Few films can claim to be perfect, but I think that Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window is one of the few that can claim to be so. This is Hitchcock’s best film in my opinion.His attention to even the smallest of details is very evident in every frame of this one.
The way that Hitchcock directs this film makes his audience become voyeurs, just like James Stewart’s character is in the film. The more of the film we watch, the more it seems like we are right there in that apartment with him looking out at those neighbouring apartments and focusing on what is happening inside them.
I always feel quite uncomfortable whenever I watch this one because at certain points in the film I feel like I have become James Stewart’s character Jeff. That of course is the whole point of the film. Hitch set it up that way. We become as fascinated and obsessed with what is happening in neighbouring apartments as Jeff is.
Rear Window is based upon the 1942 short story It Had To Be Murder written by Cornell Woolrich. The story was adapted for the screen by John Michael Hayes. Other than the overall storyline of the man suspecting a neighbour of murder, the film adds so much that wasn’t present in the book, such as the characters of Lisa and Stella and the romantic relationship between Lisa and Jeff.
Hitch with James Stewart and Grace Kelly. Image source IMDb.
Rear Window is a very dark and thrilling film which tackles issues of obsession, curiosity, romance, murder and voyeurism. The film features beautiful clothes, black comedy, fascinating characters, plenty of suspense, as well as one of the most realistic film sets in American film history. The film also shows that sometimes being nosy and suspicious isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because in the process you may witness something which could help solve a crime or be able to stop something bad from happening to someone.
I really like how we are not entirely sure whether to accept the suspicions of Jeff or not. Even though we see and hear the same things he does, we don’t really know what incidents are worth being concerned about. At some points we are not even entirely clear about what we’ve actually just witnessed.
Rear Window was the first Hitchcock film I ever saw. It blew me away and caused me to seek out the rest of his films. It will always hold a special place in my heart for being my gateway film into Hitch’s filmography. I remember returning to my local library every weekend for a few weeks in a row to borrow from their Alfred Hitchcock VHS collection after watching this one.
Photographer L.B. ‘Jeff’ Jefferies (James Stewart)is wheelchair bound at home during a heatwave as he recovers from breaking his leg while on assignment. Jeff lives in an apartment complex and to stave off the boredom he starts looking out of his window at his neighbours apartments. However what begins as a casual curiosity to pass the time, quickly develops into an obsession when he can’t stop looking at what’s going on in the neighbouring apartments.
Jeff’s glamorous girlfriend, Lisa Fremont (Grace Kelly)loves him dearly, but the two are complete opposites in background, life and society. Lisa begins to get concerned about Jeff’s obsession with the neighbours and she tries to get him to focus on her instead. Soon Lisa gets drawn into Jeff’s obsession. The pair begin to suspect neighbour Lars Thorwald (a menacing Raymond Burr)of having murdered his invalid wife and taken her body out of their apartment late at night.
Jeff and Lisa begin their own investigations into the possibility of foul play having been committed. They are helped in their investigations by Jeff’s nurse, Stella (Thelma Ritter) and Jeff’s detective friend Doyle (Wendell Corey). Hitchcock keeps us guessing as to whether Thorwald is innocent or guilty right up to the end of the film. We even begin to wonder at points in the film whether Jeff is correct in his suspicions or not.
I love the apartment complex set because it looks so realistic. How it’s set up works for the story as Jeff’s window has a clear view of all of the other apartments opposite and around his own. All the apartment sets were also designed inside, with furniture etc added to the interiors which could be seen through the windows. I also love the excellent sound work heard during the apartment complex sequences where we hear conversations, music, and other sounds at various different levels, just as you would in reality.
The one thing about this set up that always makes me laugh is how everyone in all the apartments has their windows open with the lights on and nobody (apart from the newlyweds)ever has their curtains or blinds drawn. This habit of leaving the curtains open seems to be a recurring thing in American, Swedish and Danish films and series; here in the UK, once it becomes evening the curtains and blinds are firmly shut, we’d never dream of having the lights on so that everyone outside could see in. Do none of the characters in this film value their privacy? Do they not think that someone across the courtyard could be seeing everything they’re doing?
Not only is the film suspenseful and thrilling, but it is also a terrific character piece with a great deal of character development occurring throughout. Even Jeff’s briefly glimpsed neighbours come across as very real people with all their various quirks and flaws.
I don’t know about you, but the action taking place in the other apartments is as intriguing to me as the main story of Jeff obsessing over Lars Thorwald. I’m most fascinated by the Miss Lonelyheart story. This woman is single and is depressed because she doesn’t have anyone in her life. This storyline is so well conveyed that I find myself really feeling for this woman and wanting to comfort her.
It’s also interesting to note that many of the couples in those other apartments could well represent different potential future outcomes for Jeff and Lisa’s relationship. They could adore each other and be as comfortable as the couple with the dog, or they could even end up hating each other with a passion and get into as dark a place as the Thorwald’s did. Note how Mrs. Thorwald is blonde and even wears the same nightdress as Lisa does later in the film. There are many people and things in this film which mirror Jeff and Lisa. It all adds so much more to the experience of watching this when you sit and pay attention to all these little things.
I think what I like most about this film is seeing how Jeff slowly comes to realise what a treasure he has in Lisa. As the film goes on, Jeff becomes less focused on what is going on in the other apartments and instead comes to focus more on his own life and upon his relationship with Lisa. Lisa and Jeff genuinely do love each other, but they each have such different lives and interests that their relationship isn’t the easiest. Lisa wants them to get married but Jeff doesn’t want that. By the end of the film though, Jeff realises that he does love Lisa very much. He finds that he can’t be without her, and he also starts to see that she is a resourceful and brave woman.
Grace Kelly is as glamorous and beautiful as ever, but in this film she gets to show the critics that there is much more to her as an actress than merely her beauty. The same is true of her character in the film, as we see Lisa end up becoming one of the bravest characters in the film and proving Jeff wrong about her capabilities and personality. Grace shows us Lisa’s vulnerable side and her desperation for Jeff to fully accept her in his life. Lisa is a strong and clever woman and proves that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. There’s more to this gal than meets the eye. This is one of Grace’s best performances.
James Stewart portrays Jeff as a man who is very set in his ways, but who slowly comes to realise that there is room for Lisa in his life after all. James does such a good job of conveying Jeff’s growing fascination and obsession with the mystery in the apartment opposite his. James again goes to some dark places for Hitch, as he plays a character here who is obsessed with murder and someone who seems to be at his happiest watching the lives of others. The fact that Jeff doesn’t see like a dirty creep to us is credit to James Stewart’s performance and Hitch’s expert direction. In this film James delivers one of his finest performances.
Thelma Ritter provides comic support as the sassy and no-nonsense Stella. She also thinks Jeff needs to stop watching, but then she and Lisa begin to think he may be right after all. Thelma was one of the greatest character actresses and she steals every scene she is in here. Love the scene where she’s graphically discussing how Thorwald could have disposed of the body while Jeff is trying to eat his breakfast.
Raymond Burr is almost unrecognisable in this as Lars Thorwald. I love Raymond when he plays good guys like Ironside, but he was absolutely superb when playing dubious and evil characters. He really keeps you guessing about Thorwald right up to the final scene.
This is a thrilling film that keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout. It also makes you see just how easy it is to slip into obsession. Excellent performances throughout and skilled direction from Hitch make this a must see.
My favourite scenes are the following. Lisa sneaking into Thorwald’s apartment. Our first introduction to Lisa. Doyle seeing that Lisa is going to spend the night with Jeff. The opening sequence of the apartment complex. The entire final sequence involving the camera flash.
What do you think of Rear Window?