Reel Estate

Reel Estate: Rear Window is your worst-neighbor nightmare scenario

By Virginia K. Smith  | August 8, 2014 - 8:59AM

We've all had neighbors that seem a little off, and whom we side-eye in the hallway. But most of them aren't murderous, or at least we don't think they are, let alone catch them in the act.

In Alfred Hitchcock's 1954 classic Rear Window—maybe the ultimate lesson in "good fences making good neighbors"—temporarily wheelchair-bound photographer L.B. Jeffries (played by Jimmy Stewart) passes the time looking out from, yes, a rear window onto his apartment complex's shared terrace, and eventually, into his neighbors' homes.

It's all standard-issue urban voyeurism until he starts to suspect that one of his neighbors, a salesman, has murdered his invalid wife. The neighbor, played by Raymond Burr, doesn't exactly look not suspicious, and Stewart (along with girlfriend Lisa Fremont, played by Grace Kelly), watch him through binoculars as he rifles through his missing wife's purse, makes a series of mysterious trips with a suitcase in the middle of the night, and sits in his living smoking cigarettes alone in the dark:


While we see bits and pieces of Jeffries' apartment—mostly the living room, and a small glimpse of the kitchen—the real centerpiece of the movie is his apartment complex, which surrounds a shared garden (and allows him to see into so many of his neighbors' windows):


The movie is set at the fictional address of 125 West 9th Street in Greenwich Village, and was filmed on an enormous indoor set at Paramount. In honor of the film's 60th anniversary, the Post looked into the real building in the West Village that apparently inspired the sets, at 125 Christopher Street.

Reportedly, Hitchcock scouted locations all over the neighborhood before landing on this one, and eventually had assistants take photographs nearby "from all angles, in all weather and under all lighting conditions, from dawn to midnight" to draw inspiration for the set.

And, per the Post's photos, the courtyard does look a whole lot like the set-up in the movie, with its shared garden, exposed brick, and fire escapes like the one Grace Kelly climbs up to break into Burr's apartment (another neighbor nightmare we hope never happens to us). Granted, with its artfully tiled wall and sunny foliage, the real life Christopher Street courtyard looks more Sesame Street than murder mystery—the kind of classic downtown building you wish your parents had had the foresight to snap up in the 70s or 80s. In any case, the building itself has serious Hollywood bonafides, later serving as an actual set in Woody Allen's Manhattan Murder Mystery, as well as in Serpico.


The movie left us with a few lingering questions—namely, how Jeffries' across-the-way neighbor, a supposedly struggling composer, landed an apartment like the one above—rents must have been truly affordable then—and how Lisa convinced Midtown mainstay 21 Club to deliver a romantic dinner all the way down to the West Village. It also left us with a desire to invest in better curtains (and maybe also binoculars). Check out the trailer below, and spend the weekend catching up on this unsettling classic:


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