What Rear Window Means to Us
I absolutely love this film. It is without a doubt my favorite Hitchcock film. It could be because it was the first movie I saw on the big screen when I was a kid. I believe it was probably for the film’s 30th anniversary or something. I was probably 8 or 9, but I instantly loved the movie. The suspense of it all is incredible. It’s all because of the low-use location. In New York City, one apartment overlooks the back of a dozen other apartments. It’s fantastic. And Grace Kelly… she’s absolutely stunning in the film. Her entrance scene is spectacular. The contrast between her socialite status and Jimmy Stewart’s working man/traveling photographer persona makes for one of the greatest on screen couples of all time. She doesn’t play the role as someone who isn’t willing to get a little dirty. She’s right there with her man in the think of it all. And to be honest, I like to think this film made me want to be a photographer when I got older.
10/10 if you ask me.
– K. Alvarez
For my wife and I, Rear Window is OUR movie, a beloved old friend that we first saw when we were just friends thinking we could be something more. In our hearts I think we wanted to be Grace Kelly and Jimmy Stewart, watching the neighborhood together and trying to catch a killer. It was the romance of the film, but also that feeling of watching something with a kindred soul that appreciated it in the same way you did. We’ve seen it many times since, and our enjoyment of it never fades. If anything, our appreciation has grown as we’ve watched more films together. I’m usually the one digging into the extras on the Blu-ray about how the neighborhood was one huge set and the songwriter actor went on to create Alvin and the Chipmunks, but Moe is always the one to point out little things like how the finding of the dog is one of the few scenes where we see the apartments from angles that can’t be from Jeff’s window. Some couples have “their” songs, the one that when they hear it brings them back to their first meeting. For us it was always Rear Window, and always will be.
– Bob Cram
“I’ve seen it through that window. I’ve seen bickering and family quarrels and mysterious trips at night, knives and saws and ropes, and now since last evening, not a sign of the wife.”
Hitchcock and Voyeurism
From the very first scene, director Alfred Hitchcock wastes no time taking us into the lives of various residents living in Greenwich Village. The camera pans across the brick buildings and open windows before pulling us into the apartment of L. B. “Jeff” Jefferies. As he sleeps, we see he’s in a wheelchair with a broken leg… but the camera doesn’t stop there. It continues along inside his apartment, revealing a broken camera, photographs, and magazines. It’s in Jeff’s apartment that we stay throughout the remainder of the film, essentially trapping us into that wheelchair with Jeff.
The premise of the film is simple but effective. Hitchcock weaves the story so effortlessly, building taut suspense with every glimpse into the windows of Jefferies’s neighbors and most notably, the Thorwalds, an unhappily married couple whose union may have ended in murder with Jefferies as the only witness.
I have no doubt that there have been dozens of voyeuristic analyses written about Rear Window but Hitchcock makes it quite simple for the audience. We slow down at a traffic accident because we’re curious about the morbid and macabre. We peek out our windows to see what our neighbors are up to, because we want to know about their lives, even at their most mundane. Perhaps we’re so bored with our own selves that we see a strange situation and wonder if something sinister is happening. Is it truly boredom? Paranoia? Jefferies has been stuck in his wheelchair for six weeks, staring into the same windows day after day. Did he truly witness a murder, or has he created something in his head to focus on beyond his own life.
James Stewart is perfectly cast as Jefferies. Like so many of his roles in Hollywood, he is the normal, slightly bland everyman that somehow holds an incredible amount of charm that keeps you rooting for him, no matter his circumstances. In Rear Window, we know what he’s doing is wrong, yet we continue watching, curious as to what he’ll see next. His girlfriend Lisa, and nurse Stella, also scold him for being nosy and spying on his neighbors, and yet, they’re also pulled into his suspicions of Mr. Thorwald when they happen to also observe questionable behavior from the man.
While Jefferies’s focus is almost solely on Thorwald, that doesn’t stop him from continuing to peer into the lives of his other neighbors. From his point of view alone we get to know Miss Lonelyhearts, a single, lonely woman, Miss Torso, a dancer, a pair of newlyweds, a pianist, and a woman with a cute little dog that loves to dig up Mr. Thorwald’s garden. It’s a testament to Hitchcock’s direction that we’re able to get to know and care for (or maybe despise) these strangers while never hearing them say a word.
What I found the most compelling about those living in Greenwich Village is that while Jefferies, Stella, and Lisa want to know whether or not Mr. Throwald is a murderer, it’s born out of morbid curiosity, rather than any real concern for Mrs. Throwald. She is the one character in the entire movie that we care about the least, even though she’s the one who likely met a rather violent end. We feel more grief for the murdered dog than we do for poor Mrs. Throwald.
“Intelligence. Nothing has caused the human race so much trouble as intelligence.”
While the entire film is a brilliant exercise in ratcheting tension, nothing quite tops the last fifteen minutes of the movie which races towards the final confrontation between Jefferies and Throwald. Jefferies has been spying on Thorwald under the cover of darkness and now it’s his turn to be stalked by Throwald, who hides in the shadows of Jefferies’s apartment. With Jefferies still incapacitated by his broken leg, there’s nowhere for him to hide, nowhere for him to run. It’s the kind of sequence where you hold your breath as your heart races, even if you know how it’s going to end. And of course, Jefferies tries to save his own life by blinding Throwald with camera bulbs, finally thrusting them both into the light. Like the rest of the movie, the climax is so simplistic in its execution but it’s so brilliantly effective.
Touted as a masterpiece of suspense, Rear Window has been consistently listed among the greatest films of all time. It was selected for preservation by the National Film Registry in 1997 and continues to influence filmmakers even today. It’s difficult, if not damn near impossible to imitate Hitchcock’s ability to create such claustrophobic situations and tension without resorting to cheap tricks or a convoluted premise. He’s the master of suspense for a reason and Rear Window is certainly one of his best, a film that continues to be watched and studied by cinephiles even today.
Have you seen Rear Window? What did you think of the film? Share it in the comments below!