Rear Window

Rear Window Summary and Analysis of Late Night Rainstorm - Taking Away the Trunk


At 2:00 a.m., Jeff wakes up to the sound of a storm. He watches the couple that sleeps on their fire escape desperately scramble to bring their bed inside so they don't get drenched. Down on the street, the salesman Thorwald leaves his apartment with a briefcase and returns an hour later. The songwriter stumbles home drunk and angrily sweeps all the music off his piano before passing out. Strangely, Thorwald leaves with his briefcase once more. Jeff falls asleep. When Jeff wakes up, it is still dark. He watches Miss Torso fend off an overeager suitor and lock her door to keep him out. The salesman returns to his apartment for a second time. Finally, it is dawn. Jeff is still asleep when the salesman and his wife leave their apartment together.

The next morning, the weather has improved and the apartment complex is lively as usual. Stella is massaging Jeff and admonishes him for spending the night in his wheelchair looking out the window instead of sleeping properly in his bed - it's not good for him. Jeff updates Stella on the nighttime activities of Miss Torso, Miss Lonelyhearts, and the salesman. Stella and Jeff look out the window to see the salesman peering into the courtyard; Jeff thinks his expression is suspicious. Down below, a little dog digs in the expect spot in the flowerbed where the salesman was planting the day before. Jeff asks Stella to bring him his binoculars before she leaves and she does so while shaking her head. Jeff uses his binoculars to get a close-up view of the salesman packing his briefcase full of fine jewelry. His wife doesn't seem to be anywhere in the apartment.

Jeff retrieves his telephoto lens and camera from his shelf so he can see what Thorwald is doing in the kitchen; he is wrapping a thin saw and a butcher knife in newspaper. Afterwards, the salesman takes a nap and songwriter cleans his apartment in his underwear. The couple that sleeps on the balcony moves their mattress back outside.

Lisa is back at Jeff's place that evening. They are kissing, but Lisa feels like Jeff's mind is elsewhere. He proves her right by asking her what she thinks about the salesman leaving his apartment three times the night before, wrapping up a knife and saw, and staying home from work that day. Lisa finally stops trying to have a romantic moment because Jeff is fixated on the idea of the salesman cutting up his wife's body and taking the parts out of the apartment in his sample case. Lisa finds Jeff's obsession with the whereabouts of the salesman's wife to be disturbing.

The salesman returns and Jeff pulls out his binoculars to watch him, but Lisa turns Jeff's wheelchair away from the window and threatens to leave. She attempts to reason with Jeff and dissuade him from speaking about murder. Then, suddenly, Lisa goes quiet. She and Jeff look into the salesman's apartment to see him wrapping heavy ropes around a big, brown chest. Suddenly, Lisa isn't so dismissive; she asks Jeff to tell her everything he's seen in the salesman's apartment.

Later that evening, Jeff is alone watching the salesman sit alone in the dark and light a cigar. Jeff's phone rings - Lisa is on the line. She tells him that the name on the mailbox belonging to the salesman and his wife is "Mr. and Mrs. Lars Thorwald." Jeff tells Lisa that Mr. Thorwald isn't doing anything at the moment and suggests that she go home to get some sleep.

The next morning, Stella is bustling around Jeff's apartment while he is on the phone with his friend Doyle, a detective, telling him about that he suspects a "neighborhood murder." Doyle has the day off, but agrees to come by Jeff's apartment anyway. Now, Stella and Jeff are both looking out the window; Stella wonders where Mrs. Thorwald is. Miss Torso, in her underwear as usual, hangs her laundry. The newlywed man emerges from his window for a moment before his wife calls him back to bed. Then, two uniformed deliverymen arrive at Mr. Thorwald's apartment and carry out the trunk. Stella runs outside to get the name off the freight truck in which they are taking the trunk away, but she gets outside too late. Meanwhile, Mr. Thorwald makes a long-distance call.


Hitchcock once said, "Rear Window [is] structurally satisfactory because it is the epitome of the subjective treatment. A man looks; he sees; he reacts. Thus you construct a mental process. Rear Window is entirely a mental process, done by use of the visual" (Spoto). Indeed, there is not a single word of dialogue while Jeff watches his neighbors during the nighttime rainstorm - and there is no need for it, either. For the most part, it is abundantly obvious to both Jeff and the viewer what is going on. The couple who sleeps on the fire escape wake up and bring their mattress inside for fear of getting wet. The songwriter is throwing all of his music off the piano and passing out in a chair because he's had too much to drink. Miss Torso is locking her door to keep out an overeager suitor. As Hitchcock told Truffaut, the courtyard "shows every kind of human behavior - a real index of individual behavior...what you see across the way is a little group of stories that, as you say, mirror a small universe" (Truffaut). During the rainstorm, everything in Jeff's tiny universe is predictable - except for the actions of the salesman. Hitchcock has not given the audience any information to support the salesman's behavior, thus leaving us as curious about the man's actions as Jeff is.

As a photographer, Jeff is used to being able to decipher the images that appear around him; it is his job to make a single frame speak volumes. As a result, he has the ability to detach himself from harrowing situations and address them as practically as possible. After all, he would never be able to think about capturing powerful images of bomb blasts and car crashes if everything he saw affected him personally. He feels comfortable putting himself in physical danger to get these shots, just as he thinks nothing of sleeping near the window to observe his neighbors, but he remains emotionally unattached out of necessity. Therefore, Jeff's job has programmed him to analyze other human beings in the most practical way possible, and this applies to his opinions about his neighbors and his girlfriend.

Before we even meet Lisa, Jeff has set her up in a negative light; he tells Stella that Lisa is too perfect. The audience, therefore, also has a preconceived notion about her before she even arrives onscreen - the Park Avenue friends, the expensive clothes, and the glamorous appointments that make up her life. These expectations are satisfied when Lisa makes her grand entrance, wearing a $1,100 dress and bearing an elegant lobster dinner. To this end, Hitchcock puts a great deal of thought into designing Grace Kelly's "look" for this role. He told costume designer Edith Head that Lisa's character should evoke "a piece of Dresden China, something slightly untouchable" (McGilligan 488). Critic Donald Spoto points out that in the beginning of the film Jeff regards Lisa as "merely something to be watched but not touched - just as he watches his neighbors." This is how Hitchcock sets up the arc of Lisa's character. She must spend the whole film proving to both Jeff - and the audience - that she is deeper than a piece of expensive dishware; there is a lot more underneath the surface.

In his conversations with Lisa and Stella, Jeff also reveals how he has slotted all of his neighbors into categories, just as he has prematurely judged Lisa. He refuses to change his first impression of people. He tells Lisa that he believes Miss Torso is just trying to find the most wealthy man to settle down with, while Lisa tries to explain that "juggling wolves" is actually very difficult for a woman. The next morning, however, it's clear that Lisa's words haven't sunk in, as Jeff tells Stella that Miss Torso is the "eat, drink, and be merry" girl. Stella, like Lisa, encourages Jeff to look beneath the surface, saying that Miss Torso will probably end up "fat, alcoholic, and miserable." Then, when Jeff sees Miss Lonelyhearts drinking by herself at night, he raises a glass to her, a subtle mockery of her lonely charade. The next morning, when Jeff tells Stella that Miss Lonelyhearts "drank herself to sleep again," Stella expresses sympathy for the woman by saying that "maybe one day, [Miss Lonelyhearts] will find her happiness," to which Jeff coldheartedly replies, "and some man will lose his."

Ironically, Jeff's life has certain obvious similarities to the unhappy women he is judging - Lisa, Miss Lonelyhearts, and Miss Torso. All four of these characters are alone, but Jeff is the only one who cannot see his own loneliness. Yet, he is the one discussing his feelings about marriage and his relationship with his editor and then a nurse assigned to him by his insurance company. He does not appear to have any real friends to talk to - his relationships with Stella and Doyle are transactional - and he is firmly pushing Lisa away. Donald Spoto writes, "Confined to his wheelchair, Jeff can no longer travel; but he still gazes out and takes pictures ... and constantly records and describes a series of mental images reflecting his own frightened, lonely emotional condition."