Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window on Composition

Rear Window 1954

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Screenplay by: John Michael Hayes

Based on Story by: Cornell Woolrich

Lead Cast:

James Stewart – LB Jefferies

Grace Kelly – Lisa Carol Fremont

Wendell Corey – Det. Lt. Thomas J Doyle

Thelma Ritter – Stella

Raymond Burr – Lars Thorwald


Rear Windows is concerned with themes of voyeurism. The lead character Jefferies played by James Stuart, observes his neighbor’s lives from his rear window. Jefferies is injured and confined to a wheelchair for seven weeks. He begins watching the neighbors to pass time, becoming increasingly intrigued with their lives. He is an onlooker, making observations and drawing conclusions based on a stereotypical point of view. He questions the ethical nature of his behavior, “is it ethical to watch a man with binoculars and a long focus lens?’’ (Rear Window, 1954). His Insurance nurse Stella comments “We’ve become a race of peeping toms”…What people outta do is get outside there own houses and look in for a change.” (Rear Window, 1954).

Screen Shot 2015-04-16 at 4.27.03 pm

Alfred Hitchcock uses a visual storytelling equivalent in his compositional choices. An example of this is distinct frame separation to show Jefferies point of view. Hitchcock also uses form to show the relationship between the characters. An inverted triangle is used to depict the current position of the protagonist. The composition strengthens the story telling, paralleling the characters perspective and emotional state. Hitchcock is playing out what is going on internally, visually showing the audience the “mind of the individual.” (Rear Window Ethics, 1954, Hitchcock)


The majority of the film is shot in, and from the perspective of one room. This evokes the experience of one-sided opinion and speculation. Hitchcock shoots across the courtyard from Jeffries point of view, never within the intimate space of the neighbors units themselves. He often uses Jefferies windows as a frame or a circular frame to mimic the view from binoculars. “A Frame supplies a pictorial foreground element, contains the action, and prevents the viewer’s eyes from wondering off screen.” (Mascelli, 1965 pp 234). Mr. Thorwald is the focus of Jefferies attention. He suspects Thorwald has murdered his wife, however he was asleep when the event took place. Hitchcock places the antagonist in the center of the composition as the main focal point on several occasions as Jefferies, Lisa and Stella draw conclusions from his behavior. Det. Lt. Doyle makes a point that there is no physical evidence and the speculation can be circumstantial.


The Characters are unified in their opinion that Thorwald is guilty, however Lisa along with Stella decides to take action and investigate what is buried under the rose bed. Jefferies is coffined to a wheel chair and therefore cannot explore beyond observation. The characters form an inverted triangle, where Jefferies is immobilized and in a venerable position due to his condition, thus creating a visual drama in the composition. “A triangle form suggests strength, stability, solidarity of the pyramid”… “A reverse triangle, with its apex at the bottom, may also be used although it lacks the stability of the pyramid…” (Mascelli, 1965 pp 203).


Hitchcock challenges the stereotypical opinion on social status, as we watch Lisa become involved in Jefferies journey. Hitchcock evokes the audience voyeuristic curiosity through compositional choices. At the height of the second act, the antagonist looks directly at the camera. The audience themselves became voyeurs and “peeping toms” (Rear Window, 1954).


Rear Window, 1954, The Hitchcock Collection, DVD, Universal, Universal City, CA 91608, Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

Rear Window Ethics: Rememberinf and Restoring a Hitchcock Classic-Making Of, 1954, The Hitchcock Collection, DVD, Universal, Universal City, CA 91608. Quote By Alfred Hitchcock

Mascelli, Joseph, 1965, The Five C’s of Cinematography, Silman-James Press, Beverly Hills,CA 90210.

Glebas, Francis, 2009, Directing the Story, Focal Press, Burlington, MA

Image Reference

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Rear Window Movie Poster

Screen shoot Rear Window, 1954, The Hitchcock Collection, DVD, Universal, Universal City, CA 91608, Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

Movie Still

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