A wheelchair-bound photographer spies on his neighbours from his apartment window when he becomes convinced that one of them has committed a terrible murder.
It is so easy to sum up Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 masterpiece Rear Window into the condensed blurb above, but there is so much more going on in within the 112 minutes on offer that you simply don’t realise just how enormous the achievement was from Hitch. With such a simple premise, which takes place all within one small New York apartment, you can’t help but leave the cinema feeling breathless.
In a multi-decade spanning career which was littered with triumphs such as The Lodger (1927), The 39 Steps (1935) and Shadow Of A Doubt (1943), Rear Window was to be the first in perhaps the richest vein of form from any filmmaker in cinematic history. The nine years which followed its release saw Hitchcock helm a series of film lovers' DVD staples including Vertigo (1958), North By Northwest (1959), Psycho (1960) and The Birds (1963).
In 1954, stars didn’t come much bigger than James Stewart and Grace Kelly. There were also no directors larger than Hitchcock (pun absolutely intended) and the final result is a film which glides along so gloriously it would be easy to look through all of its minor intricacies which results in a picture which runs so effortlessly from start to finish.
L.B. Jefferies (Stewart) is a photographer who is willing to go that one extra step where others dare not, literally, as we soon discover the reason for his broken leg is that he strolled into the middle of a race track during a the final lap of a championship race in order to gain the shot of a life time when things went awry. Housebound and within a wheelchair during a New York heat wave, he passes the time by looking out of his window and naming each of his neighbours along with plotting out their narratives, simply from what he can see of them. His neighbours include a dancer named “Miss Torso”, a middle-aged single woman called “Miss Lonleyhearts”, a talent pianist composer, two married couples and a travelling salesman called Lars Thorwald (Raymond Burr) and his bedridden wife.
Time is also passed by daily visits from his nurse/home-care worker Stella (Thelma Ritter) and his socialite girlfriend Lisa (Grace Kelly), who desperately wants to marry him, yet he is filled with doubts about their relationship regarding their differing circles and interests. For a film in which the possibility of a neighbourhood murder is seriously considered, interestingly, it is very often not the major focal point of the narrative. Jefferies, Lisa and Stella view their neighbours (as we, the audience also do) voyeuristically and often in a long shot almost as if it’s their own private soap opera on show. The complexity between the various characters and their relationships is staggering. One such example of this is when Miss Lonleyhearts appears to lay out a selection of pills after an unsuccessful date with a younger gentleman. Watching from within his apartment, Jefferies panics and yet the saviour comes from an unlikely source in such a poetic way in a scene which is again expertly handled by Hitchcock.
The imagery has a 1950s crystal glimmer which is an absolute delight and although we are stranded to within the three walls and a window of a city centre apartment, Hitch in no way allows that to be an excuse for not producing some of the most chilling visuals in cinematic history. Thorwald smoking alone in the dark and of course that look (no elaborate spoilers here) provide chills which most horror films of today would give anything to achieve! Even when watching the film now I am still affected by it despite being well into double digits regarding my amount of viewings.
Perhaps one of the greatest issues Rear Window forces audiences to face is that from every view, a story can be constructed. Just how well do you know your neighbours? I’ll never look out of my little Wigan windows in the same way again…
Our next Vintage Sunday movie is Truffaut's The 400 Blows. Join us every Sunday at 6pm for a classic film.