Wednesday, May 9, 2012

#632. Rear Window (1954)

Directed By: Alfred Hitchcock

Starring: James Stewart, Grace Kelly, Wendell Corey

Tag line: "The most UNUSUAL and INTIMATE journey into human emotions ever filmed!!!"

Trivia: While shooting, Alfred Hitchcock worked only in Jeff's "apartment." The actors in other apartments wore flesh-colored earpieces so that he could radio his directions to them

Rear Window is one of director Alfred Hitchcock's finest films. It is also a voyeur's delight. By turning his camera into a spyglass and using it to peer into the private lives of a handful of characters, Hitchcock successfully taps into one of our most basic human foibles: to silently observe those around us.

Laid up with a broken leg, photojournalist L.B. “Jeff” Jeffries (James Stewart) passes the time by looking out his back window... and directly into his neighbor's apartments! 

He’s seen a lot of things over the course of a few weeks, but nothing as terrible as what he thinks he just saw in the flat directly across the way. In fact, Jeff is convinced he witnessed a murder. 

The apartment in question is occupied by one Lars Thorwald (Raymond Burr), who Jeff believes murdered his wife and is now quietly disposing of her body, piece by piece. Jeff's girlfriend Lisa (Grace Kelly) and physical therapist Stella (Thelma Ritter) don't believe him at first, but as the coincidences mount, both begin to share his suspicions, and are soon assisting in his quest to uncover what really happened to poor Mrs. Thorwald.

With Rear Window, Hitchcock places his audience squarely in his main character's shoes, and in so doing turns us into voyeurs as well. At first, Jeff spies on his neighbors as a way to escape the boredom of long, drawn-out days stuck in his wheelchair. After several weeks, however, he finds himself enjoying it, and what's more, we enjoy it as well. 

We see everything through the exposed windows of that courtyard, including love (personified by the two newlyweds who keep their shades drawn all day long), heartbreak (Miss Lonelyhearts, played by Judith Evelyn, is desperate for love, yet seems destined to remain alone), even intrigue (in the form of Lars Thorwald, the alleged killer, whose actions grow more suspicious as the story progresses). We never feel guilt or remorse for spying on these characters, mostly because what we're seeing is so engaging that moral uncertainty quickly gives way to curiosity.

Rear Window contains moments of nearly unbearable tension; a late sequence involving Lisa and the discovery of a wedding ring keeps us on the edge of our seats for quite some time. Yet what the film does best is challenge our perceptions of right and wrong. Like Jeff, most of us, under normal circumstances, would never dream of delving so deeply into the private affairs of others. But, as director Hitchcock seems to be asking throughout the movie, what about abnormal circumstances? Would catching a murderer be justification enough to ignore the unwritten code of “minding your own business”?

It's to Hitchcock's credit that, because he keeps us so thoroughly entertained, we only ponder such questions after the film has ended.

No comments: