Study Guide

Rear Window

Rear Window Summary

After breaking his leg running out on a racetrack to get an action shot, photographer L.B. "Jeff" Jefferies (James Stewart) has been stuck in a wheelchair in his Greenwich Village apartment. He's in a full leg cast that's definitely cramping his style. The only thing Jeff finds worse than being trapped in his wheelchair is being trapped by his beautiful model/fashion-editor girlfriend's attention. She (Grace Kelly) is gorgeous, smart, nurturing, financially independent, and she can't keep her hands off of him. See the problem?

It's a hot summer, and the neighbors in the courtyard behind his place open up their windows. For a guy on intimate terms with a long-range lens and a penchant for putting his nose into interesting situations, this is like throwing chuck steak in front of a wolf.

So, he starts watching his neighbors, from the sexy Miss Torso to the crotchety couple who sleeps every night on the fire escape to cool off. There's Miss Lonelyhearts, who entertains imaginary gentlemen, and salesman Lars Thorwald (Raymond Burr), who is married to an irritable woman who spends most of her time sick in bed.

One night, Jeff hears a woman screaming, and he notices Thorwald taking repeated trips out in the middle of the night, carrying his sample case in and out of the apartment. 'Round these parts, we call that suspicious. Could Thorwald have murdered the missus? Jeff starts spying on the guy, getting more obsessive by the moment and roping both his visiting nurse, Stella, and his girlfriend, Lisa, into his schemes.

Jeff calls Det. Lt. Doyle, his policeman buddy, and asks him to investigate. Doyle isn't impressed by the "evidence" and doesn't approve of Jeff's amateur sleuthing. But details keep piling up that prove impossible for Jeff to ignore. A neighborhood dog is found strangled after digging in a flowerbed and only Thorwald doesn't seem surprised by it. Jeff and Lisa send Thorwald a note accusing him of murder so they can watch his reaction when he reads it.

The trick works so well that Jeff ups the ante by calling Thorwald and telling him that he'll go to the police if he doesn't meet him in a nearby bar. The minute Thorwald leaves, Lisa heads over to his apartment and starts looking for evidence. She finds his wife's wedding ring but is interrupted by Thorwald's return. We're gearing up for Gruesome Murder 2.0 when the police arrive, summoned by Jeff in the nick of time. Lisa gets to take a free trip downtown for breaking and entering, but before she goes, she waggles her finger at Jeff to let him know she has the ring.

Turns out, that's not such a hot idea. Thorwald spots it and soon confirms what Jeff has been up to. He pays a social visit shortly thereafter, by which we mean not a social visit at all. Jeff is stuck in his wheelchair, and while he manages to fend off Thorwald for a bit with the clever use of blinding camera flashbulbs, it looks like he's getting a free trip out of that window that he's spent so much time looking through.

The police arrive again in the nick of time, but not soon enough to prevent our hero from taking a tumble into the courtyard below. He survives thanks to a couple of friendly cops who serve as impromptu mattresses, and the police take Thorwald into custody. Jeff, now with  both legs in casts, naps happily in his wheelchair while Lisa smiles—having proved to Jeff she's more than just a pretty face.

  • Day 1

    Day 1

    • Scene: Greenwich Village on a hot summer morning. L.B. Jefferies is taking a nap in the oppressive heat. He's in a wheelchair, in a cast from his toes to his hip. Looks mighty uncomfortable.
    • The camera pans across Jeff's apartment, showing us through shots of a smashed camera and a photo of a crashed car that he's a photographer who's had some kind of mishap.
    • It pans across the apartments visible from Jeff's window, introducing us to the various activities of his neighbors.
    • Jeff is in his wheelchair at the window. He takes a call from his editor: his cast is due to come off in one week, and he's stir crazy after six weeks of recuperation.
    • His broken leg is a result of an accident he was in while trying to get the perfect shot at a racetrack for his editor.
    • Jeff watches his neighbors from his window, noting the various domestic dramas unfold.
    • Stella, Jeff's visiting nurse, shows up to check on him. Stella just knows that there's going to be trouble with all of the snooping on the neighbors.
    • They begin to discuss Jeff's fears around marrying Lisa. Stella thinks he's nuts.
    • Jeff is afraid that Lisa is too high-maintenance for him. Their lives are just not compatible.
    • Jeff fantasizes about Lisa, and we suddenly realize that she's not just a fantasy. The drop-dead gorgeous and very real Lisa has arrived.
    • We learn a bit about Lisa's glamorous lifestyle: she's spent a large amount of money getting dinner delivered from one of the best New York restaurants and setting up a romantic evening. She's been running around all day setting up interviews and hanging out with celebs.
    • Lisa discusses the possibilities of a life together with an extremely reluctant and increasingly irritable Jeff.
    • While Lisa prepares their meal, Jeff watches his neighbor Miss Lonelyhearts pantomime the motions of a date, all alone.
    • Jeff compares Lisa to Miss Torso, the ballet dancer neighbor who's currently entertaining an adoring throng of young men.
    • Lisa continues to be sweet and entertaining, and Jeff continues to verbally degrade her and her efforts. He's kind of a jerk that way.
    • Lisa and Jeff sit together after dinner. Lisa can't understand why Jeff is so sure she couldn't fit into his pre-accident adventurous lifestyle.
    • Jeff continues to demean her, and he tells her to shut up rather than address her questions.
    • Lisa says goodbye, and Jeff asks why they can't just keep things as they are. Lisa is not sure, but she relents and agrees to return the following night.
    • After she leaves, Jeff hears a scream and a crash from a neighboring apartment, but everything is dark and the noise stops.
    • Jeff awakens to the sound of the rain a few hours later. He notices the neighbors who have been sleeping on their fire escape scrambling to get their mattress inside.
    • Jeff sees his neighbor, a jewelry salesman with a sick wife, leaving his apartment with his sample suitcase at an unusually late hour. Ninety minutes later, the salesman (whose name we later learn is Lars Thorwald) returns with a noticeably lighter suitcase, and he departs a few moments later with the same suitcase, clearly heavy again.
    • Jeff is again startled awake, this time by Miss Torso's return from what seems to have been an unpleasant date. The rain continues to pour, and Thorwald enters his apartment with the same suitcase he has been making trips with all night.
  • Day 2

    Day 2

    • Thorwald leaves his apartment with a woman dressed in black and a different suitcase. Jeff sleeps right through it.
    • A few hours later, Stella massages the knots out of Jeff's back. They discuss the things Jeff has seen from his window.
    • Jeff wonders what a salesman would be doing coming and going at 3 o'clock in the morning.
    • He and Stella figure he might be planning to run out on his wife.
    • Thorwald notices the neighbor's dog digging in the roses. The neighbor calls the dog away, not wanting to upset Thorwald.
    • Jeff gets out his zoom lens to get a better look at Thorwald's movements across the way.
    • Thorwald is carefully packaging up an impressive collection of large saws and knives, straight from the Freddy Krueger collection. Suddenly, "running out" starts to look a lot like something more deadly.
    • Everybody is going about their evening. Lisa is getting all romantic, but Jeff is totally distracted.
    • He is obsessing about Thorwald, and Lisa is very bothered by Jeff's new hobby.
    • Lisa suddenly notices Thorwald tying up a very large trunk with heavy rope.
    • She asks Jeff to explain in detail everything he's seen concerning his suspicious neighbor.
    • She goes across the street to learn Thorwald's name from the mailbox label and calls Jeff to give him the 411.
    • Jeff sees the red glow of a cigar in Thorwald's darkened apartment.
  • Day 3

    Day 3

    • Jeff calls his policeman friend, Doyle, at the police station to report his suspicions about Thorwald.
    • Doyle is skeptical, but he agrees to stop by.
    • Stella begins to speculate about what Thorwald did to his wife. She comments that whatever is in the trunk will start to leak if Thorwald isn't quick about moving it. Stella is not one for euphemistic language.
    • Movers come to pick up the trunk, and Stella runs to get the name of the moving truck but isn't quick enough.
    • Thorwald places a long-distance call.
    • Doyle stops by to visit, and he doesn't take Jeff's observations seriously.
    • He agrees to casually look into it, mostly due to the fact that the wife in question was bedridden and unlikely to go off on a long trip.
    • The dog is still digging around in the roses. Thorwald shoos him away.
    • Doyle goes off, on his day off, to ask some questions for Jeff.
    • We fade back in to Jeff and Doyle in the apartment, discussing what Doyle has found out about the Thorwalds. He produces a letter he found that seems to indicate the safe arrival of Thorwald's wife in the country.
    • Doyle leaves Jeff to his peeping.
    • Jeff notices Miss Lonelyhearts off on what appears to be a terrible date.
    • He also notices Thorwald returning home, placing another long-distance call and rifling through one of his wife's purses, which seems to be filled with jewelry.
    • Lisa arrives, and they discuss the strange happenings of the day.
    • The handbag filled with jewelry has Lisa suspicious. She explains that a woman would never leave home on a long trip without her favorite jewelry.
    • Lisa has taken the weekend off and announces that she's staying over. She's brought everything she needs in one small overnight bag. That's to show Jeff how practical she is, still hoping to convince him she could fit in with his peripatetic lifestyle.
    • The hilarious thing is that what's in the little overnight bag is a lacy, sheer, very expensive negligee.
    • Jeff is still snarking on and demeaning her, but she refuses to give in to his terrible attitude.
    • Doyle walks in wearily, and Lisa appears with two snifters of brandy and a conspiracy theory. Doyle advises them to just leave the entire situation alone.
    • Lisa and Jeff watch Miss Lonelyhearts' evening dissolve into disaster.
    • They begin to question the ethics of their peeping. Lisa gets into her nightgown.
    • Suddenly, they hear a scream from outside. The neighbor's little dog has been found strangled to death in the garden.
    • The dog's tearful owner accuses the neighborhood of being heartless.
    • Miss Torso tearfully watches the commotion. The musician's party stops to see what's going on. For the first time, all of the neighbors are paying attention.
    • All except you-know-who, that is. As Jeff and Lisa watch the tragedy unfold, they notice that Thorwald is the only neighbor who hasn't looked out his window.
    • He sits in his darkened living room with only his glowing cigar visible.
    • The plot thickens.
  • Day 4

    Day 4

    • Lisa, Stella, and Jeff stand at the window and summarize what they know.
    • Jeff notices some interesting changes to the garden where the dog had been digging: a flower that's not the same size as it was the day before.
    • He thinks of a way to move things along and writes a note to Thorwald: "What have you done to her?"
    • Lisa anonymously slides the note under Thorwald's door.
    • Thorwald picks up the note and goes out to find who left it; Lisa manages to run out before he sees her.
    • Stella notices Miss Lonelyhearts preparing to take a dangerously large amount of sleeping pills, but Lisa redirects their attention to Thorwald and his wife's handbag.
    • Stella and Lisa decide to go digging in the garden.
    • Jeff places a call to Thorwald, asking him to meet him at a local bar or else. This gets Thorwald out of the apartment, giving the women some time to explore.
    • Lisa suddenly decides to climb the fire escape to search the apartment.
    • Stella and Jeff, watching from the window, call the police when they see Miss Lonelyhearts getting ready to swallow the pills.
    • Suddenly, Thorwald returns to his apartment. Lisa is trapped while Jeff and Stella helplessly watch him attack her. Jeff quickly calls the police to report a man assaulting a woman next door, but it's not looking good for Lisa.
    • The police arrive (nick of time, etc.), and Lisa talks her way out, wiggling her finger with Mrs. Thorwald's wedding band at Jeff to indicate that she has the evidence.
    • Thorwald notices and looks up to see Jeff and Stella watching him.
    • The police take Lisa to jail, which is just fine with her.
    • Stella leaves to bail Lisa out of jail, while Jeff calls Doyle to update him on everything.
    • The phone rings, and Jeff initially thinks it's Doyle.
    • It's not. It's Thorwald.
    • Gulp.
    • Thorwald slowly climbs the stairs to Jeff's apartment.
    • Jeff sits defenseless in his chair, so he grabs the tools of his trade—his camera and a bunch of bulbs.
    • Thorwald looks weary and miserable. He wants to know what they want from him—money? Why are they doing this? We almost feel sorry for him. Almost.
    • Jeff uses his camera flashbulb as a weapon to disorient Thorwald as he menacingly approaches.
    • Lisa and Doyle are just downstairs, and Jeff shouts to them as Thorwald leaps across the room to grab him.
    • Thorwald tosses Jeff out the window, but the approaching cops break his fall.
    • The cavalry is here, and Thorwald confesses. The dog had found the severed head in the garden, so Thorwald moved it to a hatbox in the apartment. No one's interested in seeing it.
  • Day 5

    Day 5

    • It's a new world. Happy but now with two broken legs, Jeff dozes while Lisa idly thumbs through a travel book. (Beyond the High Himalayas, to be exact.) She's wearing jeans and a casual shirt. Who's the hero now?
    • Has she changed her ways?
    • Not completely. As soon as she sees Jeff dozing off, she picks up her copy of Harper's Bazaar.