*Originally written in 2003
Hitchcock takes all the ingenuity of previous films like Rope and Lifeboat, and translates them to Rear Window, one of his true masterpieces. Taking place in one apartment where the viewer is forced to see what Jimmy Stewart’s character sees, we are the voyeuristic witness to all the goings-ons of his neighbours. Frequently we look into their homes and become a passive viewer of their lives, wondering why they do what they do, what they will do next, and whether anyone can see us. Not only is it a technological treat, it is a pinnacle of tension and suspense, complemented by the twisting plot, excellent dialogue, and marvelous performances from all.
Stewart plays LB Jefferies, or Jeff, a well traveled photographer who hates the idea of settling down, of being trapped in the same place for any length of time. Ironically he has broken his leg, and is forced to stay in a wheelchair, in his apartment for a few months. Through his boredom, and his window, he watches his neighbours and the daily actions, giving them nicknames because of their behaviour. There is Miss Torso, an amorous young dancer, the newly-weds who like to keep themselves to themselves, Miss Lonely Hearts who spends her days planning how to catch the attention of men, and spends her nights failing. There is a tormented pianist whose music fills the air, and couple and their annoying dog. Lastly there is Lars Thorwald and his wife who are often arguing. Lisa (Grace Kelly) is Jeff’s girlfriend, a socialite who wants the opposite of Jeff – marriage, new dresses, and a place in high society. Their nurse Stella (Thelma Ritter) also visits to add some humour and spark. Jeff becomes suspicious when Thorwald’s wife disappears, and at night he sees Thorwald acting strangely; taking small packages wrapped in paper from his flat, going back and forwards. Jeff becomes convinced that Thorwald has murdered his wife, and with Stella and Lisa begins to try to prove what they believe to a detective friend. They search for a body, for evidence that Miss Thorwald is alive etc, and soon we too are captivated, wondering if she is dead, or if it is all just a mistake.
The last 20 minutes of Rear Window must rank among the most suspenseful in movie history, and its influence can still be seen today, even in modern horror movies such as Ringu. The voyeuristic qualities are impressive and effective, and we are truly brought into the room with Stewart. There is excitement, comedy, romance, mystery, all the trademarks of Hitchcock, all flawlessly shown. Kelly is beautiful and feisty, her entrance memorable, her character strong, and in the end we see that although she will succumb slightly to Jeff’s needs, she will remain independent. Stewart is wonderful, giving yet another landmark performance conveying paranoia, annoyance and helplessness like few other actors can. Burr is frightening as Thorwald, and Ritter is extremely good as Thelma, adding much needed relief from the tension with tongue in cheek humour. Each of the neighbours is distinct and we come to understand them. Full of cynicism about people, love, romance and relationships, though not harsh, Rear Window is one of the great films of the 50s, and is still highly watchable and entertaining today.
Let us know in the comments what you think of Rear Window!