Top 100 Films #13 – Rear Window (1954)

 

rearwindow1#13. Rear Window (1954)
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Written by: John Michael Hayes (based on It Had to Be Murder by Cornell Woolrich)
Starring: James Stewart, Grace Kelly, Wendall Corey, Thelma Ritter, Raymond Burr

Rear Window is the Master of Suspense’s single greatest achievement as a filmmaker, creating one of the most thrilling mysteries of all time – yet the entire film takes place in a single location. Rear Window follows L.B. Jeffries (James Stewart), a photographer who has recently broken his leg in an accident. Confined to a wheelchair in his small apartment, and with a limited number of visitors (mainly his girlfriend Lisa (Grace Kelly), and personal nurse Stella (Thelma Ritter)), boredom begins to set in for Jeff – he begins to watch his neighbours through the window. Since all of Greenwich Village is seemingly enduring an ongoing heat wave, the entire apartment complex is on display to Jeff, who begins to notice patterns in his neighbours and assign them nicknames. Eventually, Jeff observes some shady business across the way on a dark and rainy night – these events set him on an amateur investigation from the confines of his wheelchair. Alfred Hitchcock was one of the very first directors I became immediately attached to after being introduced to the magic of cinema. His films were darkly funny, intelligent, thrilling, and nearly all of them still felt modern and fast-paced when compared to modern Hollywood movies. Hitch’s love for the medium is obvious in every single one of his projects, good or bad. Seeing Rear Window for the first time absolutely floored me – years of seeing the story parodied and paid tribute to in pop culture somehow had not shaped my perception of the film. Hitchcock makes the most out of his single location setting, mapping out an entire apartment complex through the eyes of James Stewart’s L.B. Jeffries, whose boredom and need for entertainment drives the first act of Rear Window. Every character introduced through Jeff’s eyes is humorous, interesting, or peculiar in only a way Hitchcock could accomplish – while not developed, these characters still serve their purpose as fodder for the film’s central mystery. After Jeff witnesses what he is convinced is a murder, Hitchcock makes the audience question whether they believe Jeff, or if maybe our protagonist is going a little stir crazy. As soon as the murder plot is introduced, Hitchcock begins to slowly raise the tension by almost completely changing the formerly carefree and fun tone into a much more sinister (while still playful) one. Rear Window’s themes of voyeurism are titillating and incredibly compelling – especially for a film from the mid-1950’s. These themes reveal a great deal about Alfred Hitchcock’s unique sensibilities, giving audiences a dirty little glimpse inside the mind of the Master of Suspense. Living out some of these titillating voyeuristic experiences is James Stewart as the easygoing L.B. Jeffries. Hitchcock and Stewart’s collaborations always made for fun pairings, and Rear Window is probably my favorite in their partnership.  Stewart’s “aw shucks” personality is for the most part non-existent in Rear Window, instead replaced by a still likable, but far more self-aware and relaxed performance.  Supporting Stewart is the always delightful Grace Kelly, who carries some of the film’s most intense moments – becoming a heavily-involved accomplice of Stewart’s. Grace Kelly’s Lisa leads directly into Rear Window’s thrilling climax, which may be one of the most intense scenes in Hitchcock’s filmography – he makes perfect use of Jeff’s small, dark apartment, as well as our main character’s broken leg. When the moment finally comes, the entire audience are on the edge of their seats. Rear Window holds up as one of the best mystery films of all-time, and more than six decades later is still talked about as one of the greats. It’s a great starting place for those not familiar with Alfred Hitchcock, and anybody looking to get into classic films.

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