Directed by Alfred Hitchcock (1954)
by Sandy DeVito
The reason Hitchcock will always be synonymous with great filmmaking is because he knew how to make a seemingly banal setting into a grand dramatic stage, and could convey "normal" people the way we, humanity, really are -- convoluted, morally ambiguous beyond our liking, and each living our own complex and layered experience. Nowhere is this more magnified than in Rear Window, a masterpiece of subtle loveliness, suspense, and sophisticated narrative.
L.B. Jeffries (Jimmy Stewart, always unforgettable) is a photographer recuperating in his apartment with a broken leg after an accident. He has a beautiful girlfriend, Lisa (Grace Kelly -- an absolute vision), a fashion consultant, but he's concerned they have nothing in common and she could never deal with the unglamorous life of a location photo-journalist. He spends the dull days of his leave wheelchair-bound, looking out his window into the lives of his neighbors to pass the time, from a lovely dancer to a divorced pianist to a lonely woman who eats dinner alone every night, to a couple that bickers constantly, the wife bedridden. As the days pass, however, he notices the bedridden wife inexplicably has disappeared, and her husband is acting very strangely. He begins to believe a murder has taken place, and garners clues to support his theory, enlisting the help of Lisa and his insurance-supplied nurse.
I found this film enthralling and utterly enchanting. I've been meaning to cover my Hitchcocks for awhile as I haven't seen most of his work, and by the halfway point, I understood why he is considered such a legend. The intimacy of the neighborhood is one of the great masterstrokes here; it was a special set that cost almost $100,000 to build, and it holds up today. It brings us closer to the tiny lives on display, and we are fascinated just as Jeffries is by the seemingly ordinary but endlessly interesting experiences of other people that we normally would never get to see. When the mystery develops, it's icing on a cake already built with expertise and an understated grace of composition. Both Stewart and Kelly are at their utter best here, and their chemistry is electric. Kelly in particular is impossible to keep your eyes off of, a movie star that all other movie stars must aspire to. She's mesmerizing. And she gives Lisa layer upon layer of nuance far beyond her beauty. By the end, Jeffries, like us, knows her to be strong-willed and fearless beyond her loveliness.
A true classic imitated countless times but never equaled, Rear Window is a testament to the worth of narratives that emphasize the greatness in small details, good characters, and truly innovative storytelling.