Rear Window

Rear Window ★★★★★

In Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, James Stewart is L.B. ‘Jeff’ Jefferies, a photographer who’s been in a terrible accident trying to get an impossible photograph during a race. He’s wearing a cast on one of his legs that keeps him wheelchair bound in his apartment while Stella (Thelma Ritter) attends to his every need. She scolds him over the fact that he hasn’t proposed to the beautiful Lisa Carol Fremont (Grace Kelly), a woman that Jefferies feels isn’t ready to commit to the harsh realities of being the wife to the kind of photographer that he is. He doesn’t think that she has the right stuff even though the story that is about to unfold is going to demonstrate to him and us how much of the right stuff she has. She has a magnificent introduction into the movie when she gently kisses Jefferies while he lounges in his apartment in the dark, and then she dictates her full name, with a lamp for each one of her names illuminating Grace Kelly’s beautiful visage. It’s one hell of a classic set-up for a fantastic heroine, and it all happens before any real danger even begins. So, this is a classic Hollywood feature film, and I’ve had the pleasure of seeing it on the big screen several years back, and have watched it several more times on DVD, Blu-ray, and I guess I’ll be checking it out on 4K soon. I don’t feel that I can really get into film theory and all of the crazy film school stuff during this review. I know that there are movie folks that can really sink their teeth into that great film historian verbiage when it comes to discussing this film, and perhaps another time I’ll try that. For now, I’m just a regular old joe watching a Hitchcock movie on a late Sunday night, and the experience is like a nice cozy blanket. 
     I’ll humor those who haven’t seen the movie. Jefferies has been in his apartment for weeks without any form of mobility. This is an unnatural state for such a man as Jefferies since he’s used to living a dangerous life. He goes where the danger is, but unfortunately there’s no danger around the small little complex he lives in. He just sits at his window and watches all of his neighbors, who apparently don’t believe in curtains. They have them, but they don’t really maintain their privacy. There’s Lars Thorwald (Raymond Burr) and his bedridden wife, Emma Thorwald (Irene Winston). Then we have Miss Lonelyhearts (Judith Evelyn), a woman so desperately lonely that she pretends that she’s on a date in her own apartment, even if she looks like a woman who belongs in a psych ward. There’s a songwriter (Ross Bagdasarian), who seems to be suffering the curse of being an artist who’s struggling to find his inspiration, Miss Torso (Georgina Darcy), a dancer who’s juggling men in her apartment because she’s so stunningly attractive. And of course there is the fire escape couple, (Sara Berner and Frank Cady), who also like to lower their little cute dog on a small basket so that he can handle his business. There’s the hearing Aid lady (Jessyln Fax) and the newly weds, who are on their honeymoon. Hitchcock in a very voyeuristic fashion gives us a view into the private lives of all of these people through the prism of Jefferies apartment. He’s so bored and yet he seems to find pleasure and entertainment in peeking in on these peoples lives. 
      I know that there’s a lot that can be said about this and how it pertains to movies, but I don’t have the words. I just tuned in to the film just for the pleasure of watching it. Of course something nefarious is happening somewhere in this complex. Jefferies was bound to start getting suspicious of some of his neighbors behaviors, one in particular, but it’s a Hitchcock movie, so of course you’re not sure if Jefferies is looking too deeply into things. We’re seeing everything he’s seeing and being led to believe what he’s believing. The movie allows us to try and come up with our own theories while the characters pronounce exactly what we’re thinking as they try to put together what they believe may or may not be happening. Along the way Det. Lt. Thomas J. Doyle (Wendell Corey) comes into the picture after Jefferies has enough suspicions to try and involve law enforcement. I found the movie to be the most hilarious when Lisa starts coming up with a brilliant theory as to how women behave regarding their personal belongings, their hand bags, and with their jewelry. It’s not that it’s bad, but I just was wondering how accurate are those observations in 2021! I looked at my wife and thought, yeah that theory doesn’t pertain to her. And yet, you can’t help but just have pure unadulterated fun with how the characters think on their feet while trying to solve this mystery. The dialogue is also very funny as well, with some really fun and biting insights into the country we live in. Listening to Stella talking about what led the country into the Great Depression really got a good laugh out of me and my family. 
     One of the things that always strikes me as genius is how each of the different characters in the different apartments all have a story of their own that gets resolved by the end of the movie. Most of the endings are happy ones, with some endings not going well for some of the characters. It’s like a bunch of mini vignettes that are supporting an overarching story involving Jefferies suspicions over one really weird neighbor. Of course Hitchcock does know how to really put his characters through the ringer, and one of his biggest tropes is making his lead characters, especially James Stewart, feel helpless and incapable of making a difference. There’s one particular sequence where Jefferies feels absolutely emasculated as a man as he watches and is unable to make a difference one way or another. But at the same time, we feel that perhaps he’s overreacting, maybe things aren’t as bad as they seem. Perhaps this is all an embarrassing misunderstanding. Frankly, since you’re feeling all of Jefferies fears and suspicions, it won’t matter if logically you feel that he’s reading into things too much. You will feel his helplessness regardless of whether there is something heinous going on or not. A lot of this movie is about how we see specific details in scenes and attribute meaning to those details. This is a hell of film in that it can make you a better film viewer just by virtue of the fact that the movie is training you to focus on details. 
      Rear Window has been copied and recycled many times in the past. I think it was remade with Christopher Reeves and a loose remake with Shia LaBeouf called Disturbia was released almost fifteen years ago. It’s a property that’s bound to be revisited and redone till the end of time because voyeourism is such a potent human trait that is worth exploring. There’s no better medium to do such a concept justice than in cinema, but I think Hitch probably did it best. But you never know, images and exploiting them is constantly being upgraded. I’m thinking of Nacho Vigalondo’s film Open Windows, which sort of does something similar but with the internet. I’m sure you can think of others. Well, watch Rear Window if you haven’t seen it yet. It’s one of the original movies that thoroughly explores such a concept, and frankly, it’s just a lot of fun to watch! It’s a vintage film that delivers fine performances from two Hollywood legends at their prime. I give this film an enthusiastic recommendation! All of the details in the movie are great, from the costume design, art direction, and the makeup. I was watching it with my wife and sister-in-law and they were digging all of the dresses that Grace Kelly wore through out the film. There’s just so much wonderful cinematic eye candy in this movie!

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