The Alfred Hitchcock Marathon (part 3): Rear Window (1954)

Rear Window

The master of suspense made 54 feature films during his very long and celebrated career. Having only seen a couple of his films before I started this challenge, it is time for the author of this blog to become a lot more familiar with Mr. Hitchcock. The minimum goal will be to watch and review at least 24 of his films in 2013, though I will try to aim for 30. I will start with the must-watch classics, slowly making my way to the lesser known part of his work.

REAR WINDOW (1954) { IMDB TOP 250 }

Rear Window

Genre: Crime Thriller

Cast: James Stewart (L.B. “Jeff” Jefferies), Grace Kelly (Lisa Carol Fremont), Thelma Ritter (Stella), Wendell Corey (Det. Thomas Doyle)

Rear Window is Hitchcock at his most observational and playful, a story told from a distance, where body language and theatrical behavior replace dialogue.

The film is set in motion by Jeff, a journalist played by James Stewart. Limited by a broken leg that put him in a wheelchair, Jeff begins to look outside of his windows with interest, slowly getting involved from afar in the lives of his neighbors. At first, he looks out with the curiosity of the journalist he is. However, as his beautiful girlfriend Lisa walks in pressuring him into marriage, the courtyard shared by all of his neighbors becomes his distraction, the only escape he has from a situation he’s not comfortable with.
Lisa is played by the incredibly beautiful Grace Kelly and, like most of Hitchcock famous blondes, she was depicted as the provocateur, an irresistible beauty who enticed the man in her life to do as she pleased. It is as if Hithcock sees the man as an innocent puppy who is simply helpless to fulfill women’s desires, whether or not he is ready to do so.

Under pressure and handicapped, Jeff looks out his windows day and night until he, his nurse (Thelma Ritter) and Lisa join in to begin to puzzle together the bits and pieces of information that his neighbors obliviously share through open windows, as if inviting intrusion.

If analyzed out of context, Rear Window’s cinematic tricks and structure seem overtly staged and unrealistic. After all, who in their right mind would be so open as to leave the windows of a possible murder scene wide open for everyone to see? How is it acceptable for a middle aged man to continue to push such a woman away and how does she put up with it and insist on marrying someone who clearly doesn’t want to? These are questions that are impossible to avoid nowadays, but that were a lot less obvious, or even normal, at the time Rear Window was released.

For the film, Hitchcock built one large set that was self contained, offering only a peek of the outside world. Away from Jeff’s apartment, the film is a collection of impressions that we are encouraged to construct at a semi-conscious level. In doing so, we become an accomplice to the spy, involved in the same measure Jeff is with the comings and goings of strangers.

As a piece of storytelling and as a compendium of cinematic tricks, Rear Window is as close to perfection as one can get. Though some of the sequences have lost the magic of yore, there is no denying the engrossing appeal of Hitchcock as his most playful and observational self.

Rating: 4.5/5 (excellent)

♦ Candidate to the Blog of Big Ideas’ Top 250 films ever ♦

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3 thoughts on “The Alfred Hitchcock Marathon (part 3): Rear Window (1954)

  1. Thanks Eric. I’m about to post a review of Vertigo, and after that one for Psycho. I’m debating which 6th film to watch after that though. I’m thinking it’ll be between Rope, Rebecca, Notorious or The Birds.

  2. That last paragraph had me nodding away. “Close to perfection…” that’s what the film is to me. I love its construction of suspense and particularly enjoy seeing Hitchcock’s wandering camera eye as we the audience survey the scene from Jimmy Stewart’s window. Absolutely gripping from start to finish with a bit of humour and a wonderful performance from Stewart (alongside the radiance of Grace Kelly) and you have a Hitchcock film I return to more than any other.

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