#149) Rear Window (1954)

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#149) Rear Window (1954)

OR “Now, Voyeur”

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

Written by John Michael Hayes. Based on the short story “It Had to Be Murder” by Cornell Woolrich.

Class of 1997

The Plot: Globetrotting photographer L.B. “Jeff” Jeffries (James Stewart) breaks his leg on assignment and is confined to a cast and wheelchair in his Greenwich Village apartment for six weeks. When not being tended to by his wisecracking nurse Stella (Thelma Ritter) or his high society girlfriend Lisa (Grace Kelly), Jeff spends his free time peeking at the neighbors. One day, Jeff notices that the bedridden wife of his salesman neighbor Lars (Raymond Burr) has disappeared. Everyone, including Jeff’s detective friend Lt. Doyle (Wendell Corey), believes she just went out of town, but Jeff is convinced that Lars killed his wife and disposed of the body. Can he prove it without ever leaving his apartment?

Why It Matters: The NFR praises the film’s direction and screenplay, and an essay by National Film Preservation Board founding member John Belton examines the film’s voyeuristic theme.

But Does It Really?: The plot of “Rear Window” is deceivingly simple, but the execution is exquisitely complex and endlessly rewarding. This is the movie that allowed Hitch to be the pure voyeur we always suspected he was. Hitch takes the premise of spying on your neighbors and makes us feel like we are right alongside Jeff, watching this all unfold. The cast is excellent, but the real stars are Hitchcock’s meticulous direction and an equally methodical screenplay by John Michael Hayes. Easily one of the best Hitchcock films.

Everybody Gets One: Screenwriter John Michael Hayes, as well as actor/future Academy President Wendell Corey. And special mention to Irene Winston as Mrs. Thornwald, aka “The vic”.

Wow, That’s Dated: Flashbulbs, phone books, and incredibly antiquated gender politics. Plus, this is back when songs like “Mona Lisa” and “That’s Amore” were Top 40 hits! If this were made today, the party would be singing along to that “Despacito” song you kids like nowadays.

Title Track: Lisa mentions “rear window ethics” about 80 minutes in. Grace Kelly immediately follows this up by tripping over her next line. I guess the pressure of saying the title was too much for her. No wonder she quit acting.

Seriously, Oscars?: “Rear Window” received four Oscar nominations: Cinematography, Sound, Adapted Screenplay, and Director. It lost in all four categories, ironically in two of these cases to another James Stewart movie (“The Glenn Miller Story”) and another Grace Kelly movie (“The Country Girl”). The film was not nominated for its massive replica Greenwich Village set, nor for Best Picture.

Other notes

  • That’s quite a jazzy intro for a murder mystery film.
  • How the set team didn’t get an Oscar nomination is just criminal. It really is an impressive undertaking.
  • That’s Gig Young as the voice of Jeff’s editor. He provides some surprisingly clunky exposition over the phone.
  • There is a 21-year age gap between James Stewart and Grace Kelly. That’s a pretty high number on what I’m now calling the “Michael Douglas Scale”. Plus it adds to my theory that Jeff was written to be a younger man.
  • Miss Lonelyhearts seems to be having dinner with Jeff’s friend Harvey.
  • A quick question for Jeff: What the hell is wrong with you? You’ve got a 25-year-old cosmopolitan intellect throwing herself at you, and you have commitment issues? Put a ring on it, you crippled bastard!
  • Hi, Hitch. Hitchcock’s cameo is about 26 minutes in; he shares the screen with the songwriter played by Ross Bagdasarian, who just finished composing his big Christmas song.
  • “I’m not stubborn, I’m just truthful.” I feel you, Jeff.
  • Giant telephoto lens courtesy of Austin Powers.
  • Everyone’s good in this, but Thelma Ritter is the MVP.
  • This is the point in films when Jimmy Stewart started to become a stammering parody of himself.
  • How much easier would Lisa sneaking over to the Thorwald apartment have been if they all had cell phones? Hell, throw in security cameras and this whole movie could have been over in 20 minutes.
  • I’ve seen this film several times, but the shot where Lars finally figures out what’s going on always gives me the chills. They didn’t call Hitch “The Master of Suspense” for nothing.
  • Boy, I hope Lars has a good criminal defense lawyer.

Legacy

  • A few remakes, most notably the 1998 version with Christopher Reeve, drawing on his real-life paralysis for inspiration.
  • Because when I think modern day Jimmy Stewart, I think Shia LaBeouf. P.S.: The owners of the original short story tried to sue “Disturbia” for plagiarism, but the court ruled in favor of the film, saying there was no obvious infringement.
  • They keep threatening us with a stage adaptation, but I’ve yet to see one make it to Broadway.
  • “Grace, come here! There’s a sinister looking kid I want you to see!”

Further Viewing: A video by Jeff Desom is the entire film of “Rear Window” boiled down to a three-minute time-lapse. It is quite an impressive feat of editing.

6 thoughts on “#149) Rear Window (1954)”

  1. Rear Window is one of my all time favorite movies. It’s very simple but so well done.

    Random side note: I always love when you walk around a neighborhood and you can look into people’s home and see just a glimpse of someone’s life that you will never meet (hopefully not encountering any murders though).

    Liked by 1 person

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