“A murderer would never parade his crime in front of an open window”Review by Lily Taylor
It’s a Hitchcock so you know it’s going to be good, right? Hailed as one of his best works, it’s safe to say I had high hopes and ‘Rear Window’ certainly did not disappoint.
James Stewart stars as L.B. ‘Jeff’ Jefferies, an adventurous photographer turned prisoner in his own home after an accident on the job lands him with a broken leg. Jeff’s apartment window looks out into a courtyard surrounded by multiple other apartments and in the hot Manhattan summer his neighbours are forced to leave their windows open. With little else to entertain him, Jeff watches his neighbour’s comings and goings; ’Miss Lonelyhearts’ eating dinner with her invisible boyfriend, ‘Miss Torso’ the exuberant ballerina, ‘Mr and Mrs Thorwald’ an older, quarrelsome couple and several other noteworthy characters. For the dog lovers amongst you, there is also a small good boy who is lowered from his first floor apartment into his garden in a wicker basket.
Jeff is often joined in neighbourhood watch duty by his straight talking nurse Stella (Thelma Ritter) and his rather cosmopolitan girlfriend Lisa (Grace Kelly). The trio witness some suspicious events in the Thorwald’s apartment leading them to suspect that Mrs Thorwald has met a rather unsavoury end. Whilst confined to his apartment, Jeff ruminates on Lars Thorwald’s (Raymond Burr) actions and enlists the help of a detective friend to investigate but he reports back that all is well with Mrs Thorwald and she has simply travelled upstate and confirmed her safe arrival in a letter. Naturally, it would be a rather mundane story if it all ended there!
The most amazing thing about ‘Rear Window’ is the way that the entire movie is filmed from a single apartment room. Considering this film came out in 1954 there’s no fancy editing or CGI and yet, such a simplistic setup is made so dynamic with lengthy panning shots and you truly feel as though you’re standing in Jeff’s shoes- or sitting in Jeff’s wheelchair as it were. The attention to detail in terms of cinematography is immense, I particularly love the reflection of the courtyard in Jeff’s camera lens as he tries to spy on Lars Thorwald. Another scene that stands out in my memory is one in which all the neighbours are leaning out of their windows as something causes a scene in the courtyard, all except one. Mr Thorwald’s apartment is pitch black with the lights turned out and all we see is the light of his glowing cigar puncturing the darkness. So simple but so chilling, just what you expect from Hitchcock.
I have zero complaints about the casting, every role was acted out beautifully. James Stewart has very restricted movement due to his broken leg and spends the vast majority of the film restricted to his wheelchair. However, he has one of those incredibly animated and emotive faces so that, even when he is alone in a scene, there is no doubt about what he is trying to convey to the viewer. Quite possibly my favourite character was Stella the insurance company nurse. She is brutally honest with Jeff, wonderfully sarcastic and Ritter plays the part spot on. Similarly, I thought Grace Kelly was the epitome of elegance throughout the film even when Lisa finds herself in a sticky situation. Her character development was particularly strong as we start the film seeing her as a demure socialite and by the end of it she proves herself to be the 1950’s equivalent of a badass bitch. As Lisa’s nature is revealed to Jeff the pair seem increasingly suited to one another and it’s clear that he admires her courage and bravery. Although it’s quite a serious film, the three main characters succeed in delivering dry humour in all the right places; it strikes the perfect balance between comedy and edge of your seat suspense.
I have just two teeny-tiny qualms with this film and to be honest, one of them isn’t even really a qualm. There is a particular scene right at the end of the film that requires some CGI (if you’ve seen it then you’ll hopefully know exactly the scene I mean) and honestly it leaves a lot to be desired. Having said that, I think you have to take the ‘special effects’ with a pinch of salt and just remember that this movie was released in the same year as Bob Dylan’s Bar Mitzvah, so I guess you could say it’s a little old. The second little thing that I noticed was the lighting in the doorway of Jeff’s apartment. On a couple of occasions he is talking to Lisa or detective Doyle as they are about to leave the room and the lighting is super minimal. Honestly, I’m just being picky for the sake of a review and these things really don’t detract from the movie as a whole.