BU Film School

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

FT 540 Reading: Rear Window

Screenplay info
Written by: John Michael Hayes, based on a short story by William Irish (pen name for Cornell Woolrich)
Film info: http://us.imdb.com/Title?0047396
Filmsite.org link: http://www.filmsite.org/rear.html

Synopsis
Camera shows us the apartment buildings, introduces several characters -- couple on fire escape, Miss Torso, songwriter, and Jeffries. A shot shows us the thermometer -- things are hot, a sleeping man is sweating. Camera goes into detail with this man, giving us name (written on cast), showing us photos and equipment (makes profession clear from the get-go).

Editor (Gunnison) calls, exposition about Jeff (magazine photographer) and broken leg. Alternating shots of Jeff, Gunninson, what Jeff sees through window (Miss Torso and chicken leg, hearing-aid woman). Jeff's eager to escape boredom. "Six weeks -- sitting in a two-room apartment with nothing to do but look out the window at the neighbors." Songwriter works on tune (which proceeds throughout film). Jeff's cynical comments about marriage, supported by shots of salesman and nagging wife. Jeff scratches inside leg. Salesman tends garden, mean to hearing-aid lady.

Stella upbraids Jeff about peeping. "I can smell trouble right in this apartment." Jeff agrees -- with Lisa Fremont. He's not ready for marriage. She's too perfect -- lifestyles clash (like Grace and Guatemala). Jeff sees honeymooners moving in (to the tune of "That's Amore"). Stella calls him a "window shopper".

Lisa kisses Jeff (extreme close-up), they banter about dress, cigarette box. Dinner from "21", to celebrate start of his last week in cast. She says she could get him fashion assignments. He says it's nonsense. She's hurt, goes to set up dinner. Shots of her doing so are intercut with shots of Jeff watching Miss Lonely Hearts, who sets up a pretend dinner for two. He also sees Miss Torso having a cocktail party, and the salesman and his wife (who's unhappy with dinner). The salesman calls someone on the phone; his wife catches him and laughs when he gets angry. The songwriter is further along with his tune. Jeff and Lisa start dinner, which Jeff remarks is perfect ... as always (sigh).

Jeff and Lisa continue their lifestyles argument. "Let's face it, Lisa ... you aren't made for that kind of a life." Jeff doesn't think either can change. Lisa starts to leave, and it's a goodbye ... until tomorrow night. Jeff, dismayed, calls Gunderson and wangles the Indo-China assignment. He looks out the window. A dog howls.

Night, raining. Jeff watches the couple on the fire escape. Their alarm clock hits the ground and goes off, momentarily startling the salesman, who has emerged from his apartment with a large aluminum suitcase. Jeff notes the time: 1:55 a.m. Jeff watches the saleman's comings and goings, all with said suitcase.

The songwriter is drunk. Jeff pours himself whiskey, watches the salesman, falls asleeps, and wakes up. The shades in the salesman's apartment are drawn. Miss Torso is back from her date, whom she smilingly but firmly shuts the door on. The salesman again comes/goes with his suitcase.

Jeff is asleep. Unseen by him, the salesman and a woman leave the former's apartment.

It's the next morning. The couple on the fire escape lower their dog in a basket. Stella massages Jeff, and upbraids him about sleeping in his wheelchair. Jeff updates her on the neighbors, mentioning the saleman's curious behavior. The salesman raises his shades and eyes the windows; Jeff and Stella move back in time to avoid being spotted. The salesman notices the dog sniffing at his flowerbed. He wipes out the suitcase. Stella, at Jeff's request, brings him binoculars before she leaves. Jeff watches through his binoculars, then switches to a camera and telephotos lens. He sees the salesman wrapping a knife and saw, then placing them somewhere out of sight.

The camera zooms and moves, looking at people. The dog is again lowered. Lisa and Jeff are kissing, but his mind is clearly elsewhere, puzzling over the salesman's behavior. He tells Lisa that the salesman didn't go to work, or into his invalid wife's bedroom. Jeff watches, but Lisa swings his chair around and confronts him. She points out that murder is very extreme. As she talks, she looks out the window and reacts. The shades in the saleman's apartment have been opened, reavling empty beds, stripped of linen, and the salesman binding a trunk with rope. Lisa asks Jeff to start from the beginning.

Jeff watches the salesman. Lisa calls him, and gives him Thorwald's name and address off his mailbox.

Jeff calls Coyne, a friend of his in the police. Stella gives him breakfast. A couple of times, as Jeff is about to eat a piece of bacon, Stella tosses in a comment about the disposal of the wife's body (both times, he loses his appetite). Two men arrive at Thorwald's and pick up the trunk. Stella goes out to try to get the name off their truck, but neither she nor Jeff are successful. The salesman places a long-distance call.

Jeff tells Coyne about the salesman. Coyne says things sound mysterious, but murder is unlikely -- it would be too stupid and obvious to do such a crime where everyone could see it. He says he won't report it yet, but will poke around on his own.

The dog digs in Thorwald's flowerbed. Thorwald spots him, gently lifts him out, and pats the dirt back into place before watering his flowers.

Coyne returns to Jeff's. The results of his investigation: the Thorwalds left their apartment at 6 a.m., and he put the wife on the train for the country (supposedly with witnesses). While he talks, Coyne observes Miss Torso, and is caught by an amused Jeff. Jeff presses him, but Coyne says he can't search without a warrant. Coyne points out that there's even a postcard from Anna to Thorwald.

It's dusk. Jeff is again at the window. The dog is lowered. Miss Lonely Hearts, surprisingly, is preparing for an evening out. The songwriter is readying for guests. Miss Torso and a man are practicing dance. Miss Lonely Hearts, mustering courage, goes to a cafe across the street. Thorwald appears with a cardboard box. There are already suits and topcoats on the beds. Thorwald takes out his laundry, adds those to the piles, then removes more from his dressers. Jeff leaves a message with Coyne's wife for Coyne to come quickly, since it appears that Thorwald is getting ready to pull out.

Early night. Thorwald finds a handbag, places another long-distance call, and talks while looking at the jewelry from the handbag. Reassured, he puts everything back in the handbag, then hides it under the coats. Lisa arrives (script notes that she's attractively back-lit), but Jeff's attention (and soon hers) is all on Thorwald. Thorwald goes. Lisa says that she hadn't been able to stop thinking about things. She says that the wife would never have left her favorite handbag and jewelry behind when going on a trip. Lisa says she'll stay, even though Jeff objects (landlord, no pajamas). Lisa takes out an overnight case and displays the contents -- she's prepared, to his surprise. They watch the songwriter's party and the newlyweds (whose relationship is already beginning to fray a bit).

Coyne arrives. He's silent, looking around the room, noticing Lisa's shadow, the overnight case, and Thorwald's windows. He breaks silence by asking what else Jeff has on Thorwald. Lisa appears, bringing brandy. Coyne receives a call. Jeff and Lisa tell Coyne about the jewelry. Then Coyne pops their bubble: "Lars Thorwald is no more a murderer than I am." He doesn't have an explanation for everything, but points out that "People do a lot of things in private that they couldn't explain in public." According to his investigations, the woman was on the train to Merritsville, and the trunk had Anna's clothes. He tries to bring the conversation back to a friendly basis, but Jeff and Lisa won't have it. When they ask him if he's dropping the case, Coyne retorts that there is no case, and adds as an aside that the call was to inform him that the trunk had just been picked up -- by a Mrs. Anna Thorwald.

Miss Lonely Hearts returns with a man. She acts flirty and nervous. He gets fresh, she slaps him and tosses him out, then cries. Jeff and Lisa, watching this, start to believe that Coyne's right, and that they have no business watching people's private doings.

Night. A scream breaks the silence. In one shot after another, neighbors look out (Hitchcock makes us wait, and wait, and wait ...). The reason: the fire-escape couple has discovered their dog, dead. "You don't know the meaning of the word 'neighbor' ... you don't talk, you don't help, you -- you don't -- even see." Miss Lonely Hearts puts the dog in the basket, and it's drawn up. People move away from their windows. Jeff and Lisa now start to believe their original premise, noting that Thorwald was the only person who didn't come to his window.

Dusk. Jeff, Lisa, and Stella are all watching. Thorwald is washing his bathrrom walls. Jeff gets a thought, looks at slides through his viewer, comparing old shots of the flowerbed with how it looks now (with a slight dip in the center, as if something's buried there). Stella says to call Coyne, Lisa says to dig up the flowerbed. Jeff says he doesn't want to call Coyne until the body's found, and he doesn't want Lisa to get killed too.

Thorwald is packing. Jeff writes a note ("What have you done with her?"), and Lisa slips it under Thorwald's door. Even during all this, Jeff watches Miss Torso putting up curtains (Stella catches him). Thorwald opens the letter and freezes, then runs out into the hall, nearly catching Lisa. Thorwald goes back to packing.

Stella borrows binoculars, sees Miss Lonely Hearts with pills and Bible. She worries Miss LH may be suicidal, but Jeff says just keep an eye on her. Lisa returns. She points out that Thorwald has the handbag. Jeff - wedding ring in there? Stella and Lisa want to dig up the flowerbed, so Jeff calls Thorwald to distract him. Thorwald goes to meet the supposed blackmailer in the cafe. Jeff tells Stella and Lisa that if he spots Thorwald coming back, he'll signal them with a flashbulb. Jeff leaves an urgent message with Coyne's babysitter.

Stella digs, but finds nothing. Miss Lonely Heart is writing a note. Despite Stella's efforts to block her, Lisa dashes toward Thorwald's fire escape and enters his apartment through a window. Lisa finds the handbag. It's empty, so she proceeds to search the drawers. Stella dashes into Jeff's apartment, says to ring Thorwald's apartment when he's coming back. Jeff is ready to ring right now. Stella spots Miss LH about to take her pills. Jeff dials the police. Just then, a musical group in the songwriter's apartment plays his tune, the beauty of which stops Miss LH.

Lista listens to the music too. She holds up her hands to show Jeff jewelry. Just then, Thorwald appears in the corridor! Thorwald confronts Lisa, takes jewelry, and they struggle. The police comes on Jeff's line, and he tells them a man's assaulting a woman at Thorwald's address. The cops appear. Thorwald is frightened, but quickly regains his composure, and tells him that Lisa was trying to steal things. Lisa doesn't turn him in, but waves her left hand behind her back to show that she has the ring. This gesture is spotted by Thorwald, who looks down at her hand, then up directly into the lens of Jeff's camera. Lisa is taken away by the police. Stella leaves to bail her out. Coyne calls. Jeff updates him. Coyne is sceptical, but will run things down.

Miss Torso and Miss LH remark on how lovely the music was. Miss LH in particular: "I'm glad I was here when he played it."

The phone rings. Thinking it's Coyne, Jeff picks up and talks rapidly, but encounters only silence, then a click as it's hung up, presumably by Thorwald. Jeff hears Thorwald's slow approach. He desperately wheels around, looking for a hiding place or a weapon, and snatches his flash holder and bulbs.

Thorwald opens the door and confronts Jeff -- want money? Thorwald then says Jeff must get the ring back, but Jeff points out the cops must have it by now. Thorwald then moves toward Jeff, who pops a flash bulb, blinding Thorwald, then frantically reloads. Jeff does this three more times before he runs out of bulbs.

Coyne, Lisa, Stella and other detectives enter Thorwald's apartment, then look up at Jeff's. Thorwald tries to pull Jeff out of his chair, which falls, spilling Jeff onto the floor. Thorwald drags Jeff to the windowsill. Shots of their struggle from different angles (two-shot, Jeff). Coyne climbs the wall, snagging a gun from a fellow policeman. Detectives appear behind Thorwald and grab him. Neighbors, Lisa watch. Jeff loses his grip on the sill and falls, landing on two detectives, then rolling over onto the ground. Thorwald has confessed to the detectives, who are going to find the body.

Another look at the neighborhood. The temperature has cooled off. The songwriter is playing a recording of his song for Miss Lonely Hearts. Thorwald's apartment is being repainted. The fire-escape couple is training a new dog. Miss Torso welcomes home an army private. The newlyweds are arguing. Jeff is asleep in his chair -- and now both his legs are in casts. Lisa, clad in denim and a plaid shirt, is reading a travel book. Once she assures herself he's asleep, she sets that down and picks up Harper's Bazaar instead.

My notes
-- brilliant juxtaposition of shots
-- we're voyeurs, often from Jeff's viewpoint, though sometimes Hitchcock tricks us. Camera pans and tilts, like someone's eyes.
-- snapshots of all different people, different relationships
-- great suspense
-- wonderful humor. Knowing, cynical dialogue, snappy one-liners
-- lots of close-ups, profiles -- the human face

FT 540 notes (from 06/05/03)
-- lot of time establishing environment. Conversations about marriage. Jeff disaffected, alienated. Nobody relating to anyone else.
-- voyeurism. Photographer spying on people. Watching, hoping for murder is sick. Hero - change in perception.
-- weather unpleasant. Puts hero at odds with everything. Fighting environment (Jeff sweats).

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Comments:
You have showed me the whole movie with this review..wonderful read.


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