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Rear Window

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock with Grace Kelly, James Stewart, Raymond Burr, Thelma Ritter and Wendell Corey, color, 112 minutes, 1954

Cover of DVD edition of "Rear Window"

Cover of DVD edition of "Rear Window"

By Carter B. Horsley

I grew up in a brownstone apartment at 20 West 10th Street in Greenwich Village in New York City and the view out my bedroom window was almost identical to the view from James Stewart's apartment in "Rear Window," Alfred Hitchcock's great 1954 movie about a convalescing photographer who cannot resist the temptation to be a voyeur of his neighbors' activities.

My neighbors, unfortunately, usually kept their windows curtained, but there was a pianist, allegedly Leonard Bernstein, who practiced regularly somewhere in the apartments facing the rear-yard gardens on the block just like the pianist in the movie so it is not surprising that this film holds a special part in my cinematic nostalgia.

Also, like many of my generation, I fell in love in Grace Kelly, who stars in this movie, but it would take me a quarter of a century of so before I would actually meet her and then I never got around to declaring my love.

In this film, she is the quintessential Hitchcock beauty, elegant, strong-willed, witty, sophisticated, very, very stylish, and sexy. Here, as Lisa Carol Fremont, she is very much a high-society gal, perfectly at home with food delivered from the "21 Club," and not intimidated by slumming in the Greenwich Village pad of L. B. "Jeff" Jefferies, a successful magazine news photographer played with considerable sarcasm by James Stewart.

Jeffries is recuperating from a broken leg suffered in the line of his duties and has spent the past five weeks claustrophobically in his small apartment rather than traveling around the world on photo assignments. He has one week to go before the cast on his leg is removed and he has been attended to a nurse, Stella, played memorably and also sarcastically by Thelma Ritter.

Early in the film, it is clear that Lisa has grand designs on Jefferies and is slightly disapproving of his preoccupation with the lives of his neighbors, who include a song writer, played by Ross Bagdasarian, Miss Torso, played by Georgine Darcy, Miss Lonelyheart, played by Judith Evelyn, and Lars Thorward played ominiously by Raymond Burr. Miss Torso and Miss Lonelyheart are names given by Jefferies to identify two of the neighbors. While not immune to Lisa's great charms, Jefferies does not believe that a socialite can abide by the rigors of his profession.

Jefferies, who uses binoculars and a long telephoto lens attached to an Exacta single-lens-reflex camera to spy on his neighbors, notices that Thorward has a nagging wife and that one day she is gone and Thorward is observed packing a trunk. Soon thereafter, another neighbor's dog that used to play in the garden is missing and found dead and Jefferies begins to suspect that Thorward has butchered his wife and perhaps buried her in the garden.

Lisa offers to assist the bed-and-wheelchair-ridden Jefferies by breaking into Thorward's apartment when he is out, but she is caught by Thorward but not before she finds his wife's wedding ring. Jefferies manages to get the cops to show up as Thorward is questioning Lisa and she is released.

Jefferies then enlists the aid of an old friend, Lieutenant Thomas J. Doyle, played with delightful skepticism by Wendell Corey with just the right amount of New York casual wit and suspicion. Doyle does not believe Jefferies's hypothesis and disapproves of his voyeurism, admonishing him that he was invading "secret, private" worlds, but makes some inquiries that do not support a case for murder.

Jefferies is undeterred as he continues to spy on Thorwald who appears to act suspiciously.

Almost the entire film is shot in the confines and from the perspective of Jefferies's apartment.

In frustration, Jefferies decides to taunt Thorwald and has Lisa put a note under his door that anonymous states that someone knows what he has done. As Jefferies watches through his telephoto lens, Thorwald turns to his window and sees Jefferies, who quickly tries to move back from his window.

Thorwald surmises that it is Jefferies who sent him the note and decides to visit him in the film's climax.

Jefferies fends him off by firing flashbulbs that momentarily blind Thorwald but not enough to prevent him from throwing Jefferies out the window just as Lieut. Doyle arrives.

Jefferies survives, but both legs are now broken.

The film's fine screenplay by John Michael Hayes was adopted from a 1942 short story entitled by "It Had To Be Murder" by Cornell Woolrich. In an interview with Mr. Hayes that is included on the DVD edition, he notes that the original story did not have a romance and that many of the characters such as Miss Torso and Miss Lonelyhearts were not in the original story. The DVD also includes an excellent documentary about the movie and its restoration as well as many still shots of original posters and scenes from the film. The movie's rather jazzy score is by Franz Waxman, who also did "A Place In The Sun."

The film's main set is marvelous and captures the atmosphere of Greenwich Village residents very authentically. Stewart gives his customary, fine, droll performance that has subtle hints of Jack Bennyesque-mirth and fabulous timing. Unlike many of Hitchcock's films that use the theme of mistaken identity, "Rear Window" focuses on helplessness, or impotence. The viewer can tell from the photographs on the apartment's walls that Jefferies is not only fearless but most likely a daredevil, but in the film he is incapacitated by the cast on his leg. Many of Hitchcock's famous films involved spectacular settings such as Mt. Rushmore in "North by Northwest" (see The City Review article), or the Statue of Liberty in "The Saboteur," but he also indulged in claustrophic settings such as in "The Rope" and "Dial M for Murder."

The biggest problem with this film is that it is inconceivable that he would think of not spending his life with Lisa as played by Grace Kelly.

This film is ranked 69th in Carter B. Horsley's Top 500 Sound Films and 13th in the Internet Movie Data Base Top 250 poll as of April 10, 2001, and 42nd on the American Film Institute's Top 100 list.

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