At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Rear Window “54”

MPAA Rating: PG/ Genre: Mystery-Thriller/ Stars: James Stewart, Grace Kelly, Wendell Corey, Thelma Ritter, Raymond Burr, Judith Evelyn, Ross Bagdasarian, Georgine Darcy, Frank Cady, Sara Berner, Jesslyn Fax/ Runtime: 112 minutes

It is my distinct opinion that although legendary film helmer Alfred Hitchcock is seen by the vast majority of the movie-going community to be the master of thrills, I also feel he was an expert at comprehending the very concept of human nature itself. Indeed, more than anything else, Hitchcock intuitively comprehended that people may be voyeurs at their base, not usually in any perverted manner mind you, but rather in the curious manner. Indeed we as a species are the kind of creature that chooses to slow their modes of transport down to stare at the horrific aftermaths of accidents or looking quite intriguingly at pairs of lovers embraced in each other’s arms and who are oblivious to anything but each other to name but a few examples. Indeed I think this, on a subconscious level, is why people really enjoy watching movies and TV as much as we do in that it gives the ability to engage in a form of voyeurism where there is no guilt attached. Indeed when we watch a movie are we not, for all intents and purposes, peering through a particular window and spying on people who have to act as if they are unaware we are there? Suffice it to say that Hitchcock comprehended this brilliantly, and as a result, was able to take the concept of voyeurism to the next level by giving us a movie that allowed audiences to view a voyeur in action as he engaged in the act of watching others only to find himself caught up in a nefarious and puzzling mystery in the process. Indeed even though to many audiences, Rear Window on the total sum of its parts was not quite of the same caliber as say Psycho, North by Northwest, and Vertigo (a view I politely disagree with), I also feel that this film is just as mesmerizing a cinematic achievement because of how it hits really close to an obsession that is key to defining us as people…..though the fact that the mystery is just as engaging and the cast is as terrific as ever among a few other attributes certainly doesn’t hurt.

The plot is as follows: Rear Window tells the story a man by the name of L.B Jeffries aka Jeff. A man who, in addition to being known in some regard as a top-notch photographer, is, when our narrative opens up, finding himself stuck in his apartment after he broke his leg whilst on assignment. To that end, Jeff has a pair of women coming to his apartment to help him out: his snarky and quippy nurse by the name of Stella and the other is his gorgeous and longtime significant other by the name of Lisa Fremont whose choice of occupation is as a fashion model of some skill and talent. However when they aren’t there, Jeff is only too quick to find himself falling prey to that natural human condition known as boredom. Thus to cure himself, however temporarily, from this horrific ailment, Jeff decides to “have some fun” and spy on the people he calls neighbors with the aid of his binoculars. A group that, we soon learn, includes, but is not limited to a pair of women by the name of Miss Lonely Hearts who spends her time making gourmet dinners for imaginary dinner guests and Miss Torso who passes her time by….entertaining various male figures just to name a couple of the individuals he watches every single day. Yet for all their differences each of them all does have at least one thing in common: they are all seemingly benevolent in nearly every way. This, of course, all changes however when one stormy night, Jeff observes what looks like a neighbor of his by the name of Thorwald leaving his apartment on at least three different occasions with a trunk. Nothing odd about that…..until Jeff realizes that Thorwald’s invalid and hen-pecking of a wife is no longer around their apartment. A fact that makes our intrepid hero immediately suspicious to the extent that he soon strongly starts to suspect a homicide most foul has taken place. Thus with the aid of Stella, Lisa, and a friend of his on the police force by the name of Tom Doyle, Jeff begins trying to put the pieces to this insidious puzzle together in the hopes of uncovering the potentially sinister truth…..

Now Rear Window is a terrific example of Hitchcock’s immense creativity and style when movie making in action. Indeed while this film does, unsurprisingly, possess a terrific narrative and equally as potent dialogue, it’s also the manner in which Hitch chooses to tell the tale that is what makes this even more astonishing. Indeed by establishing the main character be completely wheelchair-ridden due to breaking his leg, Hitchcock is then able to have the whole movie filmed from the point of view of the apartment to the extent that the camera never leaves that location. As such, quite a few significant techniques in movie making would be needed in order to bring this truly complex narrative vividly to life. Now it is also worth noting that, in case this wasn’t enough of a challenging set-up, I should also point out that Hitchcock was limited to only a few kinds of camera angles since the whole film is shot from a distinct point of view. Yet despite his camera angle list being severely detracted, Hitchcock still managed to utilize the ones that were available to the best of his ability in propelling the narrative onward. For example every camera shot from the apartment out into the world is first and foremost a long shot since that is how anyone looking out from the apartment would see what is going on. Now although the long shots do give you the basics for what is occurring in any given moment in this film, it is not exactly able to be as detailed as we might like. To that end whenever Jeff snares his binoculars to get a closer look, a close-up camera shot is then used so that way we can see exactly what Jeff sees, and in the process showing us the same attention to details as well. Another technical piece of ingenuity that Hitchcock blends into the narrative is his usage of both the light and the dark. Indeed fairly early on in the narrative, our main character discovers in the midst of his spying that he could potentially be caught. Thus, and having to think quickly, he decides to wheel himself back into the dark shadows of his not lit apartment in order to hide and, finding it successful, repeats it several more times in the movie thus creating the suspense for the viewer that they, and Jefferies, could potentially be discovered. Finally it should also be noted that even though Hitchcock ingeniously utilizes little camera tricks to conjure up both curiosity and unease in the movie, he also brilliantly utilizes a concept known as mise en scene in order for him to be able to with skill and care construct every scene and also place every single thing right where it needs to be to brilliantly tell this intriguing narrative to us at just the right pace.

Yet I also think it is intriguing and worth pointing out that a lot of the so-called “mysteries” which the film manages to conjure up are created simply due to the film being from the point of view of the main characters. For instance, we see the neighbor who is the main target for Jeff’s suspicion giving his wife grief, but their window shade is down thus ensuring that neither Jeff nor you, the viewer really truly knows just what is going on across the way. Indeed it almost feels like every item in every single scene and every wall or blocker has been arranged by Hitch to conjure up in the audience a vibe of both unease and intrigue even though we, along with Jeff, are rooted firmly in a spot that is far away from where everything is occurring. To that end, I will say that this is a riveting look at what happens when a director on the caliber of Alfred Hitchcock decides to test just where the limits of his imagination lie when at the helm of a movie. Indeed, the fact that he was able to give us an engrossing and intriguing narrative from the point of view from a person who, when you stop and think about it, doesn’t walk ever in the entire film simply shows how immensely talented and creative the man was. The fact that he also seamlessly includes creative camera angles as well as ingenious placement of things within a scene so that way the movie viewer feels like we are seeing things the way the main character does plus not to mention conjuring up an intriguing and well-crafted world just from the perspective of a single window is just icing on the cake after that.

Now the cast that are given the honor of playing in this particular Hitchcock sandbox all manage to do, quite unsurprisingly, wonderful work in this film. This starts with acting icon and just all-around decent guy Jimmy Stewart in the lead role and he is superb with a delightful hint of both cagey wit as well as unashamed obsession about him. Indeed to be a terrific photographer you must be in possession of both a visual perceptiveness that is just part of who you are and a degree of creativity in that you are able to tell an entire narrative for people with just a single image and Stewart is able to tap into this mentality brilliantly thus adding another winning performance to his legendary resume. In addition we also get wonderful work from the lovely actress that was Miss Grace Kelly. Indeed even though far too often she was seen as being no more than an “ice maiden” in quite a few of the movies she performed in, that is most certainly not the case in this film. Indeed as Jeff’s loving and supportive girlfriend Lisa, she is a delightful blend of confident yet reckless and quite playful and wild…..much to the chagrin of Jeff in a lot of ways. I also found myself enjoying Thelma Ritter’s engaging performance in this as Jeff’s sassy and semi-reluctant yet also doting nurse Stella. Indeed she and Stewart have terrific banter together when they share the screen in this and this also really just makes for another winning entry in the filmography of a truly terrific character actress. Finally I think it should also be pointed out that none other than Raymond Burr (the original Perry Mason) quite often does not get nearly as much praise or attention for the role of Thorwald that he deserves. Yes the role is supposed to be quite the enigma since we are seeing this world through the eyes of Jeff, a man who hasn’t really taken the time to get to know his neighbors, and yes the role is mostly physical in nature and more often than not we only see him from a distance. Nevertheless Burr manages to instill in this character both a vibe of suspicion and seemingly sinister unease right off the bat, but he also manages to excel at giving us a character we are constantly wondering about right until the very end.

All in all it may be one of Hitchcock’s most iconic masterpieces, but it should be noted that, apart from its legacy as a Hitchcock film, Rear Window on its own is an immense and engaging iconic film with quite a few positives to his name as well as a little bit of everything to appease as many movie lovers as possible. Indeed we get a terrific and thrilling narrative mixed with a delightful degree of romantic tension in the main narrative, and there are a number of mini arcs apart from that. Indeed some of them are comical, and some of them are touching, but all of them carrying themes of a psychological nature. As for the cast of characters they are all brought quite vividly to life plus it also doesn’t hurt the film that the seemingly simplistic setting for the film in the form of the apartment complex where our hero lives is transformed into a world unto itself that is full of curious and sometimes quite unnerving prospective things. A fact that helps make sure that this seemingly ordinary neighborhood is brought vividly to life with an abundance of extraordinary detail and a smattering of intriguing minor characters. Indeed it really truly is the kind of movie magic that, like a lot of the best films that Hitchcock ever made, that is quite favorable in regards to the movie goer. Indeed this is because the movie helmer believes that their target audience will pay attention to really treasure the numerous subtle things that they have inserted into the film. An idea that by doing so rewards both paying careful enough attention and watching the film multiple times in equal measure since there is more to the film than just a thrilling narrative as good as that tale is in and out of itself. Finally it should also be pointed out that Rear Window is also quite one of the more retrospective films I have had the pleasure of seeing. Indeed in the time length of approximately a couple of hours, the movie manages to go in-depth on some of the more re-emerging concepts in the world of movie magic. Indeed when we as movie lovers view Rear Window, we are actually, when you stop and think about it, watching an individual who is in the act of watching another individual. A fact that becomes even more unnerving when you realize that Hitchcock was also most likely sitting on another balcony and viewing our responses to what goes on in the film. Indeed it really is an act of blatant voyeurism being piled on top of another act of blatant voyeurism, but at least by doing so it does give audiences the chance to inspect their individual behavior as we find ourselves mesmerized by the world that Hitchcock has created. Indeed the only ingredient that I feel was lacking from the finished film was a moment where our hero is utilizing his binoculars only to see himself in the glass of a mirror. Indeed since the first time I had the pleasure of seeing this film I have often wondered just why would Hitchcock leave such a moment out of the finished film? As far as I can tell I have come up with a pair of guesses that are by far the best that I can do. In that regard I think it was because either maybe it might have been way too obvious for what his movie was trying to do or maybe, just maybe it was because Hitchcock was fearful that those who watch this film might just see their own reflection in the lens. A fact that is perhaps the most terrifying thing of all…..On a scale of 1-5 I give Rear Window “54” a solid 5 out of 5.

Note to the reader: Below is the trailer for the movie; don’t worry there aren’t any spoilers in it. I just thought, to avoid any confusion, you should know this trailer was for the re-release of this film hence all the references to Psycho which came out 4 years after this movie did. Thank you again for all of your support, and I hope you are all staying safe and healthy and I’ll see you guys….at the movies! Ag