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Rear Window
1954 - PG - 112 Mins.
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Written By: John Michael Hayes
Starring: James Stewart, Grace Kelly, Raymond Burr, Thelma Ritter, Wendell Corey
Review by: John Ulmer
For most of its duration, not a single shot in Alfred Hitchcock's "Rear Window" takes place outside the small, lonely apartment of L.B. Jeffries (James Stewart). Every exterior pan originates through the eyes of the injured photographer, whose broken leg has him restrained to a wheelchair, living off of the meals of his caretaker, Stella (Thelma Ritter).

When his fiancée, Lisa (Grace Kelly), stands outside the window, we see her – but we're still in the room. The camera does not position itself on the sidewalk, or above the flowerbed next to her, or in the window of another room – it stays put.

What Hitchcock does here is nothing short of brilliant – the movie turns us into unconscious voyeurs as we are forced to take on the perspective of the protagonist, and participate in his constant eavesdropping.

This technique of isolation and confinement forms a sort of disturbing effect that smothers the viewer on a subconscious level – we can feel it, but can't necessarily put a finger on what, exactly, it is.

The movie is also particularly risqué for its time – 50 years later it's the sort of film that would probably receive a PG rating (and, in fact, after being restored and re-released in 2000, it did). There is no foul language, no sex, no nudity, no violence (per se), and no drug content. But there are many insinuations – e.g. the mental image Hitchcock forms in his viewers' minds, of the man next door murdering his wife; the innuendo involving Lisa's overnight stay at Jeffries' (and her dress that sparks the interest of a private detective); the newlywed couple next door ("No comment," Jeffries tells Lisa); Miss Torso, the ballerina who lives across the street and the amount of time Jeffries spends watching her dance and change out of clothes.

Jeffries has injured his leg after trying to take a daring photograph -- now he doesn't have a television or any other means of entertainment, so he amuses himself by studying the lives of others. Sound familiar? With "Reality TV" shows such as "Survivor," "Big Brother" and "Fear Factor," America's growing fascination with voyeuristic programming is becoming rather startling. Although the 1987 action picture "The Running Man" (and its source manuscript by Stephen King) is often credited with accurately depicting this odd form of entertainment, "Rear Window" – to a certain degree – predicted it much earlier. 34 years earlier, to be exact.

One night while studying the rooms across the street, Jeffries notices a strange man carrying a briefcase in and out of a darkened room. The man's disabled wife (who demands his constant care) is nowhere to be seen. The next day, she is gone, apparently on a train; but Jeffries notices Thorvald (Raymond Burr), the mysterious man, cleaning a sharp knife in the kitchen sink.

Could he have committed murder? Jeffries believes so, and convinces Lisa and Stella, too. They begin to piece together a number of clues – a disheveled flower bed, a purse, fake letters – that lead to one conclusion: Murder. The problem is that no one else believes them.

A movie such as "Rear Window" would never work nowadays. The main character would entertain himself with technology – not voyeurism. The windows would not be left open for fear of burglary. Police would be more willing to believe such a "far-fetched" story, and the private detective probably wouldn't shrug off Jeffries like he does in the film.

This is evidenced by the poor remake starring Christopher Reeves, made for television – it didn't make any sense because it was set in this day and age, featuring an outdated concept. It almost seemed silly, and was vastly inferior.

But it works in the 1950s, and as a film, "Rear Window' still holds up beautifully today – despite its dated premise (or, at least, execution), the other elements of the story keep it interesting. We are willing to suspend our disbelief because it is so great. And because "back then" the story's progression seems more natural than it ever would today.

The performances are flawless – James Stewart is completely convincing as Jeffries, a man controlled by his own impulses. Likewise Hitchcock's typical blonde love interest, Grace Kelly, is marvelous – beautiful and likable, willing to do anything for Jeffries, which includes breaking into Thorvald's room while he's out and about (which results in one of the most nerve-jangling suspense sequences of all time). And Raymond Burr is utterly petrifying as Thorvald, who is almost always seen from a distance, with his odd white hair and continually narrowed eyes that just scream murder.

"Rear Window" is often considered by most critics to be Alfred Hitchcock's greatest masterpiece. For my money, "Psycho" (1960) is his best – but "Rear Window" may very well be number two. With a career comprised of some truly amazing motion pictures ("The 39 Steps," "The Lady Vanishes," "The Man Who Knew Too Much," "Shadow of a Doubt," "Strangers on a Train," "Vertigo," etc.), it will always be hard to choose Hitchcock's "best" movie – but in terms of narrative, and filmmaking, and acting, "Rear Window" could justifiably be called one of his all-time greatest. And, all considered, that's not a compliment to be taken very lightly.
Movie Guru Rating
A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic.
  5 out of 5 stars

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