I had quite a blast revisiting Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window for my friend Paul. It had long ceased to be a Hitchcock movie that was in heavy rotation in my house. Psycho, North By Northwest and The Birds were the top 3 for a very long time and Rear Window sort of fell by the way side.
It has been at least 4 or 5 years since I’ve watched it last and when I had asked Paul to suggest a Hitch movie for me, I was beside myself with film fan glee when he picked Rear Window.
I dug up the dvd and went to work immediately, re-watching this renowned suspense thriller from 1954. A movie that film buffs and scholars (which I am not) alike hold in very high regard and consider it to be one of if not the best Hitchcock film of all time and of the 1950’s as well. It is a very well put together production and it gives the famed director and his brilliant cast a chance to really shine and delivers the goods in what can sometimes be a very iffy subject matter. Murder and Voyeurism. What a combo, huh? Do not worry though. Hitchcock and his cast and crew pull it off with wicked charm and outstanding craftsmanship.
A movie that was once part of the Venice film Festival of 1954, Rear Window was released by Paramount Pictures. It was directed by Alfred Hitchcock (Shadow of a Doubt, The 39 Steps) and written by Hitchcock screenwriter John Micheal Hayes (The Trouble with Harry, The Man who knew Too Much) based on a short story by scribe Cornell Woolrich who also wrote “The Black Curtain” and “The Bride Wore Black” Woolrich having the esteemed status of being one of the most adapted authors of crime noir of the 40’s and 50’s was in good form upon writing and releasing “It Had To Be Murder” in 1942.
The film stars James Stewart as “Jeff” Jeffries who is a professional photographer and the beautiful Grace Kelly (Dial M For Murder) as his girlfriend Lisa. Lisa happens to be a very wealthy and compassionate socialite that takes care of Jeff during his rehabilitation which occurred after an accident that breaks his leg while he was shooting a car race. In his boredom and tedium, Jeff begins to “Observe” people from his window in his Greenwich Village apartment. Suffice it to say it lands him in hot water.
As he watches his neighbors across the courtyard, confined to his wheelchair, we start to see what Jeff “sees” and observes. Lonely people like “Miss LonelyHeart” and even a dancer named “Miss Torso” Others he watches includes married couples, a sculptor and a very odd looking, peroxide haired fellow named Mr. Thorwald who has a wife that is bedridden. Thorwald is a jeweler by trade. In grand fashion (and since this is a Hitchcock film) he had sown the seeds for mystery, suspense and chills. It seems to Jeff, that Thorwald after having an argument with his wife is seen coming and going late at night and acting very suspiciously. Thorwald is watched by Jeff handling knives, crates, rope and even a hacksaw and it seems that Thorwald’s wife has gone missing.
Since he is incapacitated, Jeff enlists Lisa, his Police friend Tom (Wendell Corey) and even his home health aide and nurse Stella, to help him get to the bottom of this mystery that has unfolded while Jeff innocently but at times obsessively watches his neighbors. Is Thorwald really to blame for the disappearance of his wife and even the killing of a neighbor’s pet? What other neighbors are guilty of horrendous acts behind closed windows and pulled curtains? The material is just ripe for Hitchcock’s very deft hand at unspooling an interesting whodunnit.
Hitchcock’s keen eye for accuracy and detail are on display here and he gets wonderful performances from Stewart, who becomes obsessed with his theory, to the very classy Kelly who is admirable and spunky in her role as Lisa. It is Burr though that is completely the one to watch here. He is quiet, physical, menacing, rigid, very cold and calculating giving a hands down creepfest of a performance. Hitchcock and his DP Robert Burks (Vertigo and The Birds) once again outshines all the competition with great tight focused frames and reaction shots. When Jeff sees something then we see it and then we watch Jeff’s reaction.
A brilliant way to work his camera and manipulate his audience into a frightful reaction. Thelma Ritter as Stella has some great scenes to watch as well. Digging up a garden will never be the same for many who watch this movie! Ritter is earnest and very likeable here. Once again though it’s Burr’s very under-rated performance and Hitchcocks deft, if a bit inaccurate at times (Like Burr keeping his blinds open at times where it could incriminate him), direction that stands out in “Rear Window” Franz Waxman (Stalag 17) once again supplies an understated and eerie score. He is no Herrmann but he gets the job done.
In closing, it is the issue and subtext of voyeurism that Hitchcock delves masterfully in, that gives “Rear Window” such relevance. An innocent act of just watching some friends, neighbors or even strangers can carry a heavy price and provoke some deadly consequences. “Rear Window” explores all of these things and remains entertaining and punctual. It is a chilling and wonderfully suspenseful entry in Hitch’s incredible body of work. Thanks to a noirish and flowing story plus great performances from the cast, “Rear Window”, though perhaps not quite another “Vertigo” is a stunning film to behold and it resonates way after one watches it. Enjoy. Highly Recommended!