The entire picture was shot on one set, which required months of planning and construction. The apartment-courtyard set measured 98 feet wide, 185 feet long and 40 feet high, and consisted of 31 apartments, eight of which were completely furnished. The courtyard was set 20 to 30 feet below stage level, and some of the buildings were the equivalent of five or six stories high. The film was shot quickly on the heels of Dial M for Murder (1954), November 27 1953-February 26 1954.
The film was unavailable for decades because its rights (together with four other pictures of the same period) were bought back by Alfred Hitchcock and left as part of his legacy to his daughter. They've been known for long as the infamous "Five Lost Hitchcocks" among film buffs, and were re-released in theatres around 1984 after a 30-year absence. The others are The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), Rope (1948), The Trouble with Harry (1955), and Vertigo (1958). However, prior to the theatrical re-releases in the 1980's, "Rear Window" was televised once, in 1971, on ABC, although the network technically did not have the legal right to do so.
According to Georgine Darcy, the scene in which the man and woman on the fire escape struggle in their attempt to get in out of the rain can be attributed to a prank by Alfred Hitchcock. Each actor in the apartment complex facing Jeff's rear window wore an earpiece through which they could receive Hitchcock's directions. Hitchcock told the man to pull the mattress in one direction and told the woman to pull in the opposite direction. Unaware that they had received conflicting directions, the couple began to fight and struggle to get the mattress inside once the crew began filming the scene. The resulting mayhem in which one of the couple is tossed inside the window with the mattress provided humor and a sense of authenticity to the scene which Hitchcock liked. He was so pleased with the result that he did not order another take.
All of the sound in the film is diegetic, meaning that all the music, speech and other sounds all come from within the world of the film [with the exception of non-diegetic orchestral music heard in the first three shots of the film].
Alfred Hitchcock gave Georgine Darcy free range to choreograph her own dance moves for her character, Miss Torso. Darcy was to dance on her own volition during filming. Hitchcock's only restriction was that he forbade her to take professional dance lessons, as he wanted her to maintain the imprecision of an amateur dancer.
To accommodate the enormous set, a higher ceiling was required. Alfred Hitchcock had the production company tear out the entire floor of the studio, revealing the basement. What the audience sees as the courtyard was originally the basement level of the studio.
The film negative was considerably damaged as a result of color dye fading as early as the 1960s. Nearly all of the yellow image dyes had faded out. Despite fears that the film had been irrevocably damaged, preservation experts were able to restore the film nearly to its original coloration.
The 35mm camera that James Stewart holds with the huge telephoto lens attached is an early 1950s Exakta VX (also known as the "Varex" outside the USA) manufactured in Dresden, (east) Germany. The lens is a 400mm Kilfitt. The Paramount property department purposely covered over the name with black masking tape.
According to Georgine Darcy, there were four separate lighting settings for the film, which were meant to replicate early morning, afternoon, late evening, and night. She also noted that for some of the settings, the heat from the lights was nearly unbearable for the actors on the top floor of the apartment building.
The original story by Cornell Woolrich had no love story and no additional neighbors for L.B. Jeffries to spy on, and those elements were created by Alfred Hitchcock and John Michael Hayes. Hayes was encouraged by Hitchcock to spend time with Grace Kelly before writing the Lisa character and Hayes admitted that elements of Lisa were inspired by the actress.
The scene in which Jeff speaks to his editor on the telephone was originally scripted to take place in the editor's office. In fact, Alfred Hitchcock filmed the scene with both James Stewart and Gig Young meeting outside of Jeff's iconic apartment. Ultimately, Hitchcock decided that the departure from the apartment would be too great of a distraction, and he used the audio from the completed scene for the telephone conversation which made the final cut.
The lens James Stewart uses on his camera to spy on his neighbors, is reportedly a 400mm prime telephoto, the magnification of which, would render it near impossible to use effectively without a tripod.
The first German dubbing was created in 1955. After the rights to this movie reverted back to Alfred Hitchcock, all prints of this version were destroyed. When the film became available again in 1984, a new dubbing had to be created since the old version could not be located. It is presumed lost.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
In an interview with Peter Bogdanovich, Alfred Hitchcock claimed that he felt a bit of sympathy with all of the antagonists of his films. He said that he felt particularly sympathetic toward Thorwald, who was minding his own, albeit murderous, business before Jeff interfered. Hitchcock went on to say that he hoped the audience would share his sympathy during the confrontation between Thorwald and Jeff, when Thorwald asks him what he wanted and why he was doing this, while Jeff remains silent. Hitchcock concluded by saying "during that moment it makes one think, 'you know, he's really kind of a bastard.'"
To determine what special effect to employ for the scene in which Jeff fends off Thorwald with the camera flashes, several crew members waited in a dark room while another crew member repeatedly exposed them to bright camera flashes. The crew unanimously reported seeing bright and expanding orange circles, which temporarily disoriented them. These crew members objected to the first attempt to create the effect, which involved numerous small white circles bouncing around the shot. Their complaints were received, and John P. Fulton changed the effect to the expanding reddish-orange circle which can be seen in the film.
The film was inspired in part by the real-life murder case of Patrick Mahon. In 1924, in Sussex, England, Mahon murdered his pregnant mistress, Emily Kaye, and dismembered her body. In the modern interview, Alfred Hitchcock claimed that Mahon threw the body parts out of a train window piece by piece and burned the head in his fireplace. Another modern source, however, states that Mahon quartered the body and stored it in a large trunk, then removed internal organs, putting some in biscuit tins and a hatbox and boiling others on the stove.
In addition to Mahon, Alfred Hitchcock noted in the modern interview that the 1910 case of Dr. Hawley Harvey Crippen also served as an inspiration for the film. Crippen, an American living in London, poisoned his wife and cut up her body, then told police that she had moved to Los Angeles. Crippen was eventually caught after his secretary, with whom he was having an affair, was seen wearing Mrs. Crippen's jewelry, and a family friend searched unsuccessfully for Mrs. Crippen in California. After Scotland Yard became involved, Crippen and his mistress fled England under false names and were apprehended on an ocean liner. Police found parts of Mrs. Crippen's body in her cellar.