Alfred Hitchcock taught us all the dangers of spying on your neighbors with Rear Window, the critically-acclaimed thriller that was released on September 1, 1954. The single-set movie concerns L.B. "Jeff" Jefferies, a photojournalist stuck in his apartment thanks to a broken leg. He accidentally witnesses what he thinks is a murder, but must prove to the police, his nurse Stella, and his girlfriend Lisa that he isn't just imagining things.
Rear Window features performances from Hitchcock regulars Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly and couture costumes from fashion icon Edith Head. But before you settle in for 112 minutes of claustrophobia, here are a few facts about the movie’s gossip-laden production.
1. Rear Window's original story doesn't include Lisa or Stella.
Rear Window was based on Cornell Woolrich's short story, “It Had to Be Murder.” In Woolrich’s version, the voyeuristic protagonist does not have a girlfriend or a nurse, although he does have a “day houseman” named Sam who checks in on him. Oh and his leg injury? It isn't explicitly mentioned until the very last line.
2. Alfred Hitchcock was inspired by two actual murder cases.
Although John Michael Hayes wrote the screenplay for the movie, Hitchcock helped with the actual crime at the center of the story. As he told François Truffaut, he lifted two news items from the British press: the 1910 case of Dr. Hawley Crippen and the 1924 case of Patrick Mohan. Crippen killed his wife, told friends she went to America, and then aroused suspicion by flaunting his secretary around town. Police later found body parts in the Crippen home and arrested the doctor for murder. (Some now believe Crippen was innocent.) Mohan also dismembered his pregnant girlfriend, throwing pieces of her body out a train window. But he didn’t know what to do with her head, and it was this gruesome detail that inspired Hitchcock to include a plot thread about digging up the neighbors’ flower bed for evidence.
3. Grace Kelly turned down the lead in On the Waterfront to star in Rear Window.
In the fall of 1953, Grace Kelly was offered the female lead in two films: one was Rear Window, the other was Elia Kazan’s On the Waterfront. Although she was dying to work with Hitchcock again, On the Waterfront would’ve allowed Kelly to stay in New York, which she preferred to Los Angeles. Still, she ultimately chose to play socialite Lisa Fremont over blue-collar Edie Doyle. Instead, the part went to Eva Marie Saint, who would become a Hitchcock blonde herself with North by Northwest.
4. Alfred Hitchcock modeled Rear Window's villain on a producer he hated.
Hitchcock had a long-standing grudge with his former producer, David O. Selznick. The director believed Selznick had meddled too much with his movies, so much so that Hitchcock effectively disowned his first film with the producer, Rebecca. His ties to Selznick ended with the 1947 movie The Paradine Case, though, so Hitch decided to enact a sly bit of revenge onscreen. It involved Raymond Burr, the actor playing Rear Window villain Lars Thorwald. Hitchcock gave Burr glasses just like Selznick’s and curly gray hair to match. He also instructed Burr to adopt many of the producer’s mannerisms, such as the way he cradled a telephone in his neck. When all was said and done, Burr’s murderous character looked a lot like Selznick, no doubt to the producer’s supreme annoyance.
5. Jimmy Stewart's wife didn't want him to make a movie with Grace Kelly.
Before she was Princess Grace of Monaco, Grace Kelly had a reputation (whether true or not) for having affairs with her male costars—even the married ones. One of those men was Ray Milland, whose spurned wife just happened to be good friends with Jimmy Stewart's wife, Gloria. Gloria was less than thrilled at the prospect of her husband working with Kelly, and developed a bit of paranoia. According to True Grace: The Life and Times of an American Princess, Gloria was on set constantly, watching for signs of an affair. Nothing materialized, although Rear Window cast member Thelma Ritter confirmed that Kelly was a huge flirt. “I think it took [Stewart] back to his fancy-free, footloose bachelor days,” she said. “I don’t say he flirted, but he didn’t seem to mind it, either.”
6. "Miss Torso" was a teenage ballerina.
Georgine Darcy was 17 years old when she was cast as “Miss Torso,” Jeff’s dancing neighbor. Hitchcock picked her out of a pile of publicity photos; hers apparently caught his eye because she had paid extra for color prints. Darcy was fairly new in town, having left her home in Brooklyn just the year before to pursue ballet in California. So when Hitchcock met her, he suggested she get an agent. She didn’t, though, and was subsequently paid just $350 for her work. (That’s about $3150 in today's dollars.)
7. The "songwriter" was also one in real life.
Ross Bagdasarian played the pianist neighbor who is frequently seen composing new pieces. The credits bill him as “The Songwriter,” which is pretty appropriate, considering what Bagdasarian did when he wasn’t acting. He was also a pianist and composer himself, and made his name by creating Alvin and the Chipmunks. But before he recorded “The Chipmunk Song” in 1958, he helped Hitch with his Rear Window cameo. Watch the Songwriter’s apartment and you’ll see a portly fellow winding his clock.
8. Jeff and Lisa's romance is supposedly based on a real life Ingrid Bergman fling.
Rumor has it that Jeff and Lisa were based on war photographer Robert Capa and Ingrid Bergman. The pair dated while Bergman was filming Notorious with Hitchcock in 1946, so he saw the relationship firsthand. The affair ended within a year, but it clearly struck a chord with Hitchcock, who had what many described as an "acute, unrequited passion" for Bergman. Like Jeff, Capa was a photojournalist who lived in Greenwich Village. And in a particularly eerie twist of fate, they both suffered leg injuries while on the job.
9. Rear Window's elaborate set cost some serious cash.
The apartment complex seen in Rear Window was completely constructed on the Paramount Studios lot—and it cost a pretty penny. It reportedly cost an “unprecedented” $9000 to design and $72,000 to build. (About $728,805 total, when adjusted for inflation.) The final set included seven apartment buildings and three other buildings on the other side of the street. It also boasted 31 apartments, although only a handful were fully furnished.
10. Rear Window is the only film where Grace Kelly smokes on-screen.
Kelly refused to smoke cigarettes in her movies, but she made a slight exception for Hitchcock in Rear Window. In one scene, she’s seen with an unlit cigarette between her lips. The camera cuts to Stewart, then back to her. She’s suddenly holding a lit cigarette, which she soon puts out. This way, Hitchcock got his smoking scene, while Kelly never technically broke her rule.
11. Alfred Hitchcock deliberately misdirected his actors for laughs.
Each neighbor has a hook: Miss Torso is a dancer, Miss Lonelyhearts is severely single, the Songwriter is, well, a songwriter. Then there’s that random couple sleeping on the fire escape. Actors Sara Berner and Frank Cady played the unnamed pair, who spend most of the movie fidgeting on a mattress outdoors without incident. Until it rains. For this scene, Hitchcock intentionally messed with his actors. He told Berner to pull the mattress one way and Cady to pull it the other. Neither one knew the other had received conflicting directions. So when Hitchcock called "action," the pair struggled with the mattress until Cady accidentally flew into the window. Hitchcock thought it was so funny, he kept it in the movie.
12. The book Grace Kelly is reading at the end of Rear Window is a final wink.
In the final scene of Rear Window, Lisa is seen reading the book Beyond the High Himalayas by William O. Douglas. Douglas was an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court from 1939 through 1975, but Lisa wasn’t skimming that book for legalese. Douglas suffered from polio as a child, and was told by doctors that he would be crippled for life. But after taking up hiking, Douglas discovered that a) he could definitely walk and b) he loved nature. He wrote a few books about his adventures as an ode to the great outdoors. Beyond the High Himalayas was one of them.