Empire refers to this film as flawless and essential. I could not agree more. Rear Window is a film which I watched with my jaw on the floor throughout. Like after Cabaret, I sat stupefied as the credits roll, questioning the magnitude of what I have just witnessed. Rear Window tells the story of a wheelchair bound photographer, Jeffries (Stewart), who has nothing to do in his convalescence but spy on his neighbours. He becomes convinced that one of them, Thorwald (Burr) has murdered his bedridden wife and… well… gotten rid of her in a bed of flowers. Lisa, (Kelly) his girlfriend, and Thelma (Ritter) his maid assist him in their investigations.
James Stewart … L.B. ‘Jeff’ Jefferies
Grace Kelly … Lisa Carol Fremont
Wendell Corey … Det. Lt. Thomas J. Doyle
Thelma Ritter … Stella
Raymond Burr … Lars Thorwald
Made in 1954, this propelled Alfred Hitchcock from everyday master of suspense to a position as titanic public figure, popular entertainer and true artist. He made great films before and after, but Rear Window showed he could take a gimmick premise and transform it into a movie at once accessible to a mass audience and deep enough to be worth dozens of reviewings and critical analyses. Empire
The concept of this film is so à propos for the past miserable year. A man locked away in his apartment, unable to do anything but spy on his neighbours. We have a derelict council building and hotel which charges by the hour (probably) opposite our rear window which does not make for especially tantalising viewing. Jeffries is lucky that he has such entertaining neighbours. From Miss Torso to the couple who sleep out on their balcony, the fascinating and tragic Miss Lonely on the ground floor and the struggling composer above and the wonderful lady who lowers her dog down on a winch, to do its business in the garden. See a picture of Jeff’s view below.
This film is a remarkable work of atmosphere and demonstrative of Hitchcock’s undeniable genius. The whole film is shot from the perspective of Jeffries with the exception of one scene where Hitchcock breaks away from his perspective logic. This is the scene where Lisa is looking up at the woman on the fire escape about two third in, who is scorning her neighbours. I shall not tell you what for but will say this scene is likely among the most suspenseful in the film. Follow this link for an excellent article on Hitchcock’s understanding of the language of cinema in Rear Window.
I’m not much on rear window ethics.
Although it is filmed entirely from one room, the film is never once dull. The blinding star power of Grace Kelly is visible in her every movement. The strength of the script, written by John Michael Hayes based on Cornell Woolrich’s 1942 short story “It Had to Be Murder”, is astounding at every turn. The initially frustrated exchanges between Steward and Kelly are superb, followed by their joint enthusiasm for the case they are pursuing. Add in the cynical nurse Thelma and the even more disbelieving Det. Lt. Thomas J. Doyle (Corey), both reluctant to provide assistance, and you have yourself a winning film. The plot is dense and unfolds slowly in a manner reminiscent of 12 Angry Men. Each piece of evidence is adduced slowly to provide a full picture of the events transpired.
Overall this is powerful and perverse movie which tells of the lengths to which humans will go when locked away and intrigued. It is simultaneously about voyeurism, justice, and human nature. Rear Window is an enduring masterpiece which continues to have a strong effect on you long after you have watched it. This is a film which will stay with you forever.