rear window | alfred hitchcock | john michael hayes | james stewart | grace kelly | wendell corey | mystery | thriller | united states | thelma ritter | raymond burr | judith evelyn | ross bagdasarian | georgine darcy | sara berner | frank cady | jesslyn fax
Film: Rear Window
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Writer: John Michael Hayes
Starring: James Stewart, Grace Kelly and Wendell Corey
This is a movie that my mother actually showed to me pretty early on into my film watching history. When she could recognize that I could appreciate cinema more, she started showing me classics like this. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen this movie a few times, with the most recent thanks to my buddy Robert wanting dissect this on a podcast. To get into my thoughts here, I’ll start with the synopsis which is a wheelchair-bound photographer spies on his neighbors from his apartment window and becomes convinced one of them has committed murder.
Before I fully get into the movie, the first thing I want to say is that many people know this movie without knowing this movie. One episode of The Simpsons I remember parodies this. I’ve seen the 1997 remake with Christopher Reeves and Disturbia is a modern take on this story. For this though, our lead and the photographer from the synopsis is L.B. ‘Jeff’ Jeffries (James Stewart). He broke his leg on an assignment and we learn he is in his cast for one more week. During the day Stella (Thelma Ritter) comes over to give him a quick massage to help him stay limber.
To pass his time as the synopsis states, he watches his neighbors from across the courtyard. He has given them nicknames that correspond with what their doing. For example there is Miss Lonelyhearts (Judith Evelyn) who is all alone and depressed. There is a pianist that is trying to come up with a new song dubbed Songwriter (Ross Bagdasarian) and Miss Torso (Georgine Darcy) who is a ballerina. Jeff isn’t all alone though. He is dating the lovely Lisa Carol Fremont (Grace Kelly). She is infatuated with him and he finds her to be perfect, maybe too perfect. He is a photographer who is more simple and rugged, taking assignments all over the world. He’s not sure the two of them fit together to really make it work.
There is another neighbor that catches Jeff’s eye. Lars Thorwald (Raymond Burr) lives with his invalid wife of Emma (Irene Winston). The two of them bicker a lot and Jeff starts to believe something may have happened to Emma. She disappears and Lars continuously to leaves one rainy night. He can’t prove anything though. Stella tells him he should stop watching people as it isn’t right and Lisa agrees. That is until she sees some evidence that makes her believe that Jeff could be right about Lars. When they involve a detective friend of Thomas J. Doyle (Wendell Corey), he gives a logical explanation to all of their evidence. Did Lars kill his wife or is Jeff making up stories due to his confinement and vivid imagination?
That is where I’m going to leave my recap for the movie, because I’m assuming most people have seen or know what the plot of the movie is here. Where I want to go first is with the director Alfred Hitchcock. He’s truly a master filmmaker and it makes sense that at the time of writing this review, he’s the most watched director for me in history. How well he can convey things is quite impressive. We learn about Jeff through pictures while overhearing him talk to his editor on the phone. Stella fills in more about him while also legitimately telling us the lesson of this movie from the opening scene. She also discusses Lisa before we get to see her. Jeff lays out his issues about her. We can see what he means, but without her knowing what he’s said, she proves she is the exact woman for him.
Then to take this idea even farther, I feel I know quite a bit about the neighbors without really getting to truly meet them. We know that Miss Lonelyhearts is sad and that she just wants to find happiness. Songwriter is frustrated and struggling for inspiration. Miss Torso is a fun time. There is also a newlywed couple for comic relief along with Miss Hearing Aid (Jesslyn Fax). There is also a married couple that can’t sleep in their apartment because it is too hot out. Heck, we even see that Lars and Emma have marriage problems without knowing what they are.
Now with that established, the most underrated character in this movie is Stella. She isn’t as educated or cultured as Jeff or Lisa, but she can read people as well as situations. The first thing I want to delve into from her is when she calls out Jeff for watching his neighbors. Jaime asked why he doesn’t know more with the timeframe he’s been confided. My guess is that he got bored and transitioned to what he’s doing. Jeff is looking into the private lives of those around him without them knowing. Part of me believes if you have your blinds open like they do, you’re inviting attention in. Taking this further though, Stella is calling us as the audience out. We’re watching a movie of other people’s lives instead of being out and living ours. When I heard that this time around, it was shocking as well as being impressive.
The other thing from Stella is Jeff and Lisa’s relationship. Stella knows they’re perfect for each other. Lisa thinks so too. Jeff doesn’t think he’s good enough. When he tells this to her, I love that they’re using the neighbors as a crystal ball. If Jeff gives in, they could be the newlywed couple where the husband can’t keep up. If they break it off, Jeff will be Miss Lonelyhearts where Lisa will be Miss Torso. She is entertaining bunch of different men every night, but she’s not truly happy. The reveal at the end that makes her happy is great as well to drive this home. There is a final option here as well. If they get married, they could end up like the Thorwalds.
Speaking of the Thorwalds, I feel that I should shift this back to the main issue of the movie. This really becomes the idea that Jeff is seeing things out of context with Lars and Emma. He has seen them bickering for weeks so he knows they aren’t happy. Jeff does bring up an interesting point when speaking with Det. Lt. Doyle, there are things that you do at home that you can’t explain to others, because it just doesn’t makes sense. Doyle doesn’t have evidence to prove what Jeff thinks. Neither does Lisa. Without it though, you can’t prove their theory as everyone should be innocent until proven guilty. One of my minor issues here comes at the end where I do think for everything we build happens too abruptly.
It would seem that I fleshed out everything I needed to with the story and the characters, so acting is where I’ll take this now. Stewart is great as Jeff. He has this witty, sarcastic way about him that I didn’t realize until seeing this that I’ve annoyingly adapted to Jaime. He’s perfect for this role. Kelly is beautiful, but I also think her performance rivals Jeff. The lengths she will go are exactly what Jeff needs to see he’s wrong. Aside from that, I think that Ritter is right up there with both them as Stella. She is has an underrated performance. Corey, Burr and the rest of the neighbors also round this out for what is needed for this trio.
Then really the last thing to go into would be the cinematography, effects and soundtrack. For the former, I think that it is shot perfectly. For the most part, we are almost getting a point of view for Jeff from his window. We get to see through things like binoculars and camera lenses which put us there. It is really only giving us what can be seen from this apartment which is bang on to make this work. There aren’t a lot in the way of effects, but it also doesn’t need it. What really comes to mind is the showdown with flashbulbs and that works. For the soundtrack, I do like that most of what we’re hearing is from this world. Songwriter is giving us music or someone’s radio is playing. This gives it even more sense of realism in my opinion.
In conclusion here, this is truly showing why Hitchcock was a master filmmaker. It feels like we’re right there with Jeff, Lisa and even Stella as they try to piece together this mystery of what could have happened to Emma Thorwald. The cinematography and sound design of the movie add to that realism. I’d say the performances are great across the board. If I do have any issues, the movie probably runs a bit long. There is some fat that could be trimmed where the ending is a bit too abrupt to really work for me. That’s not to say this isn’t a great film. If you’ve never seen this, I would definitely give this one a viewing.
My Rating: 9 out of 10