Hitchcock’s masterpiece Rear Window turns 60

Peek inside the press book produced for the original release of Alfred Hitchcock’s classic suspense thriller Rear Window, now 60 years old.

Samuel Wigley

Rear Window (1954)

Rear Window (1954)

Objects in the rear-view mirror may appear closer than they are, but 60 years have now passed since the premiere of Alfred Hitchcock’s evergreen thriller Rear Window at the Rivoli Theatre in New York City.

In the New York Times on 5 August 1954, critic Bosley Crowther recorded that 2,000 spectators crowded into the theatre for the benefit world premiere, including a number of United Nations officials. Proceeds from the screening were donated to the American-Korean Foundation, founded after the end of the Korean war.

Sixty years later, Rear Window remains one of the master of suspense’s most famous and best-loved films. In his second of four collaborations with Hitchcock, James Stewart plays L.B. Jeffries, a professional photographer with his leg in plaster who takes to spying on a neighbouring block of flats from his apartment window. Noting the rituals and idiosyncrasies of a cross-section of New Yorkers as they go about their daily lives, he soon becomes convinced that one of them, Thorwald (Raymond Burr), has murdered his wife.

Critics like Crowther could hardly have realised that this would be a film that still thrills audiences so many decades later. He wrote:

Mr Hitchcock’s film is not ‘significant’. What it has to say about people and human nature is superficial and glib. But it does expose many facets of the loneliness of city life and it tacitly demonstrates the impulse of morbid curiosity. The purpose of it is sensation, and that it generally provides in the colorfulness of its detail and in the flood of menace toward the end.

Hitchcock’s classic derives its enduring potency from its play on the theme of voyeurism: each window is like a cinema screen, containing its own life and drama, and Jeffries’ urge to look reflects back on us, the viewers. It proved hugely influential, with films such as Blowup (1966), The Conversation (1974) and Blow Out (1981) all owing it a huge debt in their stories of obsessive investigation and the (un)reliability of our senses.

The original 1954 press book

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