Rear Window – 1954 – dir. Alfred Hitchcock
If you have seen Rear Window before, you already know the treat that lies ahead and if you haven’t, well then we envy you; you are in for viewing one of the few masterpieces cinema ever produced.
Made by the great Alfred Hitchcock in 1954, this thriller is jam-packed with multi-layered stories, tensions and performances, all meticulously executed by the master. In the hands of most directors, it might have been an unholy mess but Hitchcock superbly pieces it together like a clockmaker putting together a Swiss watch from scratch.
The story we have here seems simple enough at first; a famous photographer, L.B. “Jeff” Jeffries ( a super turn by the always super Jimmy Stewart), his leg broken and in a cast, is bugged by two things — a girlfriend (Grace Kelly) who wants much more from him than a casual fling, and a wisecracking nurse (played perfectly by the ever welcome Thelma Ritter). He also has absolutely nothing to do with his time and it’s driving him nuts! For pure entertainment, he decides to play Peeping Tom on the tenants in the building across the way. His innocent spy game quickly turns deadly when he sees (or thinks he sees) a murder committed by big, bad-looking Raymond Burr.
Every minute of the film is brilliant; not only are we presented with Jeff’s story, we are also made privy to the lives of the tenants across the way, in divine vignettes that let us in to their very private worlds: the heartbreaking Miss Lonelyhearts who dines with imaginary lovers, the ballet-dancing tease who is juggling ten men at once, the frustrated Broadway composer.
The movie is taut, the action well-paced, the suspense (especially the last 20 minutes) nerve-wracking. The players (Stewart, a glowing Kelly and a really scary Burr) are all splendid. But the real genius of Rear Window, what makes it, I think, a masterpiece is that Hitchcock turns us too (his audience) into first, voyeurs, and then detectives. Stewart is trapped in his wheelchair, Kelly is trapped by the doubt and frustration of not being able to get Stewart to love her the way she wants him to. And WE are trapped —
we CANNOT look away. This, on Hitchcock’s part, is more than clever, more than transcends mere gimmick, for while our three heroes are watching their unsuspecting neighbors, WE are. unbeknownst to them,
watching THEM. If Stewart possesses perhaps questionable ethics by turning himself into a Peeping Tom, how clean can our own ethics be if we are doing the same? The film consists of neighbors being watched
by Stewart being watched by us. Tremendous!! And notice how deftly Hitchcock tells us many things about Stewart, incidents in his life that have already happened, simply by panning and zooming the camera in on certain items in his apartment, or reveals many things about Kelly simply in the way he introduces her to us, lampshade by lampshade. A master’s touch.
The film garnered a disappointing four Academy Award nominations (no wins) for Best Director, Best Screenplay (John Michael Hayes), Best Color Cinematography (Robert Burks) and Best Sound Recording. It remains a lasting sin on the soul of cinema that Hitchcock never in his career received a Best Director Oscar. Be that as it may, a genius is a genius and a classic is a classic and this is one of the best!