Monday, April 7, 2008

Masterpiece Film Series: Rear Window

"Rear Window" **** (out of ****)

"We've become a race of peeping toms. What people ought to do is get outside their own house and look in for a change."

So says Stella (Thelma Ritter) at the start of "Rear Window". Alfred Hitchcock's best film and one of my all-time favorites. It's a key line into the film which was taken from a short story called "It Had To Be Murder" written by Cornell Woolrich and made into a screenplay by John Michael Hayes.

"Rear Window" gives Hitchcock the chance to explore one of his favorite themes; voyeurism. L.B. Jeffries (James Stewart) is a photographer for a magazine who has managed to break his leg in an automobile race track accident. He has a cast from his foot up to his hip and has been in it for 6 weeks. Jeffries' passes his time by staring outside his window looking (or spying) at his neighbors.

I've noticed many people seem to overlook something crucial in this. Jeffries as the saying goes is a "watcher" NOT a "doer". He is by profession a photographer. He's always seeing the world through his lens. Never actually experiencing life himself. I bet even if he wasn't injured it seems like the kind of thing this guy would do anyway. It's in his blood. It's how he makes his living. By capturing moments of other people's lives or popular events. But, one day, Jeffries is going to see too much.

What makes "Rear Window" such a great film is the way the screenplay is constructed. The viewer never knows more than the lead character. Everything we see, we only see because that's exactly what he sees. We can only draw the same conclusions he does, because we only know as much as him. If he says 1+1=3, we have to go along with him, because we don't know otherwise. And this is where all the suspense leads in. You see, for those who have never seen this movie, Jeffries thinks he has seen one of his neighbors murder his wife. Mr. Thorwald (Raymond Burr, who would later become a lawyer, go figure!) was seen leaving his house several times during the night. We see him wrap up a saw and knife. And the next morning his bedridden wife is gone! Was she murdered? Or is there a reasonable explanation for everything? We are lead to believe she was murdered.

Hitchcock has such a confident feel for the material. I don't know if his directing was ever better. Some may argue "Psycho" or "Vertigo" but, whichever film you chose you can't deny how brilliant his directing is here. The way he adds to the suspense. Our emotions go back and forth. Was there a murder committed or not? As with all Hitchcock films you can expect that dry wit. In my opinion it has never played off as well has it does here. It's all over the place. Take Thelma Ritter for example. She plays an insurance company nurse sent to take care of Jeffries. Her dialogue is full of witty remarks. Just about ever word she chooses to use seems inappropriate at the time. There is also a character named "Miss Lonelyheart". A scene involves her getting dressed up, lighting some candles, dimming the lights, fixing the dinner table and then pretending she has a gentleman guest. It may not sound funny as you read it, but, to see it will put a smile on your face.

Besides Stella (Ritter) no one enters Jeffries apartment except Lisa Carol Fremont (Grace Kelly, looking her absolute best!). A designer who is a well known Manhattan socialite. Things are rocky in their relationship as Jeffries thinks she is "too perfect". But, naturally it's takes a murder to bring them together.

"Rear Window" was quite a big hit when first released. Hitchcock was at a peak in his career when this was made. The movie was nominated for 4 Oscars including "Best Director". When it was made it was also the largest set on the Paramount lot. But, that doesn't stop the movie from having a big city feel to it. Here's a film movie any true Hitchcock fan has to see. It's one of the masterpieces of cinema.