Hitchcock’s Gender Roles: Rear Window by Ben Elliott

Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954) builds a distinct view of the world and how, in the director’s opinion, men and women fit in it. In his suspense masterpiece, Hitchcock utilizes all of his favorite gender roles for his male and female characters. This movie helped pinpoint some recurring elements about men and women present in all three films that we concentrated on for this exhibit. In all three films, Men are shown as damaged and needing help, while women are shown as care-givers. Men think women are interested in money or status or success, while women are only interested in love. And men are always reluctant to take action, until the desire of the women to solve the mystery presses them into confrontation.

 

In Rear Window (1954), all of Hitchcock’s basic roles for men and women are present. From the very beginning, we are shown women as a sexually appealing object with “Miss Torso” across the courtyard, scantily clad and stretching for the audience to see. Throughout the film, men and women reinforce the idea of the superficial beauty that is to be desired in a woman through the characters’ dialogue. But Hitchcock doesn’t stop there. He has a natural desire to torment women who dress up, perhaps sending the opposite message, that women should wear less. As Allen, Richard, and Ishii-Gonzalès put it in their book, ““His favored male alter egos – Farley Granger, James Stewart, or Cary Grant – always appeared as sophisticates, whatever their real origins may have been, whereas when the women were dressed up as ladies they were then tormented for it, just as Madeleine Carrol was in “The Thirty-Nine Steps.” (Allen, Richard, and S. Ishii-Gonzalès 19).

“If’s she’s pretty enough, she doesn’t have to go anywhere, she just has to be.

The very idea is used to catch the killer in the film. For example, Lisa Fremont says at one point, “A woman going anywhere but to the hospital would never leave home without her makeup.” Women’s obsession with beauty and possessions is pivotal to figuring out that Mr. Thorwald killed his wife. The “favorite handbag,” the jewelry, and make-up all lead the characters to believe that his wife never really left the house alive.

The aspect of the “damaged” man needing help from “care-giving” women is perhaps no more prevalent than in Rear Window (1954). Jeff is stuck in a wheelchair because of a broken leg, and has to be helped to do anything. His housekeeper Stella and his girlfriend Lisa become an extension of himself that not only help him around the apartment, but also help him to do anything outside of the apartment. Eventually Lisa even sneaks into Mr. Thorwald’s apartment to help solve the mystery for Jeff.

The man as the over-analyzer role is played admirably by Jeff in the film. He attempts to apply logic to his relationship with Lisa. Him being a photographer that travels the world and Lisa being an upper-class rich girl dress designer; he thinks the smart thing to do would be to break it off.  Stella, the woman as the care-giver once again, has to advise him to “leave intellect out of it,” and to “use common sense.” She even goes so far as to say “You’ve got a woman deficiency.” Hitchcock wants to send the message men over-analyzing and applying logic to relationships doesn’t work.

 

“Quit analyzing each other”

Men are also reluctant to be married in Hitchcock’s films. In Spellbound (1945), John thinks he’s not worth loving. In Psycho (1960), Sam thinks his debt is too much to overcome, and therefore thinks a marriage wouldn’t work. But in Rear Window (1954), marriage itself is given a negative connotation. Women are nagging husbands throughout the movie. There is a feeling, on the man’s part, of marriage being the end of life. Compounding this feeling is that men in Hitchcock’s films think money, status, and success are what women want, when in reality all the women want is love. While Jeff doesn’t think he is ready for marriage, or as he views it “the end”, Stella attempts to talk him into marrying Lisa anyway.  She tells him “Every man’s ready when the right girl comes along.” But Jeff doesn’t agree.

“Sometimes it is worse to stay than it is to run.”

Hitchcock’s main message about men and women in the film seems to be that men are content to watch other people’s happiness rather than concentrate on their own lives, while women are the opposite. Jeff sits and watches everyone out his window while Lisa comes by and chides him for spying on people and always wants to close the blinds so that he will focus on her instead. In Hitchcock: Past and Future the authors comment that“…The bodies of women, matter, or sign, and heterosexuality has been up to now just an alibi for the smooth workings of man’s relations with himself.” (Allen, Richard, and S. Ishii-Gonzalès 212). The men of his films are unwilling to change, and while in Rear Window (1954) Lisa wants to think about the future, Jeff is content with the “status quo” and more concerned with what’s going on around them right now.

“We’ve become a race of peeping toms.”

Once again in Hitchcock’s films the role of the suspicious investigator is filled by a male character, this time by Det. Thomas Doyle. He questions guilt and innocence and motives of each character with his dialogue. While a big fuss has been made of “women’s intuition” to this point in the film, Det. Thomas Doyle completely degrades the theory that women know anything with, “I’ve wasted enough time following leads based on female intuition.” But it is not the Detective who ends up getting to the bottom of the mystery. Just as in the other films we focused on, it is the women who want to actually go as far as needed to discover the truth. Their desire to solve the mystery leads to the eventual confrontation of the male characters in the film, culminating with Thorwald throwing Jeff out the window and being arrested.

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2 thoughts on “Hitchcock’s Gender Roles: Rear Window by Ben Elliott

  1. Interesting comments here. And is Hitchcock mocking men or quietly giving a nod to women in the final scene? Wearing her blue jeans and a bright colored shirt, Lisa secretly retreats into her fashion magazine while Jeff snoozes, now even more emasculated than at the start!

  2. Ben,

    Nice piece.

    Two unimportant factual points I thought you might want to know about:

    POINT ONE:

    You note that Stella tells Jeff he’s got a “woman deficiency.”
    The line in both the original screenplay and the final cut of the film is “hormone deficiency.”

    FROM THE ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY:

    THE CAMERA PANS HER over to him. She takes out the
    thermometer, looks at it.

    JEFF
    Right now I’d even welcome trouble.

    STELLA
    (Flatly)
    You’ve got a hormone deficiency.

    JEFF
    How can you tell that from a
    thermometer!

    STELLA
    Those sultry sun-worshipers you watch
    haven’t raised your temperature one
    degree in four weeks.

    FROM THE FINAL CUT:

    POINT TWO:

    You note that Lisa is an “upper class rich girl dress designer.”

    Although Lisa’s profession is never named in the text of the film, most critics assume that she is a model.

    Here is an example from TCM’s (Turner Classic Movies’) website.

    Concurrent with the crime-thriller theme of mysterious activities of apartment neighbors is the struggle of the passively-observant and immobile protagonist (James Stewart), a magazine photographer who is impotently confined to a wheelchair while recuperating in his Greenwich Village apartment and fearful of the imprisoning effects of marriage. He struggles, as he does with his plaster cast, to overcome his noncommittal feelings and reluctance to get married to his high-fashion model fiancee-girlfriend (Grace Kelly). In the midst of the most tense situation in another context, she daringly flashes a wedding ring to him to clue him in with the ‘evidence.’

    http://www.filmsite.org/rear.html

    This author can only speculate as to why the common assumption is that Lisa Freemont is a model rather than a designer, but there are three pieces of “evidence” that point in that direction.

    1. The author of the screenplay, John Michael Hayes, said during an interview included in the BONUS FEATURES on the Rear Window DVD that he based Grace Kelly’s character on his own wife, a fashion model. (The reference can be seen here at (9:05 into the interview).

    2. Grace Kelly was 25 years old when she played the character of Lisa, and by most accounts, her age, beauty, pose and manner of dress were more typical of a model in New York City in 1954 than any known fashion designers of that time. Compare Kelly to the fashion designer who provided all of the costumes for Rear Window, Edith Head.

    https://www.google.com/search?q=grace+kelly+edith+head+academy+awards&biw=1193&bih=711&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwj3w6eAl-_KAhVEKCYKHbguBo4Q_AUIBigB#imgrc=q2iI1earxBEABM%3A

    3. Perhaps the most important piece of evidence in determining Lisa’s profession lies in this paragraph, wherein Lisa describes her workday to Jeff:
    (It should be noted that the original screenplay differs slightly from the dialogue that appears on screen):

    ​ ​JEFF
    Tired?

    LISA
    Not a bit. I was all morning in a
    sales meeting. Then over to the
    Waldorf for a quick drink with Mada​me
    Dufresne — just over from Paris.
    ​w​ith some spy reports. Back to the
    “21” for lunch with the Harper’s
    Bazaar people — that’s when I ordered
    dinner. Then two Fall showings —
    twenty blocks apart. Then I had to
    have a cocktail with Leland and Slim
    Hayward — we’re trying to get his
    next show.
    (Softly, looking up
    to him)
    Then I had to dash back and change.

    JEFF
    (Mock seriousness —
    one girl to another)
    Tell me — what was Slim Hayward
    wearing?

    LISA
    (Seriously)
    She looked very cool. She had on a
    mint green —

    She breaks off with a little laugh, and a slight reproachful
    look at Jeff. She sips her drink then says:

    LISA
    And to think, I planted three nice
    items about you in the columns today.

    The scene as performed by the actors in the final cut can be seen at 16:25 in this youtube copy of the movie:

    Lisa’s mention of sales meetings and spy reports might suggest an involvement in the fashion industry at a level higher than your average model. However, when Lisa tells Jeff: “I had to have a cocktail with Leland and Slim Hayward–we’re trying to get his next show,” this would at least indicate that Lisa works for a modeling agency since “getting his show” in the fashion world would be something that modeling agencies “get” from fashion designers or fashion houses.

    ****

    LINK TO THE FULL TEXT OF THE ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY:

    http://www.imsdb.com/scripts/Rear-Window.html

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