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Reviews of Rear Window
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I haven’t seen many of Hitchcock’s films, but I prefer this one over Vertigo, even though the later seems to be generally recognized as superior. If Hitchcock’s films often contain taboo themes, I admit (because of my love for movies) that I’m partial to the voyeurism in this one. The cast is top-notch. The suspense and mystery that remains even in the end are excellently crafted. It is amazing how it keeps your attention even though it practically all takes place in one room. Those binoculars are the only thing preventing Jimmy Stewart from going mad with claustrophobia and boredom when his few acquaintances leave. Though maybe he still is driven a bit crazy.
Arch fetishist Hitchcock combines two of his primary vices, voyeurism and ice-cool blondes, in this fabulous microcosm of humanity, laying bare the impulses that surge and compel, and demonstrating that some itches, however unattractive, still need to be scratched. Hitch delivers as impotent a leading man as has ever served his delicious malevolence, confining Jimmy Stewart to a wheelchair for the duration and adding to his frustrations by tempting with one of cinema’s great beauties, the flawless features and elegant lines of Grace Kelly. Hitchcock’s continued truism, that everyone is interested in murder, is again a central part of uncovering a kind of banal evil in the most unexpected place, a Greenwich Village apartment block, where all the tenants face a central courtyard view from their windows, which also enables them to see into each other’s rooms. Hitchcock plays upon the urge to observe ‘the other’ and in doing so to see into ourselves.
During a hot New York summer Hitch reveals ‘Jeff’ Jeffries (James Stewart), broken leg in a full cast, and in a reminder of his silent cinema training he tells us everything about Jeff wordlessly and economically by a series of photos, a broken camera and some magazines. We can gather he’s been injured on assignment, and also has a connection to the fashion world, which is confirmed by his girlfriend Lisa (Grace Kelly) when she arrives. An insurance nurse Stella (Thelma Ritter) encourages Jeff to marry Lisa, although Jeff feels he’s not worthy of her, as she’s an upper-class socialite, used to the very best and he’s an adventure photographer who’s used to roughing it. After 7 weeks in his apartment Jeff’s bored out of his mind and his whole world revolves around the goings on of the other tenants, and with the summer heat all of the blinds are mostly left open, revealing the various people and their pursuits. Jeff sees "Miss Lonelyheart’, a sad woman who has imaginary companions around for dinner, and ‘Miss Torso’ a gorgeous dancer who exercises in very little clothing and entertains various men on a regular basis.
There’s a struggling composer in one room, an older couple with their pet dog in another. Various couples love, squabble, bicker, fight and make up in full view of Jeff, who is not beyond taking out his binoculars to get an even better view.
Lisa arrives and Jeff again backs out of commitment, ironically not letting her in to his life as he continues to gain access to the lives of his neighbours in other ways. Jeff soon gets suspicious of Thorwald (Raymond Burr), a salesman with a sick wife who seems to vanish overnight. Jeff sees Thorwald with a saw and large butcher’s knife, and sees him taking something out of the apartment three times in the wee small hours. He tells Stella of his suspicions and she becomes intrigued, conforming to Hitch’s murder maxim, and revealing a macabre side in her speculative descriptive efforts on corpse disposal. Lisa is a doubting Thomas to start but soon enough is caught up in the intrigue, especially after Jeff’s old wartime buddy Tom (Wendel Corey), who is now a cop and who pours cold water on the nascent amateur investigation. Soon enough the ‘glamazon’ Lisa is called to action, and becomes the legs for Jeff as she climbs through Thorwald’s window and finds the wife’s wedding ring, the one thing Jeff had been denying her, but is caught red-handed by the villain. Jeff’s impotence is ratcheted up several degrees by having to watch Lisa struggle with the murderer, a dark reward for his voyeuristic actions, and we’re right there in the wheelchair with him by dint of Hitch’s almost exclusive mirroring of Jeff’s POV for the audience. He never cuts to an interior of the other apartments, we only see in from the perspective of Jeff’s window, and via the lens he’s using, telephoto or binocular.
The police arrive and save Lisa, but Thorwald has realised who has been watching and sets off after Jeff. Armed with only the tools of his trade Jeff delays Thorwald enough to have Tom arrive, but not before he’s left dangling on the ledge of his second floor apartment, to be ironically thrown out of his own rear window. Hitch tops off this macabre joke by cutting to Jeff post-nuptials we assume, but now with both legs in casts courtesy of the fall. Lisa is now dressed in jeans and a shirt and is reading adventure literature, seemingly being the one who has changed enough to accommodate the other, although she deftly switches to a Harper’s Bazaar mag once she’s sees Jeff’s asleep.
‘Rear Window’ is such a delicately balanced and nuanced world it’s a tribute to Hitchcock’s ability that he was able to so deftly hold all the elements in harmony, with not a false note detectable. The ‘grace’ notes of resolving the sub-drama’s of ‘Torso’ and ‘Composer-Lonelyheart’ wordlessly and beautifully without ever diverting our gaze from the main game is breathtaking, so subtle we barely know Hitch has pulled these marvelous conjuring tricks along the way. The use of music is also a small deconstructionist miracle, no wonder the Nouvelle Vague lionised the innovative old man, as there is no score to speak of, the music is ‘found’ and we hear the sounds of the courtyard as music spills from rooms and the composer’s piano. Again Hitch gets in a little humour as Lisa is echoed in the song ‘Mona Lisa’ (a cold and lonely, lovely work of art’) and it’s the journey Kelly’s character is on to become ‘real’ through action, to break out of the ‘frame’ her beauty has found itself frozen in, to become a woman and not an idea. The idea of sex behind the curtains permeates the entire proceedings, and Stewart (and us) gets to view married life in all it’s stages, from the randy newlyweds who go at it for days, to the comfy old couple who sleep on the balcony to the couple at the end of their tether, the Thorwald’s. Each character is an island unto themselves, and in the only social commentary in the piece, once the older couples dog is killed the wife shouts her cri-de-couer from the balcony as everyone is drawn by the commotion, it’s a moment that shames Jeff’s activities and a plea for community, to end the isolation and be ‘neighbours’ who know and care for each other. It’s another subtle way of telling Jeff to end his ‘isolation’ with Lisa too. Hitchcock brilliantly shows Thorwald’s outsider status at that moment by having his shades being the only one’s closed, a lit cigarette glow the indication that he’s still there.
The relationship between viewer and viewed is of course at the core of the film. Hitchcock effortlessly puts the viewer in a place he’s occupied all his adult life, looking at love. lust, hate and evil through the prism of a viewfinder, tacitly acknowledging the urge to ‘perve’ exists within us all, the high the low and the in-between. Fuse that urge with a fascination for murder, Hitch’s stock in trade, and the results were almost assured. The script is sharp, the set design magnificent, a triumph of Hollywood ingenuity allowing Hitchcock to place his camera in the right place every time. Jimmy Stewart fulfils the role of ‘everyman’ perfectly for this morality fable and the casting is just right, too macho and it wouldn’t have worked, and he’s just self-centred enough for us to believe he could be second guessing a dish like Kelly. Hitchcock found the apex of his uber-blonde ideal in the stunning Grace Kelly, and she was more than up to the part of Madison Ave princess cum action woman , her cool detachment with a hint of eroticism under the surface the perfect balance. Hitchcock was coming off a run of failures, with the odd success d’estime, but ‘Rear Window’ marked the start of an unrivaled run of classic productions that would see the master at the top of his game for years to come.
One of Hitchcock’s greatest masterpieces, “Rear Window” is a deep and entertaining classic with many strengths, and a little bit of everything. A fine suspense story is combined with romantic tension in the main plot, and there are numerous sub-plots, some humorous and some moving, all with many psychological overtones. The main characters are wonderfully portrayed and full of life. The apparently simple setting in an apartment complex is developed into a world filled with intriguing and sometimes unsettling possibilities, and this apparently average neighborhood comes to life with a wealth of lavish visual detail and interesting minor characters. It is the kind of film-making that (like many of Hitchcock’s greatest movies) is very flattering to the viewer. The director assumes that his audience will pay close enough attention to appreciate the many subtleties with which he has filled the movie. It rewards both careful attention and repeated viewings, since there is much more here than merely a suspense plot, as good as that story is in itself.
For the first 30 minutes or so, we simply get to know the characters. Jimmy Stewart gives one of his best performances as a photographer recuperating from an injury, forced to spend several weeks staring out his apartment window at the minor dramas in the lives of his neighbors. Grace Kelly is ideal in the role of his perfect girlfriend, who can never find a way to break down Stewart’s reserve. The study of their relationship would have made a good movie by itself. Almost every action and every word between them is filled with meaning, and what they see in the lives of others is an interesting reflection of the tensions and possibilities in their own present and future. Thelma Ritter is wonderful as a colorful, no-nonsense nurse who constantly sheds some light – sometimes unwanted – on what is happening between them. The action and suspense that occur later serves in large part as a catalyst that resolves some of the important issues between the two.
After we get to know the characters and their world, things start to happen, as Stewart becomes engrossed in some of the things he has seen. The ethical and moral concerns of meddling in others’ affairs become intertwined with more urgent questions about what may have happened in those other apartments, and from then on the tension builds steadily. It leads up to a riveting climactic sequence filled with suspense, and made even more meaningful by our awareness of its deeper significance to the main characters.
There is much more that could be said, but you should see this for yourself. It is a classic that will be enjoyed not only by thriller fans, but by anyone who appreciates carefully crafted movies with a lot of depth.
Rear Window (1954) is without a doubt Alfred Hitchcock’s way of expressing “pure cinema,” meaning film at its peak. He was always working with the mise-en-scenic structure of art and filmmaking. It is considered one of the benchmarks of his career. Based on the short story by crime writer, Cornell Woolrich, entitled “It Had to Be Murder,” the plot follows a photographer (a poignant way of expressing the story and cinematographic his techniques) confined in his apartment, seeing through his “rear window” suspects that murder has been taken place in another apartment. The situtation becomes dangerous to be heavily involved with. Of course, changes were made to Hitchcock’s adaptation, such as the ending, the replacement of caretakers, and a romantic love interest with the main character.
However, what makes Rear Window faithful to the original work was the overall theme of voyeurism. Both Hitchcock and Woolrich follow the idea that people are practically all “peeping toms.” This puts in context, the idea of giving our own perspective to what we are able to see and assume, it is a conflicting issue of how we deal with spying. The film is a way of analyzing other people’s private lives and knowing their secrets. In common sense, we, both the viewer and reader, become confined as well to this one apartment, so we instantly become the observer. It tries to twist our aptitude. Hitchcock plays with the audience not seeing everything that involves the murder plot, so it creates the suspense and rural imagery that we have come to suspect. Woolrich does the same quite well.
Another way that makes the film essential to the original work was the environment itself. The protagonist’s apartment becomes the entity that we see. In the original story, it does take place in apartment complexes, but it does not give off the little play-lets (sub-dramas) or the sub-arcs that involve the tenants in the other apartment windows that can be seen in the film. In fact, Hitchcock enhances this usage by giving the impression of natural apartment life, especially with the diegetic sound such as planes going by, the busy street, and people shouting. We are able to see distinctive private lives of all these tenants.
I think one of the reasons for adding a female character, a romantic interest, was probably a balance for a target audience, possible brand names, or the fact that there is a female blond in all of Hitchcock’s films. Whatever it may have been, it worked. Grace Kelly in Rear Window plays the entrancing, alluring beauty of the female character that you cannot possibly lay a finger on. Another Hitchcock trademark is how he plays with sex in a robust way without really interpreting it in terms of dialogue. These tactics really broke the limits of American filmmaking and became a way of tackling with real lives. In fact, the film version deals with relationships both love and aspiration.
Rear Window is a master film that worked so well going back to its original form by Cornell Woolich. Hitchcock, being fond of criminal novels and short acts, wanted this to be on his plate. Rear Window works extremely prominent in a cinematic structure of telling a story. Both the film and short story are something to view more than once. It definitely confronts our way of dealing with scopophilia like the protagonist does, but either way, we are drawn into these characters.
Consider the motivations. As James Stewart, Grace Kelly, and Thelma Ritter investigate the disappearance (and possible murder) of their neighbor, their motive does not appear to be a sense justice or even fear (at least not at first). Instead, it’s pure, morbid, nosy curiosity about what the people around them are up to. Listen to the way the talk about the murder, hypothesizing how it must have happened. It’s a horrifying idea, yes, but they’re clearly also thrilled by it—just like, well, the audience of a Hitchcock film. It’s a fine, almost satirical subtext. Hitchcock is famous as the “master of suspense”, but he’s underrated as a comedian.
Rear Window is often regarded as one of the master’s best. It’s neither as rich nor as fun as North by Northwest and doesn’t pack the punch of Psycho. It also isn’t the dreamlike directorial coup of Vertigo (though I find that film to be a tad overrated). But it’s definitely up there. Hitchcock’s skill with visual storytelling is as strong as ever. The film is wonderfully entertaining, and the ideas of voyeurism make for a coyly blatant subtext. Anyone curious about how a film can be about murder but so much more could definitely start here.
10 out of 10.
Maybe it’s because it’s the last Hitchcock film I saw, but I just don’t see what all the fuss is with Rear Window. Yes, it’s a fun movie and Grace Kelly is flawless in it, but I think it’s one of the more obvious attempts at thrillers that Hitchcock did. Everything fits together a little too well and no one is ever in any real danger. What I mainly found to be the strong suit was Hitchcock’s visual style, you could tell he just loved working with the set and having it move so eloquently. I do think it’s a good movie, it just doesn’t come up to the Hitchcock standard.
This decade was perhaps Hitchock’s most creatively and financially successful period, producing innumerable classic films and Rear Window may be the best example of his more populist thrillers. While it lacks the innovation and thematic challenges of his darker and more risky films, it still is basically a film that turns the audience into peeping toms along with the main character. In effect, we overtly become what all audiences truly are; voyeurs. The story itself is thrilling and compelling, and never lags, which is amazing considering that the main character is completely immobilized for the entirety of the film. Jimmy Stewart gives one of his classic performances, and there might never have been a more beautiful actress than Grace Kelly. Thelma Ritter is also superb as Stewart’s wise-cracking nurse.
After seeing Alfred Hitchcock’s classic Rear Window for the second time, I am even more convinced that the broo-haha surrounding Disturbia and its ripping it off was uncalled for. Besides the premise of a person confined to their window, seeing what they think is a murder, the two could not be anymore different. This film is one that will never age, whether it story, acting, or sheer inventiveness in its execution. Only Hitchcock could build the suspense as high as he does for almost two hours never leaving one room the entire time. Our hero is in a full leg cast and a prisoner to his room and window. Besides that interior, everything else we see is from his vantage point across to the rest of the apartment complex and a sliver of space opening to the street beyond. A clinic or choreography and showing us only what we need to know, Rear Window leaves you guessing right up until the final scene, unaware of what the whole truth to the situation is.
Technically, the film has no flaws. Its utilization of a pivoting camera that pans left to right out L.B. Jefferies apartment is one-of-a-kind. With only the zooms from his camera lens and binoculars, we are allowed to see everything he does, letting us as the audience come to our own conclusions as well as become a part of his. This is a slow burn of a story, revealing each new discovery as though the layers of an onion peeled away. The sheer amount of rehearsals must have been staggering. There are plenty of long takes that go from window to window, catching the precise moment of activity we need in order to continue the story. Each actor had to be able to hit their mark at the exact moment necessary; timed to perfection. It is a joy to think about the work that went into the film every time we are shown characters moving from room to room, stopping at each window for our benefit, yet never feeling unnatural. Full credit goes to the cinematographer for orchestrating it all.
The premise and craft are not the only things going for it. Acting-wise, there is not one misstep. James Stewart truly was the greatest actor of his generation. His delivery is uncanny and he can go from serious drama to light comedy without a blink. There is a lot of heavy emotional tension between him and his girlfriend that is treated with the same amount of care every other plot thread is. His relationship with Lisa Fremont, the gorgeous Grace Kelly, is mirrored in that of the quarrels and love trysts happening all around him. Without the murder mystery and the peeping into the lives of other couples, they may end up breaking up forever. His middle-class upbringing and photojournalist lifestyle just doesn’t match well with her patrician ways and necessity of wearing a dress only once to keep appearances up for her job. The two could not be anymore different except for the fact they are madly in love with the other.
Kelly is not just a pretty face either. Her performance is realistic at all times, keeping up with Stewart’s sarcastic wit and playing the girlfriend being spurned all while slowly becoming engrossed in the story of the Thorwalds across the way. She becomes a photojournalist herself in many ways, looking through the camera and coming to conclusions for what the story may entail. In opposition to this, Stewart morphs into that which he thinks can never change in his love, her ability to stay on the fringe while others do the hard labor. Many times towards the end, he is the one left to watch others risk their safety for his manifested theories. He himself is the helpless being unable to go into the trenches, but instead prepare everything for the others to carry out. Whether Thorwald killed his wife or she has taken a train to visit family, the hold the mystery has on them finally shows the two what the other goes through and their respect for the other blossoms to become as strong as their love.
My favorite aspect of the complete achievement, however, is the levity infused at all times. Sure the subject matter is very serious—I wouldn’t be surprised if it was at first created to be a commentary on the Red Scare and worrying about what your neighbors could be up to—but at every turn we get witty banter helping to alleviate the tension and give us viewers a breather. Stewart and Kelly are quite the team and they perform the words of John Michael Hayes’ script with ease. The timing is superb and many of the best lines are mixed into the dramatic dialogue always breaking up the suspense. We aren’t talking gags and jokes, but instead puns and sly shots taken as a result of the conversations at hand. This is one smart script and I find myself even more interested in seeing The Man Who Knew Too Much—the second version Hitchcock directed—to see how well the team does, joined together again.