L.B. “Jeff” Jeffries (James Stewart) is a renowned photographer, whose latest on location piece resulted in a broken camera and a broken leg. He has been wheelchair-bound inside his two-room apartment for six weeks, with his cast due to be removed in seven days time. He is regularly visited by his acerbic carer Stella (Thelma Ritter) and fashion model girlfriend Lisa (Grace Kelly), who wants to marry Jeff, but he has deemed her too perfect for him, and is reluctant to settle down from his country-hopping lifestyle. With cabin fever beginning to set in, Jeff spends his days peeping on his neighbours, including a lonely woman looking for love, a beautiful and nubile ballerina, a pair of newlyweds, a composer, a married couple with a dog and a salesman with his ill wife. After piecing together a few out-of-character actions, Jeff begins to suspect that the salesman (Raymond Burr) may have murdered his wife, so he calls in his detective friend Doyle (Wendell Corey) to look into it.Rear Window is another example, like Rope and Lifeboat before it, of Hitchcock setting himself an extreme limitation and creating a better film because of it. Rope saw everything shot within one spacious apartment, in a manner that could have been achieved in one long take had the cameras back then been capable of recoding more footage, and Lifeboat is of course set entirely on, well, a lifeboat, but they each follow a large number of people within that setting. Rear Window, on the other hand, isn’t so much set in one very small location – Jeff’s two-room apartment – but set from it, in that everything we see is shown and shot from the perspective of that tiny abode. It’s an approach that locks down Hitchcock’s possibilities, forcing him to get more creative with his compositions, making sure we don’t get bored being stuck with the same central character throughout.This lack of boredom is achieved through many tactics, the first of which is a gripping plot. This isn’t a whodunnit, it’s a wasitdun, with no definitive proof of whether any crime other than voyeurism has actually been committed being revealed until the final moments. Even before Jeff begins to suspect Thorwald of murder, we’ve got the great dynamic between Jeff and Lisa which, at heart, is what this film is all about. Every tiny aspect of the film provides Jeff with another viewpoint on relationships. There’s the newlyweds moving in next door, whose initial blinds-drawn domestic bliss soon settles into stress and tedium, or the nubile Miss Torso, forever practising her dance routines in her kitchen whilst fending off her many potential courters, or the solitary Miss Lonelyhearts, whose desperate search for love sets her on a dark path. Even Jeff’s friend Doyle, who is supposedly happily married, looks hungrily at both Miss Torso and Lisa. Bear in mind the key mystery plot is driven by a man who has supposedly had enough of his nagging wife, having been driven to the point of murder. Everywhere Jeff looks he sees romance and the idea of marriage having negative effects on those around him, it’s almost enough to understand why he’d be debating calling it all off with Lisa!Ah yes, Grace Kelly. Hitchcock wisely considered her his ideal leading lady, and he’d get no arguments from me. Jeff describes Lisa as too perfect in every way, and Kelly is, in my eyes, the epitome of perfection. From her entrance into the film – appearing before a rousing Jeff as if emerging from a hazy dream – to the adrenaline rush she clearly develops when she becomes more involved with the mystery, I love everything about Grace Kelly in this film (and in Dial M For Murder too, another one of my favourite Hitchcock movies that I’ve not reviewed yet). Her outfits are beautiful too, which is only to be expected really. Hitchcock always paid so much attention to his leading ladies’ clothes, essentially treating them like catwalk models, it was about time he actually cast one in that profession. Praise should also be heaped on the source of much of the film’s comic relief, Thelma Ritter (debatably the polar opposite of Grace Kelly) as Stella. She gets a lot of the best lines (of which there are many) and it’s her down-to-earth presence that adds a touch of realism to the movie.I mentioned that Hitchcock forced himself to experiment with the cinematography. An early shot sees the best use of this, as he sets up the entire film in one fluid camera movement, panning across and establishing many of the neighbours before arriving on Jeff’s sleeping face, his cast-encased leg, destroyed camera, wall full of framed action photographs and a stack of glossy magazines, all displaying Lisa on the cover. That’s all the set-up you need to get on with the film. I love it. I also particularly love that we can see both inside and outside of the Thorwalds’ apartment at the same time, so we are privy to someone walking up to the front door, whilst the person inside is unaware of the impending visitor. Late in the film, once the tension really begins to mount, there’s a scene where Jeff is powerless to help or warn Lisa in a situation of peril, gaping and quivering with fear and calling out to her as if he’s watching someone about to be stabbed running up the stairs in a 90s horror movie, but moments later we’re then moved to the same situation, but with Jeff himself as the unknowing potential victim, with us powerless to help him.This is a film I love so many aspects of that I’ll actually be posting another feature on it over at French Toast Sunday in a few days, so be sure to check that out too (here’s a link to that piece if you’re interested) so to avoid any redundancy I’m going to wrap this up by saying that this is an amazing film, that would easily top my list of Hitchcock movies were it not for the existence of North By Northwest, which frankly is just too much damn fun to topple. Rear Window is full of character, plot, intrigue and tension, a great deal of background detail that I pick up on more and more every time I watch it, and like it’s leading lady, it’s almost too perfect in every way.
Choose Film 10/10
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