In Rear Window, Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film about how being stuck inside too long drives a person mildly insane, the opening few shots tell us everything we need to know. As the camera scans a series of apartments facing a courtyard, the residents go about their days, blissfully unaware that they are perfect targets of voyeuristic obsession. As it turns out, that voyeur is James Stewart’s LB Jeffries, a photographer on the mend after breaking his leg on the job. With a heatwave ravaging New York and forcing everyone to keep their windows open, it’s kind of inevitable that a bed-ridden photographer would keenly observe anyone who catches his eye.
Naturally, because this is a Hitchcock movie, a murder is what really draws Jeffries’ attention. And while the photographer is busy running an investigation from his living room, a colorful cast of supporting players populate the apartments around him. So who’s the best of these low-rise residents? Let’s get into it:
Depending on how you look at it, Thorwald should either come in first or last here. He’s the most integral to the plot, to the degree that Jeffries’ investigation wouldn’t have a reason to exist without him. But on the other hand, he did kill his wife. I can’t exactly condone that. There’s also the fact that he’s just not a very good neighbor. He snuffs out the upstairs dog, berates a woman offering gardening advice, and just seems generally unfriendly. If he had a lawn instead of a fire escape, he’d yell at people to keep off of it. Even putting the murder aside, this is not a guy that anyone wants at a block party. Last place it is.
6. Miss Torso
Miss Torso, the lithe dancer across the way from Jeffries, is certainly one of the most captivating members of the courtyard crowd. It can be a tad uncomfortable to see her as the object of voyeurism while barely clothed, but it does allow us to see her dance around with a leftover chicken wing. As entertaining as she is, her role here is ultimately to demonstrate that beautiful, alluring women are actually more interesting and have more depth than most would assume. And in this story, Grace Kelly’s Lisa already has that covered.
This is a one-note joke… but it is a pretty good note. The Newlyweds are a married couple who move into their apartment and instantly decide that their plans require closed blinds. The man emerges at the window periodically, only to be beckoned back to bed by his rather insatiable better half. They’re not major players in the landscape of apartment windows, but they do make for some great visual gags when they pop up. By the end of the film, it appears that the honeymoon phase might be wearing off. But then again, maybe they just need to catch a second wind.
4. Piano Man
A songwriter with enchanting melodies, a truly enviable panoramic window set up, and what looks like a healthy dose of imposter syndrome, Piano Man is an instantly recognizable representation of the creative spirit. He’s talented and frequently inspired but seems to struggle with getting it all on paper. When he does, though, it’s pure magic. Sure, his late-night jam sessions might not be ideal for those who like to tuck in early with a mug of Sleepytime tea. But I’d wager most of those courtyard residents consider themselves pretty lucky to have him around.
3. The Sculptress
The downstairs neighbor of Miss Torso, The Sculptress might not love the young lady’s loud music, but don’t think that makes her curmudgeonly. If anything, she might be the most aspirational tenant on this list. The Sculptress spends her days sunbathing, tending to neighborhood pets, and creating abstract art. I imagine she’d be labeled a spinster but it’s obvious she secretly relishes her independence. Good for her.
2. Miss Lonelyhearts
While a major life-or-death plot is unfolding, another tragedy is taking place in the apartment below. Miss Lonelyhearts is a little past her prime by 1954’s standards and keeps striking out with her dates. It seems that careful preparation and desperate hope aren’t enough to will a good man into existence. Of all the neighbors, she’s the one you pity the most, especially when she hits her lowest point. But in a twist of fate that could only happen in an Old Hollywood movie, it’s the Piano Man’s beautiful composition that gets through to Miss Lonelyhearts when she truly needs it. By the film’s epilogue, it looks like the music led her to what she was searching for all along. Subplots don’t get better than this.
1. The Fire Escape Couple and The Dog Who Knew Too Much
Just one floor above Thorwald are the neighbors who unwittingly facilitated his capture. Sure, Jeffries had a good hunch and Lisa was integral. But it was an ill-fated terrier that cemented their suspicions. The dog’s owners, who sleep head to toe because this is a movie from the 1950s, have a sweet shared rhythm that makes me think they’re empty nesters who have replaced children with a canine companion. Every day, they lower the small dog down to ground level in a basket. And when the pooch gets too curious about Thorwald’s flower garden, it’s lights out for this little guy. You really feel for the couple, especially when the woman makes an impassioned speech about how neighbors should care for one another. Though she didn't know it at the time, the silver lining is that her beloved dog did not die in vain. In fact, he was instrumental in proving to Jeffries that he was on the right track with Thorwald. The owners might have a new pet by the end, but this incredible pup will never be forgotten. Goodnight, sweet prince.
Anna Swanson is a writer and critic from Toronto who can usually be found at the nearest rep screening of a Brian De Palma film.