by Allan Fish
(USA 1954 112m) DVD1/2
Preview of coming attractions
p Alfred Hitchcock d Alfred Hitchcock w John Michael Hayes story “It Had to be Murder” by Cornell Woolrich ph Robert Burks ed George Tomasini m Franz Waxman art Hal Pereira, Joseph MacMillan Johnson cos Edith Head
James Stewart (L.B.Jeffries), Grace Kelly (Lisa Carol Fremont), Thelma Ritter (Stella), Wendell Corey (Det.Thomas J.Doyle), Raymond Burr (Lars Thorwald), Judith Evelyn (Miss Lonely Hearts),
Rear Window is a film that splits opinion to this day, and was also a film it took me some time to appreciate. For sure it was always easy to admire the technical virtuosity of the piece, but it was the emotions that took a while to show through. Rather like the later Vertigo, it grows on you. It also contains what is Hitchcock’s most singularly relevant cameo appearance; he’s glimpsed early on setting the time on a clock in an apartment opposite, which could not be more appropriate. He has time in his hands and James Stewart’s L.B.Jeffries has too much time on his hands.
L.B.Jeffries is an action photographer who has broken his leg and is laid up in his apartment for the seventh straight week. His only company are the daily visits of his nurse, Stella, and his rich society girlfriend, fashion expert Lisa Fremont. They warn him about his spending too much time spying out of his window with binoculars and a long focus lens (“you get to looking out the window, seeing things you shouldn’t see; TROUBLE!” says Ritter at one point), but he continues doing so. However, when he begins to believe that one of his neighbours has killed his harridan of a wife, he gets himself and his cohorts in deadly trouble.
Hitch is one of the cinema’s great voyeurs and this is the ultimate expression of that voyeurism. Human beings have an inherent desire to poke their nose in things that don’t concern them, as witness the millions of copies sold by tabloid newspapers, gossip and celebrity magazines. Add to this a photographer’s eye for tiny details and you have a potentially dangerous cocktail. It’s in the end no surprise that Stewart ends up with a matching set of plaster casts on his leg, for it’s all he deserves. He may have solved a murder, but in some ways Burr’s Thorwald is more sympathetic. A pathetic embryonic Laird Cregar of a character with awful silver hair driven to murder by his wife from hell. Certainly Kelly’s society gal, though hotter than a blast furnace at maximum, plays the sort of character it’s easy to be irritated by. I mean, who else orders out at the Twenty One Club and sports $1,100 dresses? Don’t you just hate her, girls? As for Stewart, he’s no less unsympathetic. His treatment of Kelly is at times bordering on the sadistic, his disregard for privacy sometimes nauseating (he may solve a murder, but he spies on everyone else, too) and it’s not too difficult to see him as the representation of Hitchcock himself and the first of the morally ambiguous heroes Stewart played for Hitch (his earlier lead in Rope being a proper good guy). Hitch saw a faint menace in Stewart that so few saw and he developed that darkness still further in Vertigo. Stewart for his part is quite superb and Kelly, too, was never better. As for Ritter, she steals every scene she’s in as the straight-talking Stella who always looks on the morbid side.
And yet, though credit must also go to John Hayes for his witty, complex script, Robert Burks for his memorable cinematography (especially on such a set), Head for her gorgeous use of Grace Kelly’s languid clothes horse, Pereira for his massive set, Waxman for his unobtrusive score and for the use of melodies and songs that are used on the soundtrack (gotta love Bing Crosby crooning ‘To see you is to love you’), most praise must go to Hitch himself. Rear Window really is a piece of incredible cinematic genius, a film of startling complexity and dramatic bravado. Much may have been said about the cruelty on display, and it is full of cruelty (not least in Burr’s murder of the poor dog in the basket), but it only acknowledges our own dark side. It may not quite be as psychologically challenging as Vertigo, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t still one of his finest achievements.