Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Written by John Michael Hayes
My four favorite words in cinema are “written and directed by”. There is just something about one creative artist being able to take an idea and a story and have complete control to translate to the screen and to the audience. I have always felt that this streamlined vision has generally been better than adaptations. There are of course exceptions and plenty of them, but at the end of the day I remain a writer/director kind of guy. But one of the biggest, most obvious exceptions is Alfred Hitchcock, who would be in the conversation for my favorite director ever. And yet, apart from a few of his earlier British works, Hitch never wrote any of his films, and certainly not his “masterpieces”. So that begs the question: how involved in the screenplay was Hitch? And if he was not, well then he is still perhaps the greatest visual storyteller ever.
Rear Window is one of his classic’s and one I had seen before I sat down in the theater for another rendition of Hitchcocktober. It follows the pastime of injured photographer L.B. Jeffries (James Stewart), who sits at home in his New York apartment, eavesdropping on his various neighbors and their varying personalities. Joined by his insurance nurse Stella (Thelma Ritter) and his fashionista girlfriend Lisa (Grace Kelly), Jeff begins to suspect that his neighbor Mr. Thorwald (Raymond Burr) has murdered his wife. When his war buddy detective Doyle (Wendell Corey) fails to believe him, Jeffries and company take matters into their own hands to catch the killer.
This is a film that excels at creating mood and a sense of setting. It really takes its time in the early going to develop the characters, and all of them, so that the payoff in the end is even greater. This pace may alienate some, but the characters are so interesting I was not one of them. Despite being a mysterious thriller, the film really remains light pretty much all the way through with the interplay between Jeffries and Stella and Lisa, who condemn his peeping tom hobby. I was surprised at how breezy the comedy was, but then again the infectious Thelma Ritter as Stella will do that to any movie. She is completely awesome and I do not know how I had forgotten that she was in this film. But despite the playfulness, Rear Window is still a thriller to be reckoned with, and it is because of the slow gestating set-up.
Hitchcock knows how to put images together to tell a story, that point is fairly unanimously agreed upon, but the reason he succeeds here is the little things. With a film that takes place entirely in the back courtyard of an apartment complex, the choreography of the film must be precise, and some of the longer takes are beautifully composed. We get to know each of the neighbors and what makes them tick, how they are different from each other and similar. Miss Torso, the composer, Miss Lonelyhearts and Mr. Thorwald are all the same, but the devil is in the details, something Hitchcock pays special attention to, which makes him a master of his art.
Entering the prospect of this Hitchcocktober, I thought Rear Window would be the one of the bunch to impress me the most. I think Vertigo was more impressive on the big screen, but Rear Window is still one hell of a film with no real quarrels. Vertigo was just bigger. Rear Window is more focused on Jeffries and what it means to be a neighbor and your brother’s keeper. Jeffries flirts with the line between the two and Stewart is just as joyous to watch as ever, even if I found it marginally difficult to believe him as an adventurous photographer, but we never had to see him outside of the wheelchair. And Grace Kelly is maybe the most beautiful of Hitch’s blonde bombshells. Everything comes together so well and so effortlessly. With Hitchcock, his films always seem to develop in such a natural, organic way that you can’t help but fall in love with his films. Rear Window is one of the finest examples of his genius.