Rear Window

Directed By: Alfred Hitchcock

Starring: James Stewart, Grace Kelly, Wendell Corey, Thelma Ritter, and Raymond Burr

"Why would a man leave his apartment three times on a rainy night with a suitcase and come back three times?"
-L.B. Jefferies (James Stewart)

Alfred Hitchcock was a director known for his inquisitive use of the camera.  There was a certain curiosity about anything and everything he ever depicted on screen, perhaps none more so than his 1954 suspense thriller Rear Window.  The question above from Hitchcock's lead character in the movie embodies this, and it makes perfect sense.  After all, this is a movie that's all about the neighbors, and anyone is naturally a little curious about those who live in the building next door or across the street.  We're wired to be nosy about what's happening around us.

"Here lie the broken bones of L.B. Jefferies."  Jeff (Stewart), a gutsy photographer who got a little too bold on an assignment at a racetrack, has broken his leg and has been holed up in his two-room apartment for six weeks now with nothing to do but look at his neighbors and the lives they're living.  Jeff’s nurse Stella (Thelma Ritter) thinks he’s going to get himself locked up for being a peeping Tom.  His wealthy girlfriend Lisa Fremont (Grace Kelly) would prefer he devoted his energies to her instead of the people outside his window.  When Jeff notices that his neighbor Lars Thorwald (Raymond Burr) suspiciously leaves his apartment at 3am one night and soon thereafter his wife goes missing, Jeff springs into action determined to prove that murder is in the air.  The problem is that no one believes him, initially.

Six weeks with nothing to do but look out your window at the neighbors is enough to drive anyone crazy.  Believe me.  I've been there.  I broke my femur when I was a kid and know firsthand how difficult it is to sit around for all that time.  There's one big difference, however.  My injury was in the 90s, and I had all the entertainment in the world.  While there were only so many reruns of Good Times and Jerry Springer I could watch before taking to the window, my problems were vastly different.  For Jeff back in Rear Window, television is limited and just getting off the ground, video games have yet to arrive, and the mere concept of the Internet is unfathomable.  That's a very different setting from what I had.  The only thing Hitchcock and his screenwriter John Michael Hayes give Jeff to alleviate the monotony of his life is a pair of binoculars. 

Boredom is certainly a major theme in Rear Window, but it's no boring film by any measure.  Hitchcock masterfully plays off Jeff's listlessness to build curiosity and suspense throughout the movie.  With most of the film spent looking at a camera shot of Jeff's window and the lives that carry on within the camera's viewpoint, Hitchcock helps us to better understand Jeff's curiosity.  Adding camera shots through the lenses of binoculars and a vibrant, playful score only enhance this.  While most of the film is fairly upbeat, there are some moments where Jeff's curiosity leads the audience to some darker places.  In these moments, Hitchcock uses the silence of the dead of night to build utter terror in an instant.  He uses the shadows and one creepy character delivered by Raymond Burr to deliver fear in its rawest form.

The actors give outstanding performances as Hitchcock brings out the best in them.  The always enjoyable James Stewart, who frequently collaborated with Hitch, gives us one lovable protagonist in Jeff.  Stewart brings all the wit and sarcasm needed to carry a film like this.  With more time on camera than anyone else, he endears the audience and makes us believe his story.  As his girlfriend Lisa Fremont, Grace Kelly has a looming presence on camera.  Both enchanting and alluring, Kelly has palpable chemistry with Stewart.  When she’s on screen, everything just clicks.  Finally, we have Thelma Ritter as Jeff's nurse Stella.  She does nothing but tell the truth throughout the film in the most hilarious way possible.

Beyond the boredom, curiosity, and ultimately the suspense that fuel Rear Window, there's some interesting symbolism that's hard to deny.  In his neighbors, Hitchcock gives Jeff and Lisa all the potential ways in which their relationship can play out.  First, they have a reflection of themselves in Thorwald and his bedridden wife (Irene Winston) in which one spouse allegedly kills the other.  Playing of Jeff’s fears of living the dull high life with Lisa, they also have a vision of their possible future together in the young newlyweds (Rand Harper and Havis Davenport) who always make love but never do anything else with their lives.  Finally, they a vision of their possible future apart in which Miss Torso (Georgine Darcy), the hot blonde girl across the street and a socialite like Lisa, frequently entertains the "wolves" and Miss Lonelyhearts (Judith Evelyn), a depressed older woman, drinks wine by herself at dinner time.  All of these interesting variations on life with or without a partner resonate with the challenges Jeff and Lisa face as a couple throughout the movie.

All in all, it's hard to deny that Rear Window is one of the all-time great movies.  It's a towering piece of cinema that seems so simple but is far more complex than one would assume.  It's a brilliant exercise in building curiosity and suspense throughout a film.  It's a movie that has influenced many others that have followed over the years.  There's no other film quite like it.  It's truly Alfred Hitchcock at his finest.  Rear Window gets a sober rating.