44 Films: Film 20 of 44: Rear Window (1954)
Film 20 of 44:
"Rear Window" (1954)
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Rear Window will be a valuable and fascinating film for good. Why? Because it explores a base human peculiarity: that innate and vehement curiosity we have about each other. Not the useful, empathetic kind, though, but the sinister kind where we want to be let into others' dirt.
The film introduces us to L.B. Jefferies, (played by the very blue-eyed James Stewart) a photojournalist confined to a wheelchair during a heatwave in 1950's New York City. His rear window overlooks a series of apartment complexes which, thanks to the weather, are perpetually wide open. Jefferies takes to observing his neighbours, a motley crew of quirky individuals (quirky, that is, as far as privacy allows them to be). Through his window, and later binocular lenses, we meet among others, 'Miss Torso', a buxom ballet dancer whose clothing is scant and suitors are plenty, 'Miss Lonely Hearts', a middle-aged woman whose forlornness is theatrical, and a music composer who I imagine was the 1950's classical equivalent of Axl Rose. However, it's a travelling jewellery salesman who really gets Jefferies' attention, when he begins to suspect that he may have murdered his invalid wife and is trying to skip town. As his surveillance gains fervor, he ropes into his notions his personal nurse (Thelma Ritter), socialite girlfriend (Grace Kelly) and detective friend (Wendell Corey), and unexpected collisions occur.
Hitchcock handles John Michaels Hayes' screenplay with a true mastery; knowing exactly what the film should achieve. The opening scene for instance, introduces us to Jefferies and the objects of his voyeurism quickly, without any words uttered, leaving us the rest of screen time to really explore his eccentric thoughts and motivations. Hayes' dialogue is brisk and inspired. Conversations are full of philosophical ideas about life, love, death and the way we see the world. There isn't one piddling performance, and every character, even the ones on the other side of the street from whom we never hear a word, are compelling and important. It's also worth mentioning that the film is set entirely in Jefferies' apartment, with out only escape being through is iris-ed lens. But at no time do we feel shut-in or bored. Hitchcock allows us the same inquisitiveness as his lead, and the same relief and thrill from his simple espionage.
This is a fantastic primer into Hitchcock's body of seminal work. It explores convenient ideas - what do our brains get up to when we have nothing to do, and everyone else is occupied? How legitimate are our thoughts and observations when we're isolated and withdrawn? These questions are as relevant today as they were then; with the added currency of social media. In inferior hands, this would have be gimmicky and forgettable film. In Hitchcock's, though, this is a triumph. A rightful classic.
See you at 21!