Rear Window

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Three of Alfred Hitchcock‘s most famous films, Rope, Lifeboat and Rear Window, work around a very restricted geography, two New York apartments and a lifeboat. Of the three, Rear Window is the most successful as a film. It takes place almost entirely with the Greenwich apartment of globetrotting photographer L.B. “Jeff” Jeffries (James Stewart), marooned for the last six weeks with a broken leg suffered on his last assignment.

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His only human contact has been his girlfriend, Lisa (Grace Kelly), and Stella (Thelma Ritter), the nurse from the insurance company. Stella hounds him to finally marry Lisa, but Jeff is reluctant. Apparently, he suffered a head injury, too. Reluctant to marry Grace Kelly? Inconceivable.

New York is in the throes of a heat wave and Jeff’s only pastime is watching his neighbors across the courtyard overlooked by his apartment. There’s “Miss Torso” (Georgine Darcy), a dancer who beats the heat by bouncing about without much on. A bickering couple sleeps on their fire escape. “Miss Lonelyhearts” (Judith Evenlyn) entertains imaginary gentleman callers. A newlywed couple disappears into their bedroom and doesn’t emerge for several days. A frustrated composer labors over a new song.

In the center of all this is the apartment of the Thorwalds, Lars (Raymond Burr) and Anna (Irene Winston). He’s a grumpy salesman and she’s his bedridden wife. She’s demanding and he often looks like he’s at the end of his rope.

One rainy night, Jeff hears what he thinks is a scream. He opens his windows to see the Thorwalds’ blinds drawn. Soon, Lars leaves with his sample case, at two A.M. on a rainy night, only to return an hour later and repeat the trip again. Jeff’s suspicions are aroused and further strengthened when he spies Thorwald wrapping up saws and knives in newspaper. There’s no doubt in his mind. Thorwald has murdered his wife.

At first, Lisa and Stella both think Jeff’s spying and speculation are umseemly and rather ghoulish, but the more they learn, the more they start to share his suspicions. Lt. Doyle (Wendell Corey), an old war buddy of Jeff’s who’s now a cop, is skeptical, especially when Mrs. Thorwald apparently turns up alive somewhere else.

Sharp, literate dialogue and first rate acting, especially from Stewart and Kelly, combined with a genuinely suspenseful plot, make Rear Window one of Hitchcock’s best. Keeping the viewpoint confined to his apartment seems a lot less like a device than it did in Rope, but rather was the only way to effectively handle this story. By tying us down to Jeff’s point of view, Hitchcock is able to emphasize his impotence to act and his dependence on others to do his leg work. It’s one of the master director’s most assured films, a great choice for his first widescreen movie.

11 thoughts on “Rear Window

  1. Aldara

    Wow… I don’t know how I rocked up here, but I love it. I’m also a filmaholic and I ADORED Lost in Translation. ¿Nothing happens? They gotta be kidding. A LOT happens, it’s just that nobody gets murdered. It’s just about intentions, about what could happen, about something more… real than the cinema we’re used to. I definitely loved it.
    Now, I wanted to ask you… Can I link you to my blog? It’s in Spanish, and for a Spanish community, but I’m sure they’ll appreciate it. I will, for sure.
    I love the way you write. Maybe one day I’ll have that level in English (yeah, one day…)
    Regards,
    A.

    Reply
  2. Haasim

    Aldara, I hardly think you need permission to link to someone’s site. But, anyway…

    I can’t imagine how a movie like Rear Window would be made today. (Phone Booth doesn’t count because it was too hyperactive.) The banter between Stewart and Kelly is snappy, clever, thoughtful, (and yes, very literate) without seeming too scripted or forced. The performances are a joy to watch; just seeing the way they sit, stand and pose, is beautifully orchestrated by Hitchcock and his performers.

    I can’t believe the entire film takes place on a set. (Ok, well yes, I can believe that.) I’m not sure how ambitious it was for the time, but it remains pretty impressive even today. The apartment complex in Rear Window is a living breathing place shown through snippets of people about-their-day that for a cohesive picture of everyday life. Hitchcock’s wonderful use of the camera sweeps, glides, and passes in long, beautiful motions. (A standout shot involves a pan starting from outside that pulls back to reveal Jeffries (Stewart) in his apartment getting a back rub.

    Rear Window is one of those movies that show how truly wonderful cinema can be. Definitely, a must-see for any movie buff!

    Keep up the good Paul, you’re site rocks!

    Reply
  3. Becky

    I thought the movie (Lost in Translation) was EXCELLENT!

    But I also know it has mixed reviews – I think it has something to do with the demogrpahic watching it. I find the 40’s and 50’s crowd are very receptive, but outisde of that – the others just don’t “get it.”

    Reply
  4. Rachael

    I have always loved Alfred Hitchcock movies. They are scary but not stupid scary. Some think that a movie is scary because it has blood or violence in it. That’s what I call “Cheesy fake stupid scary”. In the movie Rear Window I think it was well directed, especially in the camera angles. I also love the scene of the kiss. That was so wonderfull. And if you have the movie on dvd when it’s digitally re-mastered it looks more beautiful. I’ve seen it compared and the re-mastered one dosn’t have the yellow tint.

    Reply

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