Rear Window – Review

16 Mar

Have you ever  been watching a movie and all of your energy and attention are put into it, so much so that you find yourself not breathing. Well, that’s how I felt for the whole 2 hours that Rear Window was on. It’s not so much breathtaking as it is breath hijacking and it only goes to show that Alfred Hitchcock is, in fact, the Master of Suspense.

L.B. Jeffries (James Stewart) is a photographer who is know for his masterful work behind the camera and is now confined to a wheelchair after getting injured during one of his more dangerous photo shoots at a racetrack (we get to briefly see what he captured moments before he was hurt). In order to alleviate his boredom during his stay in his apartment, Jeffries spends his time people watching his neighbors who move about in their apartments and in the courtyard. Things go awry for Jeffries when he suspects one of his neighbors, Lars Thorwald (Raymond Burr), of murdering his wife and disposing of the body. Now it’s up to Jeffries, his girlfriend Lisa Fremont (Grace Kelly), his nurse Stella (Thelma Ritter), and his detective friend Tom Doyle (Wendell Corey) to uncover the truth.

James Stewart really steals the show in Rear Window. He is absolutely brilliant in terms of making Jeffries seem like an actual person with an interesting past and future. He uses nervous ticks and hand gestures to better accentuate his individuality from the other characters, which makes us as an audience care for him more. Grace Kelly is appropriately seductive and charming as Lisa Fremont. She isn’t quite sure how to handle Jeffries’ abrasive attitude sometimes, but her love for him shines through everything as she lavishes him with compliments, assistance, and understanding.

The set design in Rear Window is truly outstanding. Hitchcock created a huge apartment complex set inside Paramount Studios. Hitchcock actually removed the studio’s floor, so the courtyard is actually the studio basement and Jeffries apartment is at street level. It cost Hitchcock a lot of money and time to do this, but he wasn’t going to let anything get in the way of his vision.

The camera work in this is out of this world and ahead of its time. The camera almost acts as the viewer’s binoculars, as we scan the apartment complex and observe its inhabitants along with Jeffries. That being said, this movie is packed to the brim with long tracking shots, pans, and tilts that are implemented to mimic Jeffries’ line of sight. It is a very interesting way to tell the story, literally through the protagonist’s point of view.

Rear Window thematically critiques and, simultaneously, defends the notion of people watching and snooping. The dialogue in the film says that snooping and spying is wrong and immoral, but the whole plot of the film suggests otherwise by making it necessary to snoop on Thorwald to solve the mystery involving his missing and, presumably, murdered wife. Do the ends justify the means? Is snooping on people immoral, or is that just a ideal implemented by society? How far is to far when it comes to people watching? These are the questions that Hitchcock is asking, and he leaves it up to the viewer to answer them for themselves.

Horror films today could learn a lot from this movie, even though Rear Window isn’t exactly a horror film as it is a mystery. The lessons are in the suspense rather than cheap scare jumps that plague the industry nowadays. It’s the quiet before the storm that matters most. There’s a scene in this film where the suspected murderer is walking slowly up the stairs to Jeffries’ apartment. Jeffries prepares himself for his arrival as the viewer is treated to the haunting sound of the approaching thud of footsteps amongst the silence.

Alfred Hitchcock established himself as on of the best film makers of all time. Rear Window is a testament to this through its stunning use of set design, camera work, suspense, character development, and questions. It is a film that stays with the viewer long after it is watched, and is easily one of the best films ever made.

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