Updated: Sep 7, 2019
It may be among the earliest examples of product placement in a film, that moment in 1954’s Rear Window when Grace Kelly, as Lisa Carol Fremont, an ultra-stylish fashion executive, name-checks the handbag she’s carrying: a Mark Cross overnight case that, thanks to passion for a historic brand and classic-film fandom, is readily available today.
There’s no sign of the handbag in the Cornell Woolrich short story on which Rear Window is based — there’s no Lisa Carol Fremont, in fact. Titled It Had to Be Murder and published in Dime Detective Magazine in 1942, Woolrich's plot involves just three characters: Hal Jeffries, who tells a voyeuristic story in a first-person narrative as he observes the actions of his neighbors — including a possible murder — from the rear window of his New York City apartment as he recovers from a broken leg; Sam, described in the story as Hal’s “day houseman”; and Hal's friend Boyne, a police detective.
The introduction of the overnight case became a necessity when Hitchcock adjusted the story to include a romantic relationship between James Stewart’s Jeffries — now renamed L.B. “Jeff” Jeffries — and his stunning blonde girlfriend, played by Grace Kelly in her second role for Hitchcock after Dial M for Murder, also released in 1954. (Sam also becomes Stella, a physical therapist, played by the great Thelma Ritter, while Boyne becomes Lieutenant Doyle, played by Wendell Corey. And unlike Woolrich’s short story, the film’s audience is also introduced to jewelry salesman Lars Thorwald, the very real murderer of his wife, played by Raymond Burr.)
Early in Rear Window, it’s clear that Jeff is hesitant to commit to Lisa, his longtime girlfriend. He’s a photojournalist who loves his freedom almost as much as he loves the spontaneity of covering everything from bullfights to war zones, and he’s convinced that Lisa and her Harper’s Bazaar-friendly wardrobe wouldn’t blend well with the ease of a single-suitcase lifestyle. As Lisa becomes more convinced that Jeff is correct about what Lars Thorwald may have done to his wife, she decides to spend the night in his apartment (sleeping on the couch, as audiences and the Hollywood censors are led to believe), to both observe Thorwald’s movements and to prove to Jeff that she’s much more adaptable than he might think.
And thus we are introduced to Lisa’s Mark Cross overnight case, as she flirtatiously demonstrates just how much it’s able to hold:
Similar to such historic brands as Hermès, Gucci and Louis Vuitton, Mark W. Cross & Co. got its start in the 19th century as a company that specialized in crafting saddles, bridles and harnesses, and was named by founder Henry Cross, an Irish immigrant, in honor of his only son, Mark. But unlike that trio of iconic European houses, Mark Cross originated in Boston in 1845 before shifting its headquarters to New York. After Mark Cross’s death in the late 1800s, Patrick Murphy, a longtime employee of the company, purchased the brand; following Patrick’s death, his son, Gerald Murphy, became the brand’s president in 1934.
Murphy and his wife, Sara, were American expats who already moved among a lofty society set, which over the years included everyone from Dorothy Parker and Ernest Hemingway to Cole Porter, Lillian Hellman and F. Scott Fitzgerald — the couple was reportedly the inspiration for Fitzgerald’s lead characters, Dick and Nicole Diver, in 1934’s Tender Is the Night. Also among their circle of friends was Alfred Hitchcock, who decided to reach out to Gerald when he needed a stylish and compact overnight case for a key scene in Rear Window, an accessory that would suit Kelly’s fashionable character while also serving the plot. Since taking over the company, Murphy had expanded the Mark Cross line to include luxury leather goods handcrafted in Italy, jeweled evening bags, cigarette cases, luggage and other products, and Hitchcock’s custom request for Rear Window, to create a feminine version of a men’s attache case, fit nicely into Murphy's expansion plans.
The design completed to his satisfaction, Hitchcock clearly had every intention of crediting his friend’s brand with the introduction of the overnight case in the film, as indicated in both the description and lines from the production’s final shooting script:
Murphy including the piece, christened the “Box Bag,” in the Mark Cross collection, though its success following the film’s release remains unclear. The Mark Cross company also had changed hands once again, and Murphy retired as president just a year after Rear Window’s release, in 1955. Subsequent sales of the company followed, until Mark Cross seemingly closed its doors for good in the 1990s. Retail executive Neal J. Fox, known in the industry for his stints at Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus, relaunched the brand in 2010, and the following year convinced Barneys that its line of upscale, Italian-made bags, coupled with the brand’s heritage, would find an audience with luxury-minded clients. The association with Rear Window later became a highlight of the Mark Cross relaunch, with an almost-exact replica of the bag seen in the film introduced in 2015 — though instead of the simplistic style name of “Box Bag,” Fox ensured there was no mistaking its origins, rechristening it the Rear Window Overnight Case, while other smaller styles have been grouped into a line known as the Grace Collection.
In 2002 the original Mark Cross overnight case carried by Kelly in the film sold at auction at Christie’s for $5,019, which seems like a veritable bargain given its provenance. These days Mark Cross is owned by New York-based GF Capital, a private-equity firm that also owns stakes in Oscar de la Renta and Jonathan Adler, and continues to highlight its Rear Window history, offering on-trend variations of its original overnight case, from a Grace “Mini” that retails between $2,195 and $4,495, depending on its finish; a crossbody cube that sells between $2,395 and $2,495; a Rear Window Evening bag in metallic gold lizard, priced at $4,995; and a Grace Large Box in black calfskin that retails for $2,695. The bags also have been spotted on red carpets in recent years, carried by A-list women that include Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, Rihanna and Blake Lively.
The style closest to the version that Grace Kelly carries in Rear Window, meanwhile, is also still available and is priced at $3,995 on the Mark Cross site, while the newest pieces include a travel-friendly Grace trunk, lined in red cotton twill, introduced in Spring 2018 and retailing for between $7,500 and $9,000, depending on size. U.S. retailers that currently carry the brand include Barneys, Saks Fifth Avenue and The Webster, while internationally Mark Cross can be found at Harrod’s and Harvey Nichols in the U.K., Galeries Lafayette in France, and at Hong Kong’s Lane Crawford.
Ultimately it’s left to the audience's imagination just how much influence Lisa Fremont’s overnight case may have had in convincing James Stewart’s Jeff Jeffries that she was the right woman to accompany him on his adventures. The end of the Rear Window, after all, shows Kelly’s Lisa, wearing jeans, reading Beyond the High Himalayas, an actual 1952 book by William O. Douglas — until Jeff falls asleep, that is, when she picks up the latest copy of Harper’s Bazaar. Hitchcock’s final moment of subtle comedy seems to state that we will venture to every corner of the world to support a true and genuine love — but if we choose to do so, such a feat also can be accomplished with timeless style.