JEFF: Next Wednesday, I emerge from this plaster cocoon.
Jeff is going a little nuts in his apartment, and the cast on his leg is the perfect indication of just how vexed he is by the situation. That restlessness is his motivation to start looking out the window, which is what sets the plot in motion.
JEFF: Stop sounding stuffy. I'll take pictures from a Jeep. From a water buffalo, if necessary.
GUNNISON: You're too valuable to the magazine for us to play around with. I'll send Morgan or Lambert.
JEFF: Morgan or Lambert, that's fine. I get myself half-killed for you, and you reward me by stealing my assignments.
GUNNISON: I didn't ask you to stand in the middle of that automobile race track.
JEFF: You asked for something dramatically different! You got it!
GUNNISON: So did you. Goodbye, Jeff.
This exchange clues us in to what a risk-taker Jeff has been. Jeff is so bored that he's still willing to take some risks to get back into the action. Spying on the neighbors seems like a harmless activity to him, but it ends up being way more dangerous than he counted on.
JEFF: If you don't pull me out of this swamp of boredom, I'm going to do something drastic.
GUNNISON: Like what?
JEFF: Like what? I'm going to get married. Then I'll never be able to go anywhere.
This is an interesting combination of Jeff's overwhelming irritation at being stuck and his disdain for getting married. It pretty much sounds like he considers the one indistinguishable from the other. They're both traps.
STELLA: I can smell trouble right here in this apartment.
Stella has got the right mixture of insight and audacity to make a smart observation here. She hasn't known Jeff very long, so she hasn't gotten accustomed to his quirks like his friends have. But, at the same time, she's listened to him complain about his boredom for long enough to know a few things about him. Like where his restlessness will lead: nowhere good.
STELLA: I can hear you now: "Get out of my life, you wonderful woman. You're too good for me."
Stella has got Jeff pegged. He's dissatisfied with a smart and gorgeous woman who would climb into a suspected killer's apartment for his sake. That unhappiness drives the romantic plot throughout the film; they're bickering when they should be falling into each other's arms.
JEFF: She belongs to that rarefied atmosphere of Park Avenue, you know. Expensive restaurants, literary cocktail parties. Can you imagine her tramping around the world with a camera bum who never has more than a week's salary in the bank? If she was only ordinary.
Here's a guy that can be unhappy about anything—even a smart, successful, gorgeous girlfriend who can't keep her hands off of him and wants to marry him. He assumes they're not compatible because of her glamorous lifestyle and hasn't given her a chance. She has to take matters into her own hands and prove him wrong.
JEFF: "Miss Lonelyhearts." Well, at least that's something you'll never have to worry about.
LISA: Oh? You can see my apartment from here, all the way up on 63rd Street?
Jeff assumes Lisa can have anything she wants, but she's no happier than he is. She wants to marry him but can't get him to commit and give up his travels. She's constantly being extremely seductive and amorous, but he ignores her. It's her unhappiness with the status of their relationship that pushes her to do something that might show Jeff that she can join him on his adventures: she climbs up a fire escape (in an elegant dress and heels) and sneaks into Thorwald's apartment.
STELLA: Poor soul. Ah well. Maybe one day she'll find her happiness.
JEFF: And some man will lose his.
Is marriage really that bad? Jeff is taking out his frustration about being confined to a wheelchair on poor Lisa, who's only trying to love him. This is one nasty comment about a woman who sure doesn't deserve it.
LISA: What makes you think something's wrong with [Thorwald's wife]?
JEFF: A lot of things. She's an invalid who needs constant care, and yet the husband nor anyone else has been in there all day.
Early in the film, Jeff sees Thorwald constantly being summoned by his wife, who's in bed sick. We get an idea why Thorwald is so unhappy in his marriage. Later, he's making long-distance calls and discussing his wife's jewelry—there's another woman, we assume. But as Lisa and Stella point out, lots of people are unhappy in their marriages but don't see it as a reason to dismember their spouses. Thorwald must be desperately miserable.
JEFF: Now, hold on. I'm not a bit squeamish about what might be under those flowers—but I don't care to watch two women end up like that dog.
Notice how powerless Jeff feels here: acknowledging that he wouldn't be able to do anything for Lisa and Stella if they should run into trouble. Nothing would be worse for this gung-ho guy than to sit by helplessly while the women are taking the initiative and at risk of getting hurt.
LISA: I'm in love with you. I don't care what you do for a living. I'd just 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 is a model of persistence—mainly in getting Jeff to commit but eventually as a part of solving the mystery, too. She sticks with Jeff even though he constantly ignores her, insults her, and rejects her advances. What does she see in him that keeps her going?
LISA: I couldn't think of anything more boring and tiresome than what you've been through. And the last week must be the hardest.
Just a friendly reminder that Jeff has already shown a measure of stick-to-it-iveness simply by staying around his apartment and not going out of his mind. He's been waiting for something to happen for weeks, and now that's about to pay off.
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.
Ms. Fremont isn't interested in a man who isn't paying complete attention, and she's going to make sure that Jeff gets with the program. That motivates her to jump into the mystery because for now, that's where his attention is.
LISA: Where does a girl have to go to get noticed around here?
Apparently, you have to go into the apartment of a murderer to look for clues.
LISA: Tell me exactly what you saw and what you think it means.
It's important that Lisa notices something odd in Thorwald's apartment. The minute she does, she's all in: attacking the mystery with the same persistence with which she once went after Jeff.
DOYLE: You didn't see the killing or the body. How do you know there was a murder?
JEFF: Because everything this fellow's done has been suspicious: trips at night in the rain, knives, saws, trunks with rope, and now this wife that isn't there anymore.
DOYLE: I admit it does have a mysterious sound. But it could be any number of things for the wife disappearing. Murder is the least part.
JEFF: Now, Doyle, don't tell me that he's just an unemployed magician amusing the neighborhood with his sleight of hand. Don't tell me that.
This is a great summation of Jeff's biggest problem: convincing the police that he's stumbled onto a murder. Doyle never believes him until the very end, but Jeff keeps at it, even in the face of official disapproval. Don't worry, Jeff: you'll have the last laugh.
LISA: We think Thorwald's guilty.
This is the first thing Lisa says to Doyle, stating emphatically that she's on Jeff's side and she'll see it through as far as Jeff wants to take it.
JEFF: For a minute, Doyle almost had me convinced I was wrong.
LISA: But you're not?
JEFF: In the whole courtyard, only one person didn't come to the window.
Here's what helps keep Jeff going: he's stuck in his chair, so he can't help but notice these little details building up. Plus, he's a photographer—just like in his professional life, he'll do anything to get the shot. Doyle, OTOH, has other things to do than pay attention to an open window across the courtyard.
JEFF: Go ahead, Thorwald—pick it up. You're curious. You wonder if it's your girlfriend calling. The one you killed for. Pick it up, Thorwald!
Persistence is the chief quality in a good detective—and let's face it, that's what Jeff is here. Now, he's finally about to get some confirmation of his suspicions, and he can't wait a moment longer.
JEFF: Think you've got enough for a search warrant now?
DOYLE: Oh, sure. Sure. I can make it.
More rewards for Jeff and his willingness to hold onto this thing like a terrier with a bone. He gets to rub Doyle's face in it a bit.
MISS LONELYHEARTS: I can't tell you what this music has meant to me.
Miss Lonelyhearts has kind of been put through the wringer with her perennial loneliness and obvious need for a little human connection. She has been listening to the music from the songwriter's apartment all along, and his music gave her some hope as she was on the brink of committing suicide. Even feeling hopeless and lonely, she seemed to have clung to this lifeline. It paid off; the film suggests that she and the composer will have some kind of relationship, romantic or not.
STELLA: We've become a race of peeping Toms. What people ought to do is get outside their own house and look in for a change. Yes, sir. How's that for a bit of homespun philosophy?
The plainspoken and practical Stella knows something bad when she sees it and has no qualms about letting Jeff know it. Jeff knows that it's not okay to spy on the neighbors, but he does it anyway—likely because he sees it as a largely harmless vice.
JEFF: She's like a queen bee with her pick of the drones.
LISA: I'd say she's doing a woman's hardest job: juggling wolves.
Jeff is pretty happy to condemn Miss Torso for her perceived sins, even taking a kind of sardonic glee in it. Lisa brings a woman's perspective to the equation, and suddenly the moral burden shifts from Miss Torso to her suitors.
JEFF: I wonder if it is ethical to watch a man with binoculars and a long-focus lens. Do you, do you suppose it's ethical even if you prove that he didn't commit a crime?
LISA: I'm not much on rear-window ethics.
JEFF: Of course, they can do the same thing to me. Watch me like a bug under a glass if they want to.
It's not ethical—though it's not as bad as murder—but Jeff is also aware that it's a two-way street. Does that make it right?
STELLA: What'll you do if one of them catches you?
JEFF: Depends on which one.
So, morality is flexible, right? It's okay to watch if whomever you're watching is a nice guy who won't pummel you when he finds out.
LISA: Sitting around, looking out a window to kill time is one thing, but doing it the way you are with, with binoculars, and with wild opinions about every little movement you see is … is, is diseased!
JEFF: Do you think I consider this recreation?
LISA: I don't know what you consider it—but if you don't stop it, I'm getting out of here.
JEFF: You'd better before you catch the disease!
Rear Window doesn't totally condemn Jeff's voyeurism because it knows we all share it. Witness Lisa, aghast at her boyfriend's proclivities until she, too, becomes hooked on the sordid little drama unfolding before them. Ain't nobody's hands clean here.
DOYLE: Now, don't get me mad! Even a detective can't walk in anybody's apartment and search it. If I were ever caught in there, I'd lose my badge inside of 10 minutes!
JEFF: Just make sure you're not caught. If you find something, you've got a murderer, and nobody will care about a couple of house rules. If you find nothing, he's clear.
DOYLE: At the risk of sounding stuffy, Jeff, I'll remind you of the Constitution and the phrase "search warrant," issued by a judge who knows the Bill of Rights verbatim. He must ask for evidence.
Professionals are bound by laws and codes of ethics that laypersons don't have to worry about. It's morally questionable, but not illegal, for Jeff to take an unusually close interest in his neighbors' activities. Doyle, OTOH, can't just barge in to any apartment he wants just out of curiosity. Probable cause, etc. What a stickler.
LISA: Jeff, you know if someone came in here, they wouldn't believe what they'd see. You and me with long faces plunged into despair because we find out a man didn't kill his wife. We're two of the most frightening ghouls I've ever known.
At least Lisa and Jeff are aware of the moral implications of what they're doing. Of course, that reflection only lasts until new suspicions arise; then they're both back at their voyeurism with even more enthusiasm.
STELLA: Give her another minute. She's doing this for you!
This is a key reminder that, even though Lisa is engaged in technically illegal activity with Jeff—as well as putting herself in great danger—she's doing it for another person. Jeff seems to be doing it solely to fulfill his own curiosity.
JEFF: Lisa … I … I can't tell you how scared I was that you … you might …
LISA: Shut up. I'm all right.
Jeff realizes here how reckless he's been with this investigation and that his actions might have hurt someone he cared about. Not only was he invading his neighbors' privacy, but he was also endangering Lisa. We know from his racetrack accident that he's not a genius at considering the consequences of his actions. Isn't that the basis of morality?
LISA: A murderer would never parade his crime in front of an open window.
JEFF: Why not?
LISA: Why, for all you know, there's probably something a lot more sinister going on behind those windows.
JEFF: Where? Oh, no comment.
Jeff has been watching more than Thorwald, and through him, we can see the details of the whole neighborhood emerge. Maybe this makes him a strange champion of the community since only he is pulling those threads together.
STELLA: I can see you now, in front of the judge, flanked by lawyers in blue double-breasted suits. You're pleading, "Judge, it was only innocent fun. I love my neighbors like a father." The judge answers, "Congratulations. You just gave birth to three years in Dannemora."
Always the voice of common sense, Stella pulls no punches in telling Jeff that what he's doing could land him in jail. Dannemora is the home of New York's Clinton Correctional Facility. Actually, Jeff's actions likely aren't illegal, but Stella is trying to make a point. (FYI, many "peeping Tom" laws require that something be recorded for it to be illegal. )
LISA: That's what is known as "manless melancholia."
JEFF: Miss Lonelyhearts. At least that's something you'll never have to worry about.
Lisa and Jeff aren't unsympathetic to neighbors who deserve sympathy, and while it's not cool to judge the way they do, you can see some neighborly concern here. At least they feel bad for Miss Lonelyhearts and want her to do well.
LISA: Where's that music coming from?
JEFF: Oh ... some songwriter. In the apartment. Lives alone. Probably had an unhappy marriage.
LISA: I think it's enchanting. Almost as if it were being written especially for us.
JEFF: No wonder he's having so much trouble with it.
The songwriter's music gives a sense of community since everyone can hear it. Not only does it make Jeff and Lisa's night more romantic (despite Jeff's snarking), but it eventually keeps Miss Lonelyhearts from killing herself.
JEFF: Look, Doyle, it's just one of those things I can't tell you on the phone. You have to be here and see the whole set-up. It's probably nothing important, just a little neighborhood murder, that's all. As a matter of fact, I did say "murder."
Jeff invokes his community with the word "neighborhood," implying that Doyle has an occupational obligation to get down there and protect everyone from the murderer in their midst.
DOYLE: Keeps to himself, and none of the neighbors got close to him, or his wife.
We've had some suggestions that there is a real sense of community, but now Doyle is quietly refuting that. "Keeps to himself" is seen as a virtue, as is the neighbors' total lack of involvement in his life. Is minding your own business always a virtue? This is Manhattan, not some small friendly town.
DOYLE: That's a secret and private world you're looking into out there. People do a lot of things in private that they couldn't explain in public.
Doyle implies that community also means respect for privacy: that a community only works if everyone can live without their neighbors all up in their business. On the other hand, look at poor Thorwald, living a life of quiet desperation, apparently isolated from anyone who might be able to be helpful and sympathetic.
NEIGHBOR WITH DOG: Which one of you did it? Which one of you killed my dog? You don't know the meaning of the word "neighbor." Neighbors like each other, speak to each other, care if anybody lives or dies. But none of you do! You don't talk, you don't help, you … you don't even see. But I couldn't imagine any of you being so low that you'd kill a little helpless, friendly dog! The only thing in this whole neighborhood who liked anybody!
Interesting that a peripheral character cuts to the chase here. In her tragedy and grief, she accuses the whole neighborhood of being utterly indifferent to those around them, of spurning the sense of community that the courtyard is supposed to foster. And while plenty of them look sad and concerned (Miss Torso is practically heartbroken), they listen to her cry and then turn around and go back to their lives. Even Jeff and Lisa see the dog's death only in terms of their investigation, proving that every word the distraught woman says is true.
STELLA: Miss Lonelyhearts! Call the police!
As a counterpoint to the charges leveled against the community, Stella proves that there is a sense of interconnection in this courtyard and that people can take action to help their neighbors. We've felt bad the entire movie for Miss Lonelyhearts, a woman getting older and just trying (and largely failing) to find a little companionship in her life. When she finally decides to end it all, Stella and Jeff are compelled to act.
SCULPTOR: Get away from him! Get away from him, he'll be after you!
The sculptor is talking to the little dog that Thorwald kills, and it's another small indication that people here are more neighborly than they appear—and that Thorwald would have poisoned the Good Neighbor Well even if he hadn't committed murder.
JEFF: Next Wednesday, I emerge from this plaster cocoon.
The cast just goes from his toes to his hip, but it seems to him like he's living inside it.
JEFF: Yeah, can't you just see me, rushin' home to a hot apartment to listen to the automatic laundry and the electric dishwasher and the garbage disposal... the nagging wife.
The cast isn't the only thing making him feel confined. He's clearly not down with the whole marriage thing, either, which means that Lisa's overtures feel a lot like a trap to him. This is a pretty nasty thing to say about her.
LISA: Someday you might want to open up your own studio here.
JEFF: How could I run it from, say, Pakistan?
Jeff clearly views confinement in strictly physical terms here, which is why he resists becoming a studio photographer and being with Lisa. Statements like this start us thinking that all of this travel to distant places is a way of running away from something.
STELLA: You'd think the rain would've cooled things down. All it did was make the heat wet.
Heat plays an interesting role in the movie, specifically in terms of confinement. Remember, air conditioning wasn't something a lot of people had in their homes in 1954, and with New York's heat hitting triple digits, it's apt to make everyone feel really trapped and stir crazy. We don't see a single air conditioner in any of the windows Jeff looks at. Small wonder someone pops and kills a spouse every now and again.
LISA: According to you, people should be born, live, and die in the same place.
Here, Lisa turns Jeff's logic about freedom and confinement against him. She's happy to let him go all over the world, as long as she's with him. He seems to be condemning her to a life stuck in New York just because of his assumptions about what she can and can't deal with.
LISA: I wonder where he's going now?
JEFF: I don't know.
LISA: Suppose he doesn't come back again?
JEFF: He will. All his things are still piled on the bed.
Jeff is not the only one bound to his apartment. Thorwald is trying to get out and away from the scene of the crime as quickly as possible … and he can't look suspicious while doing so. He has to take it slow, leaving him stuck there until he can get away without raising suspicion.
STELLA: What do you need money for?
JEFF: To bail Lisa out of jail.
Symbolically, Lisa is enduring confinement in order to help Jeff escape his. Now, that's a girlfriend.
THORWALD: What do you want from me? Your friend, the girl, could have turned me in. Why didn't she? What do you want? A lot of money? I don't have any money. Say something. Say something! Tell me what you want!
Thorwald feels trapped by his circumstances just like Jeff does. Listen to how desperate he sounds. All he wants to do is get away and find some happiness. Is that too much to ask after being trapped with a sickly, complaining, demanding wife? It's a tribute to Raymond Burr that we can even feel some sympathy for Thorwald.
STELLA: I should have been a Gypsy fortune teller instead of an insurance company nurse. I got a nose for trouble—can smell it 10 miles away.
Cleverness in this movie is often defined by making intuitive leaps instead of drawing direct connections. At its most extreme, it's just a feeling or instinct, as with Stella's "nose for trouble."
JEFF: I've seen bickering and family quarrels and mysterious trips at night, and knives and saws and ropes, and now since last evening, not a sign of the wife. How do you explain that?
LISA: Maybe she died.
JEFF: Where's the doctor? Where's the undertaker?
Good questions. These are the kinds of challenges that help to rule out alternative explanations, eliminating other ideas of what might have happened until the only conclusion is murder.
LISA: What's a logical explanation for a woman taking a trip with no luggage?
JEFF: That she didn't know she was going on a trip and where she was going she wouldn't need any luggage.
A lot of the dialogue in this part of the movie involves putting two and two together, watching Jeff and Lisa slowly figure out what's going on. In terms of filmmaking, it follows an important rule: show, don't tell. We see how smart Jeff and Lisa are from the way they connect the dots.
LISA: You can't ignore the wife disappearing, and the trunk, and the jewelry.
DOYLE: I checked the railroad station. Yesterday at 6:20 a.m., he bought a ticket. Ten minutes later, he put his wife on a train. Destination: Meritsville.
Doyle responds to Jeff's deductions with thorough fact-finding. Does this mean he's not as smart as they are? Doyle knows that murdering a wife is a pretty rare event, so he's probably working from a different set of assumptions. Plus, he hasn't been staring out the window for three days.
STELLA: Now, just where do you suppose he cut her up? Oh, of course! In the bathtub. That's the only place he could wash away the blood.
There are a fair number of lines like this in the film, as Jeff and his friends speculate on how Thorwald did the deed. They're weirdly admiring him in a way, commenting on Thorwald's cleverness at solving some fairly inconvenient issues (like how to get rid of a body). It makes the mystery even more irresistible to them since they're dealing with a criminal who's really thought things through.
LISA: It's just a picture of the backyard, that's all.
JEFF: I know. But there's one important change. The flowers in Thorwald's pet flower bed.
STELLA: You mean the one the dog was sniffing around?
Jeff uses his powers of observation here to note a small discrepancy in the layout of the flower bed: he's picking up on the tiniest of clues thanks to his obsessive looking and his visual skills honed as a photographer. Jeff is used to looking at photos and picking up on little details that no one else would.
JEFF: Give me the phone book, Lisa.
LISA: What for?
JEFF: Maybe I can get Thorwald out of the apartment.
Once they're sure that Thorwald is guilty, Jeff and Lisa have some leverage they can use to seal his doom. Case in point: threatening to expose him unless he leaves the apartment … which, of course, allows them to sneak in and really put those Scooby-Doo vibes to good use.
STELLA: What's she trying to do? Why doesn't she turn him in?
JEFF: Smart girl.
STELLA: Smart? She'll be arrested!
JEFF: That'll get her out of there, won't it?
In this case, cleverness means looking at the big picture. Lisa is not worried about the cops because she's sure Thorwald did it—and more importantly, she has Mrs. Thorwald's wedding ring, which should exonerate her. Five years later, a Hitchcock character uses a similar tactic to get out of trouble. In North by Northwest, Cary Grant's character is trapped at an auction with some guys who've been trying to kill him. He starts making a disruptive scene and acting like a total bozo so that the auctioneer calls the police to remove him from the room—which is exactly what he wanted, natch.
JEFF: Hello. Hello, Doyle? Tom? Tom, I think Thorwald's left. I don't see anything of … Hello.
Ah, the days before caller I.D. Thorwald nails Jeff here because Jeff assumes that Thorwald would never call him. He's been so successful so far that he forgets his quarry can be cagey, too.
THORWALD: Can you get me that ring back?
THORWALD: Tell her to bring it back!
JEFF: I can't. The police have it by now.
Jeff may be being a little too clever here. There's no reason for Thorwald to leave him alive since Jeff has procured the evidence he needs. By now, Thorwald is flipping out and loses his ability to think clearly. He should have known that by tossing Jeff out the window, the cops would be all over him. But maybe he's realized that he's been found out, and the best thing to do is to kill the guy who figured it out.