A high-fashion model with the spirit of Nancy Drew—now, that's someone you want on your side when things get dicey. Played by Grace Kelly, one of Hitchcock's favorites, Lisa Carol Fremont could probably have any guy she wants (even a prince), but she wants Jeff. He keeps her at a distance because he doesn't see a future for them. Their lifestyles are just too different.
Lisa tries to distract Jeff from the amateur murder investigation that's taking up all of his time and attention, but she gradually gets drawn in. Her participation turns out to be the way she shows Jeff that she's every bit as adventurous as he is.
Lisa and Jeff are from two different worlds. She's a model and the glamorous editor of a fashion magazine, paid obscene amounts of money to wear the latest dresses from Paris and presumably accustomed to the perks that come with that. That's one of the reasons why Jeff resists getting too close to her. He likes his rough-and-tumble lifestyle and doesn't think she's quite cut out for it. How could she live in a freezing-cold tent, eat fish heads, wear filthy clothes, and get shot at?
Lisa disagrees. "There can't be that much difference between people and the way they live!" she chides him. She just wants to be with him and take care of him. She puts it right out there:
LISA: I, I'm in love with you. I don't care what you do for a living. I'd like to be part of it somehow. It's deflating to find out the only way I can be part of it is to take out a subscription to your magazine. I guess I'm not the girl I thought I was.
Lisa doesn't have any luck convincing Jeff she could travel with him and put up with the cold and bad food and dangerous terrain. She realizes the only thing she can do is show him; that's what motivates her to get involved with his amateur investigation. Plus, this sleuthing is taking up all of Jeff's attention; she can't get him to notice her at all. In one scene, she's kissing and caressing him while he completely ignores her:
LISA: Pay attention to me.
JEFF: Well, I'm, I'm not exactly on the other side of the room.
LISA: Your mind is... and when I want a man, I want all of him.
Hard to get is definitely not in Lisa's playbook.
Just a Woman
It was a man's world in 1954, and many of the female characters in the film are victims of stereotype: there's Thorwald's nagging wife, the newlywed wife who becomes demanding, the flirty Miss Torso, and the lonely spinster.
Lisa gets the same treatment from the men in her life. Despite being obviously very smart and capable, she's just not taken seriously. She makes some pretty perceptive observations about Thorwald after seeing him with his wife's jewelry. She knows that a woman (of her era) wouldn't leave her favorite jewelry and handbag at home if she was going on a long trip, so she finds it very suspicious that Mrs. T's jewelry and makeup are still in her apartment. Everyone's grateful for her observations, right?
DOYLE: Look, Miss Fremont. That feminine intuition sells magazines, but in real life, it's still a fairy tale.
Ouch. But it's worse coming from Jeff. Later, after she's risked her life casing the outside of Thorwald's building, she looks for his approval:
LISA: Jeff, how did I do?
JEFF: Real professional. Would have made a great layout for the Bazaar. The model pressed against a brick wall, eyes wild, tense. Low-cut bodice, in new suspicious black, with a—
Lisa is totally deflated, and Stella shoots Jeff a look that could kill an elephant. This isn't the only time Jeff treats her so badly. He tells her to shut up, implies that she knows nothing about his lifestyle, insults her intelligence, and ridicules her job. Why does she even stick around after treatment like that? We think this is another one of those 1950s realities. A woman, even an executive, is desperate to be married. Is Hitchcock promoting the idea that women are driven by their emotional needs and don't know enough to look elsewhere even after some pretty shoddy treatment by their supposed boyfriends? Is getting the guy the most important thing, even if it means sacrificing some self-respect?
Hitchcock liked Grace Kelly too much to make her just eye candy. Lisa keeps her head, plays it smart, and even gets a key piece of evidence to put Thorwald away. That's pretty impressive for a runway gal, and a sign that maybe she can handle Jeff's rough-and-tumble lifestyle better than he thinks she can. In that sense, she grows and changes the most during the film: going after her goal of getting closer to Jeff while acting as a nifty Gal Friday and keeping the bad guy from getting the upper hand.
That's not bad for a female character in the notoriously sexist 1950s. Though, ever the mischief maker, Hitchcock closes the film by implying she might not be totally ready to give up her high-end lifestyle when she puts down the travel book and picks up a copy of Harper's Bazaar. Maybe she figured out how to have it both ways.