REAR WINDOW (1954)
directed by Alfred Hitchcock
written by John Michael Hayes & Cornell Woolrich (short story)
Rear Window is perhaps one of the most technically accomplished films ever made, but so much of it is so subtle you would probably never even realize it, which is the beauty and wonderment of the film. The story is simple, but the movie sweeps you into it so gently and so quickly it's easy not the notice the little things that make Rear Window so triumphant and dazzling, which, of course, was the forte of Mr. Hitchcock's films in general. But, if you ever catch it again (on AMC or DVD, or Netflix to the uninitiated), look closely and watch one of the most perfect American movies of all time. It's not Hitchcock's deepest film (that honor goes to Vertigo), but it's his nimblest.
The entire film is set in one Manhattan apartment, that of L.B. Jeffries (James Stewart), a renowned photographer, wheelchair bound after an assignment went awry. To calm the boredom and sweltering summer heat, he looks out his window into the courtyard of his neighbors. Over the course of his two-month sojourn from the real world, he watches them and observes them. There's the sad Miss Lonelyhearts, desperate and alone. There's the newlyweds, always seen in various states of undress and attached to each other's limbs. There's the songwriter, trying to write a new tune. There's the lovely Miss Torso, often seen with a slew of suitors. It's funny how none of this characters speak, and none of them really transcend their archetypes, but their still more developed than most leading characters in motion pictures. Of course, this being Hitchcock, we need suspense, and one of the neighbors fits the no good nick bill. That of Mr. Thorwald (Raymond Burr), whom Jeffries watches and watches with the suspicion he offed his invalid wife.
This being Hitchcock, there's also a romance. Jeffries long suffering, pining for a rock girlfriend, Lisa Carol Fremont (Grace Kelly), a privileged blue blood who wants to settle down. As Jeffries becomes more obsessed with his neighbors he hooks Lisa in, as well as his nurse Stella (Thelma Ritter-- the most reliable supporting player in the '50s.) Which is what makes Rear Window a sort of an homage to movies themselves. We go to the movies to watch other people and other people's behaviors, just as Jeffries watches his neighbors, making us all voyeurs in our own right.
What makes this movie special, and special in the Hitchcock canon is the grace, the beauty, the suspense, and the humor of the whole film. The witty dialouge and the wonderful acting and the amazing technician. Look at the courtyard-- all studio shots, and built and manufactured. Looking at the sets of current Hollywood films, it's hard to tell sometimes what was made and what was computer simulated, but looking at Rear Window you can see the beauty and majesty of a film built from the ground up.
Stewart's performance is a beaut too. It's not as layered or idiosyncratic as his Vertigo role, but he hits everything just right, with his everyman characterization whether starring out his window of complaining about Lisa's lack of adventure Kelly is dynamite too, Hitchcock always had the perfect of way using her in the three pictures they made together. She's the epitome of the Hitchcock blonde-- beautiful, but slightly mysterious. From her opening closeup, your entranced by her.
I often thought who would fit the Hitchcock blonde type if he working today-- perhaps Nicole Kidman (who is great when guided by gifted, and slightly tweaked auteurs), or Uma Thurman (who regularly masks her intelligence by her beauty), or maybe Michelle Pfieffer (I don't know why, but I think her Catwoman take have impressed the master.)
The reason I anoint Rear Window one of my all time favorites is because whenever it's on-- television, DVD, or in the theater (the digitally re-mastered release a couple years back was heavenly)-- it entrances. I get lost in it and my love for fine filmmaking is rejuvenated, if only for a little while. It inspires and bewitches every time.
For a fine satirical rendering, revist "The Simpsons" episode where Bart breaks his leg and spies on Ned Flanders, thinking he killed his wife. The made-for-television remake with Christopher Reeve and Daryl Hannah is avoidable, as is the Gen-Y ripoff Disturbia.