Like the Greenwich Village courtyard view from its titular portal, Alfred Hitchcock's classic Rear Window is both confined and multileveled: both its story and visual perspective are dictated by its protagonist's imprisonment in his apartment, convalescing in a wheelchair, from which both he and the audience observe the lives of his neighbors. Cheerful voyeurism, as well as the behavior glimpsed among the various tenants, affords a droll comic atmosphere that gradually darkens when he sees clues to what may be a murder.
Photographer L.B. "Jeff" Jeffries (James Stewart) is, in fact, a voyeur by trade, a professional photographer sidelined by an accident while on assignment. His immersion in the human drama (and comedy) visible from his window is a by-product of boredom, underlined by the disapproval of his girlfriend, Lisa (Grace Kelly), and a wisecracking visiting nurse (Thelma Ritter). Yet when the invalid wife of Lars Thorwald (Raymond Burr) disappears, Jeff enlists the two women to help him to determine whether she's really left town, as Thorwald insists, or been murdered.
Hitchcock scholar Donald Spoto convincingly argues that the crime at the center of this mystery is the MacGuffin--a mere pretext--in a film that's more interested in the implications of Jeff's sentinel perspective. We actually learn more about the lives of the other neighbors (given generic names by Jeff, even as he's drawn into their lives) he, and we, watch undetected than we do the putative murderer and his victim. Jeff's evident fear of intimacy and commitment with the elegant, adoring Lisa provides the other vital thread to the script, one woven not only into the couple's own relationship, but reflected and even commented upon through the various neighbors' lives.
At minimum, Hitchcock's skill at making us accomplices to Jeff's spying, coupled with an ingenious escalation of suspense as the teasingly vague evidence coalesces into ominous proof, deliver a superb thriller spiked with droll humor, right up to its nail-biting, nightmarish climax. At deeper levels, however, Rear Window plumbs issues of moral responsibility and emotional honesty, while offering further proof (were any needed) of the director's brilliance as a visual storyteller. --Sam Sutherland
Spotlight customer reviews:
Customer Rating: Summary: Voyerism Never Looked So Good Comment: Released in 1954, REAR WINDOW was a major success with critics and public alike--and unlike some Hitchcock films, which were praised at the time but negatively re-evaluated, it has held up incredibly well over time.
Loosely suggested by several notorious crimes, the premise of REAR WINDOW is widely famous. Photographer L.B. Jefferies (Jimmy Stewart) is confined to his New York apartment with a broken leg, alternately nursed and harrassed by his elegant girl friend Lisa (Grace Kelly) and pragmatic day nurse Stella (Thelma Ritter.) Annoyed and bored, he begins to watch his neighbors across the courtyard--and soon notices the activites of Mr. and Mrs. Thorwald (Raymond Burr and Irene Winston.) Their quarrels quite suddenly cease, Mrs. Thorwald is no longer visible, and Mr. Thorwald is expectedly given to taking packages out of the house. Is it murder?
The set for REAR WINDOW has long garnered a great deal of attention, and deservedly so: it is a meticulous sound stage re-creation of New York apartment buildings of the era, and with few exceptions both the camera work and sound effects are presented from Jefferies' point of view: we see what he sees and hear what he hears. In the process, we become as much of a peeping tom as Jefferies himself, a device that tends to make audiences increasingly squirm as the film progresses. At the same time, however, we are also privy to Jefferies' private life, most particularly his rocky relationship with Lisa, who wants marriage but whom Jefferies rejects as incompatible with his own lifestyle.
The performances here are extraordinary, with James Stewart cast against type as Jefferies and Grace Kelly sparkling as the high-fashion Lisa. But the real stunner is the supporting cast, which ranges from the truly remarkable Thelma Ritter to the host of players who are glimpsed from Jefferies' window as they go about their daily routines: the lonely lady, the musician, the newly married couple, the scultor, the woman with the dog--and, of course, "Miss Torso," a particularly voluptuous blonde who spends her time in what Lisa calls "a woman's hardest job: juggling wolves!"
This is Hitchcock working at the peak of his talents, working his themes of isolation, vulnerability, and most particularly voyerism to the nth degree. The script is tight, the cinematography is flawless, and the production designs are beyond perfection. Critics may argue which film can be regarded as Hitchcock's ultimate masterpiece, but even the most picky among them will place REAR WINDOW either at or very near the top slot--and so will you. Truly memorable and beautifully restored on this DVD release. Recommended.
GFT, Amazon Reviewer Customer Rating: Summary: GALILEO STEWART? Comment: When Alfred Hitchcock offered the lead role in this film to Jimmy Stewart in 1954, Stewart was reluctant:"Gee, that didn't seem like much of a part. But, Hitch could do that..create a good film out of next to nothing." So, Hitchcock paired Stewart with Grace Kelly (old enough to be his daughter) and came up with a gem. which seems to have faded a bit with time. Laid up with a broken leg, Stewart all but rejects his girlfriend, Kelly, preferring to snoop on the neighbors with a pair of binoculars. Just imagine a Matt Damon or a Leo DiCaprio pulling a stunt like this today with a Kate Winslet type, Anyway, Stewart"s reconnaissance missions eventually turn up what he's convinced is a wife murderer; the type that likes to dismember his victim. But our voyeur is having the darndest time convincing police officer Corey until... This is still a very good movie, well worth your time. But time does change one's perspective, especially after 53 years. Customer Rating: Summary: MAE Comment: An excellent movie. A true classic. Very suspenseful. It's great to be able to watch these old movies. Grace Kelly was an amazing actress as well as the rest of the cast. A must see. Customer Rating: Summary: A little slow by modern standards... Comment: It has taken me a long time to get around to watching Rear Window. Perhaps the wait made me expect too much. Maybe this movie just suffers in my mind because I watched it not long after watching the masterful North By Northwest.
Whatever the case, I was left a little underwhelmed.
Jimmy Stewart is great, as usual. Grace Kelly is a knockout. I even like the nurse.
Yet this movie drags.
As I explained to my wife, who fell asleep a half hour in, not much happens. They sit around. They sit around some more.
And then--boom. There is an ending. While this movie has all the stylish atmosphere you could want out of a Hitchcock movie, it does not rise the level of a Psycho, Vertigo, or North By Northwest.
Rear Window is worth watching. It has some very funny dialogue and a couple of iconic moments. I just don't recommend investing in your own copy unless you are a Hitchcock completist. Customer Rating: Summary: One of the Best Thrillers of 20th century Film Comment: Rear window was taken from a short story entitled, "It had to be Murder" by Cornell Woolrich and adapted to the screen by John Michael Hayes (The Man Who Knew Too Much) & (To Catch a Thief (Special Collector's Edition)). To Catch a Thief was Hayes's second collaboration with Hitchcock after Rear Window.
What makes this particular thriller one of the all time greats in cinematic history is its simplicity, revealing human nature's tendency to voyeurism.
L. B. Jefferies (Jimmy Stewart) is a photo journalist, forced to sit in his apartment because of a broken leg. He becomes extremely bored because his only contact to the outside world is his editor by phone, his nurse played with humour and charm, Stella (Thelma Ritter) and his stunning, rich girlfriend, Lisa Carole Fremont, (Grace Kelly) To alleviate his boredom, through the lens of his telescopic camera, he is able to spy on all his neighbours through his back window. It is through Jeffries eyes that the story is told as we get to know so many different characters with their interesting, mundane, sometimes lonely and murderous lives.
Jefferies girlfriend, Lisa, visits him frequently, and in one scene brings in a catered dinner of lobster and fine champagne, looking absolutely ravishing to get Jefferies to stop obsessing with his telescope and his spying. Despite her beauty and the brilliant food, Jefferies has a suspicion: one of his neighbours has killed his wife, chopped up her body, and disposes the evidence in several trips with a suitcase. This fixation turns obsessive and suddenly manic as the evidence mounts against the "husband" (Raymond Burr).
There are two story-telling devices that make a great thriller, mounting tension and the element of surprise. Rear Window has these qualities and much more.
For me the best aspect of this film is the stories within the main story. Through the eyes of Jefferies we become intimate with his neighbours and their various situations, some interesting, some plain evil, some mostly sad and terribly lonely. It's like the old adage: if you feel your life is a drag, look at other lives and miraculously, your problems are not that serious or sad.
I remember watching this film as a child and almost climbing the walls in fear at the end. Viewing the film so many years later, I didn't climb the walls but felt the same tension.
Rear Window has to be one of the great thrillers in the history of film.