Seeing isn't always believing.
Laid up with a broken leg during the height of summer, renowned New York magazine photographer L. B. “Jeff” Jeffries enters his last week of home confinement, bored and anxious. A bachelor, Jeff has been spending his days sitting in a wheelchair, watching his neighbors through the rear window of his two-room apartment. Although Stella, the nurse who drops by to massage his back and prepare his meals, disapproves of his “peeping” and counsels him to marry his girl friend, model Lisa Carol Fremont, Jeff insists that Lisa is too “perfect” and refined for his adventurous lifestyle.
Later, after observing a pair of amorous newlyweds moving into one of the buildings adjacent to his, Jeff is visited by the glamorous Lisa. When Lisa, who has brought Jeff a lavish restaurant meal, suggests that he give up his globe-trotting and become a fashion photographer, Jeff reacts with disdain. Jeff and Lisa then watch as a neighbor whom Jeff calls “Miss Lonely Hearts” entertains an imaginery dinner date, and “Miss Torso,” an attractive dancer, juggles the attentions of three male admirers in her apartment. Jeff also notices the traveling salesman who lives in a second-story apartment directly across the courtyard, arguing with his bed-ridden wife.
After admiring the piano playing of Jeff’s neighbor, a struggling composer, Lisa confronts Jeff about their relationship, challenging his perception that their romance is doomed because of their different lifestyles. Jeff, however, insists that the pampered Lisa would never be happy enduring hardships in exotic locales and refuses to consider changing his ways. Before leaving, Lisa announces that she cannot continue seeing him without a commitment, then promises to return the next night. After she goes, Jeff hears a woman scream and glass break, but sees nothing of note outside. During a middle-of-the-night rain shower, Jeff awakens in front of the window and notices the salesman leaving his place with his sample case.
Over the next few hours, Jeff drifts in and out of sleep and sees the salesman coming and going with his case. Early the next morning, while Jeff is asleep, the salesman leaves the building with a woman, and by the time Jeff is up, the salesman has returned, alone. After Jeff mentions the salesman and his wife to Stella, the salesman looks down at the courtyard, intently watching an older couple’s dog sniffing around his garden. Intrigued by the salesman’s behavior, Jeff begins to watch him, first through a pair of binoculars, then through the telephoto lens of his camera. Jeff sees the salesman wrapping a saw and a butcher knife in newspaper and, later that evening, tells Lisa about the salesman’s late-night activities and the fact that he spent the day at home but never went into his sick wife’s bedroom. When Jeff suggests that the man might have murdered his wife, Lisa dismisses his suspicions until she spies the salesman wrapping a rope around a large trunk. Believing that the wife’s body is in the trunk, Lisa crosses the courtyard to look at the salesman’s mailbox and tells Jeff over the phone that his name is Lars Thorwald.
The next morning, Jeff calls police detective Thomas J. Doyle, a friend from his war days, and tells him about Thorwald. Jeff and Stella observe two movers carrying out Thorwald’s trunk, and Stella runs downstairs to check the name on the moving truck. Although Stella is unable to get the moving company’s name, Jeff fills Tom in on all the other details when he comes by that night. Tom is unconvinced, but promises to look into the matter, unofficially. Later, after Jeff sees Thorwald shooing the neighbors’ dog away from his flowers, Tom telephones to report that Thorwald and his wife were seen leaving together the previous morning by three witnesses, including Thorwald’s superintendent, who also stated that, according to Thorwald, Mrs. Thorwald took the train to Meritsville. Jeff is unimpressed by Tom’s evidence, pointing out that the woman may not have been Mrs. Thorwald. Despite Jeff’s pleas, Tom refuses to pursue the investigation, adding that he found a postcard with a Meritsville postmark in Thorwald’s mailbox, signed, apparently, by Mrs. Thorwald. Discouraged but not defeated, Jeff continues to spy on Thorwald, becoming excited when he sees him pulling his wife’s jewelry out of her handbag. When Jeff tells Lisa about the handbag, she insists that, as a woman, Mrs. Thorwald would not have left without her bag or her jewelry. Before they can act on their latest discoveries, Tom stops by to announce that Thorwald’s trunk, which he had tracked down, contained only Mrs. Thorwald’s clothes and was picked up by her at the Meritsville train station.
After Tom leaves, Lisa admits that she is strangely disappointed to learn that Thorwald is not a killer after all. Lisa then slips into a negligee she brought in a purse-sized overnight bag, hoping to prove her resourcefulness to Jeff, but moments later, the courtyard erupts with noise when the older couple’s dog is found strangled. Jeff observes that only one person—Thorwald—did not look out during the ruckus. Convinced that Thorwald killed the dog because of its snooping, Jeff studies some slides he took of the courtyard two weeks before and shows Lisa and Stella that Thorwald’s zinnias are now shorter. Hoping to lure Thorwald out, Jeff writes him an anonymous note, asking, “What have you done with her?” After Lisa slips the note under his door, Thorwald reads it and begins packing. Jeff looks up Thorwald’s phone number and calls him, identifying himself as the note writer and demanding that they meet at a hotel. As soon as Thorwald leaves, Lisa and Stella race down to the courtyard and start digging under the zinnias, but when they fail to unearth anything, Lisa climbs the fire escape and sneaks through Thorwald’s open window.
Soon after, Thorwald returns and finds Lisa, who is looking for Mrs. Thorwald’s wedding ring. Thorwald begins assaulting Lisa, but Jeff calls the police in time to save her. While the police are getting a statement from Thorwald, Lisa, aware that Jeff is watching her through his telephoto lens, lets him know that she found the wedding ring. Thorwald catches her gesturing to Jeff, however, and deduces in which apartment he is hiding. After Lisa is hauled to the police station, Jeff sends Stella out with some bail money and frantically calls Tom. Thorwald then bursts in, but Jeff, sitting in the dark, momentarily blinds him by taking flash pictures with his camera. Despite the flashes, Thorwald grabs Jeff, who yells to alert the neighbors. The courtyard fills with on-lookers as Thorwald wrestles with Jeff and dangles him upside-down out the window. Although Tom arrives with some back-up, the police can only break Jeff’s subsequent fall. The police apprehend Thorwald, who confesses that he deposited most of his wife’s body in the East River, except for her head, which he first buried in the garden and then packed in a hatbox. Later, while Miss Lonely Hearts and the composer celebrate the publication of his song, and Miss Torso welcomes home her soldier sweetheart, Jeff, who now was two broken legs, is back in his wheelchair, with the devoted Lisa by his side.
- 1HR 52MIN