toms." says Stella, the every day nurse who's taking care of L.B. while he's chair ridden with a broken leg. L.B. is a type-A personality, always looking for then next adventure. He's now stuck in his apartment for months and needs to do something. So he takes to spying on his neighbors across the street in their apartments. And this is when he notices something suspicious. A man's wife has suddenly disappeared.
This is a film with plots and themes that still hold true to today. In fact so true Hollywood decided to make a quasi remake of this film called DISTURBIA, a huge hit in the spring of 2007. Instead of the middle aged man spying on the city life, that film was about a teenage kid spying on the Suburban world.
If America became a race of Peeping Toms in 1954, I guess in 2007 it was still going strong. Society is all about wanting to know what others are doing as one prime example of that is the still popular Reality TV programs. It's curiosity at its core. It's why we watch movies, TV and listen to the radio. As we live our life, we entertain ourselves by watching and hearing stories about what others are doing.
For the Jimmy Stewart character, he needs to fill his usual quota of being entertained. So the only way he can do it with his confinement is to watch the neighbors. If it was 10 years later, he probably would of just gotten hooked on the day time Soaps. In 1954 he's hooked on the people living in the apartment across the street from him. It's what he needs to do to get by.
Visiting him often is Lisa, his love interest who wants him to settle down and be her man. He's not that type of guy and that's there conflict. She loves him but doesn't love or understand the way he lives his life. He's the journalist always living in a suitcase hoping from town to town wherever the story is. Even when he's locked up in his apartment, he needs to find his story. She tries to take advantage of him being in just the one place to convince him to settle down, but he's not interested in her as he wants to know what the neighbors are doing.
What happens is what happens in any situation where the dominant personality is around. She's taken into his world and his obsessions and soon she also become infatuated with what happened with the neighbors wife. An the mutual adventure begins all in a room in an apartment building.
Alfred Hitchcock is a master of suspense. This time he must capture the suspense with just a man looking through windows with his binoculars. And he does it masterfully. Any up and coming filmmakers should take a look at this film and see how much excitement can be built with so little. And we're completely involved on these people and their relationship with one another. As they spy on the neighbors, Hitchcock films it in the voyeuristic way like we're spying on them. So as they feel guilty for spying, we the audience can't help but feel a tad guilty too because we're just as interested as they are and we want them to keep going.
Films made in Hollywood today can't be as subtle and leisurely as this film is. A great example to see how movies has changed (in a good or bad way is your interpretation) is to watch this film and then watch Disturbia. The film's plot is basically the same but the scenes are filmed to give the audience its suspense is completely different. It's just the way it is now.
Hitchcock made Thriller/Suspense movies, but he also essentially made dramas, comedies and character studies too. You leave Rear Window knowing exactly what happened and knowing exactly who these characters were. Without revealing any of the major plot, the film ends exactly like it started. Another adventure has happened and the two leads are still faced with the same conflict. These are characters who didn't have a life altering experience. It's business as usual for them. Hollywood these days seems to always want to tell do or die stories where the characters will never be the same again. That's fine, but it's also refreshing to watch films like these where movies are reality mixed in with a lot of drama.