“Rear Window” (1954)
Directed By Alfred Hitchcock
Starring James Stewart, Grace Kelly, Wendell Corey, Thelma Ritter and Raymond Burr
Riveting, brilliant, bold, daring and a masterful exercise in the art of suspense are a few words that describe Alfred Hitchcock’s cinematic masterpiece, “Rear Window.” Already within the top contenders for the 100 greatest movies of all time, Hitchcock redefines suspense and puts us in a voyeur’s shoes as we descend into a secret world of drama, lost romance and murder.
Professional photographer L.B. “Jeff” Jeffries (Stewart) is confined to his small two-bedroom apartment with a broken leg.
To pass the time, he watches the goings-on of his motley assortment of neighbors: A frustrated yet fun-loving composer, a middle-aged couple with a small dog, a dancer who seems to enjoy practicing her routines while scantily clad, a pair of reclusive newlyweds, a lonely woman who seems to live in a fantasy world and a salesman named Lars Thorwald and his invalid wife.
One day the invalid wife inexplicably disappears and the salesman starts doing things that leads Jeff to suspect that he may have murdered her.
Unfortunately, Jeff has no proof and no one seems to believe him. Eventually, things start falling together in a way that makes it look like Jeff might just be right after all. Finally, his girlfriend Lisa (Kelly) and his nurse Stella (Ritter) come up with a plan to catch the killer red-handed. But by doing this, it puts all of their lives in danger.
One of the many elements that I love about this film is the nail-biting suspense that’s captured within the film’s craft, especially the cinematic photography and the raw performance.
You are simply a viewer and the stories of Jeff’s neighbors are portrayed as a movie within this movie, initially shown in the credits where the curtains of an apartment are lifted like the curtains at a theater.
The filming of this movie seemed to only use one camera that was mainly located within Jeff’s apartment. By using a lot of close-ups on Jeff and a lot of long and medium shots of the neighbors, the film shows the audience exactly what Jeff sees, and nothing more.
The voyeuristic nature of the film’s approach was further developed when the only close-up shots taken outside Jeff’s living room had the camera close half its iris to coincide with Jeff looking through his binoculars or telescopic camera.
Many of the night scenes were filmed with low-key lighting and the main sources of lighting came from the apartments surrounding Jeff to give anonymity to the photographer and the viewers in the audience.
The camera techniques used to film the movie allowed the audience to view the world from Jeff’s wheelchair, until one of the last scenes when Mr. Thorwald enters Jeff’s apartment and assaults him.
As he lets out a scream for help, all the neighbors come out to look into his apartment while Jeff is being forced out of his window.
For a moment the camera view is outside of his apartment. Did this scene change Jeff’s ideas about voyeurism, showing him in the last scene with him sleeping facing away from the window, or is his curiosity about the world around him still strong enough to get him to turn around and peer at his neighbors some more?
The idea of voyeurism is discussed multiple times within the film and starts with the nurse saying, “We are a race of peeping toms.” Even though many people feel it’s a violation of their privacy, there is still a strong curiosity for some people to watch others whether it be on the movie or TV screen, at a park or even inside their homes.
The love of cinema is rooted in the love of voyeurism. The love of voyeurism is rooted in lack of excitement in life.
Cinema, first and foremost, is a visual medium. Literature allows
for the imagination of readers, but cinema defines it through the concrete visuals it possesses. Films have the ability to connect with audiences in a more personal way than novels, because actors and actresses are far easier to relate to than paragraphs. It is because of our need to connect with humans in a behavioral way that makes “Rear Window” more of a film about relationships and the evolution of cinema than the heart-pounding intensity of a thriller.
Some film historians would disagree with me, but in my opinion this is Hitchcock at his best. Although I prefer this film over “Vertigo” and some of his earlier attempts at filmmaking, “Rear Window,” along with “Psycho” ranks a close tie to my number one favorite Hitchcock pictures.
Four Out of Four Stars