Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Rear Window (1954)

One of Hitchcock greatest films, Rear Window is an ode to voyeurism that effortlessly combines mystery, wit, and romance, and has some interesting things to say about both the movies and moviegoers. Hitchcock is at the height of his powers, and his complete control of the film means there is not a wasted scene or line.

James Stewart plays L.B. Jeffries, a globe-trotting, thrill-seeking news photographer whose last assignment left him with a broken leg. Apart from visits from his socialite girlfriend Lisa (Grace Kelly), and his insurance company nurse Stella (Thelma Ritter), he is forced to spend the summer cooped up in his apartment, passing the time by taking an interest in the lives of his neighbours in the courtyard opposite. There is the beautiful ballet dancer, the newly married couple, Miss Lonely Hearts, a composer struggling with writer's block - and a salesman, Lars Thorwald (Raymond Burr) and his bedridden wife. When the wife mysteriously disappears, Jeffries begins to think there is something sinister going on.

The whole story takes place in one room, something Hitchcock had attempted before with the flawed but interesting Rope, but here there are two important differences. Firstly, while Rope was set in real time, Rear Window takes place over a week or so, giving more time to introduce the characters and build up the storyline. Secondly, in Rear Window, the location is used to provide a portal into a much larger world.

The window itself becomes a metaphor for the screen that we watch the film on. What he is seeing is just like a movie. The characters and story form, he gets gripped by this, but at tense heart stopping moments, he is almost always as powerless to intervene as we are, and like us, is reduced to the role of passive voyeur.

The theme even extends beyond the on screen characters, to take in our viewing of the relationship between the two leads. There is great chemistry between the leads, and several times Hitchcock shoots passionate scenes between Stewart and Kelly in such an extreme close manner that we begin to feel like voyeurs.

However, in a further twist, Jeffries goes beyond the role of passive voyeur, when he tries to intervene in the plot of the unfolding story. After antagonising his chief suspect, said suspect performs the equivalent of the movie monster coming out of the cinema screen and into his real life, threatening him physically.

Hitchcock's genius is to set all this within a tense, witty suspense thriller with two gorgeous likeable and charismatic stars, and a great supporting cast, particularly the sinister Burr, and Thelma Ritter as Jeffries' droll nurse Stella, whose disapproving attitude towards the sleuthing soon morphs into morbid fascination.