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Rear Window
Crime, Thriller, Mystery, Romance
IMDB rating:
Alfred Hitchcock
James Stewart as L. B. 'Jeff' Jefferies
Grace Kelly as Lisa Carol Fremont
Wendell Corey as Det. Lt. Thomas J. Doyle
Thelma Ritter as Stella
Raymond Burr as Lars Thorwald
Judith Evelyn as Miss Lonelyhearts
Ross Bagdasarian as Songwriter
Georgine Darcy as Miss Torso
Sara Berner as Wife living above Thorwalds
Frank Cady as Husband living above Thorwalds
Jesslyn Fax as Sculpting neighbor with hearing aid
Rand Harper as Newlywed man
Irene Winston as Mrs. Anna Thorwald
Havis Davenport as Newlywed woman
Storyline: Professional photographer L.B. "Jeff" Jeffries breaks his leg while getting an action shot at an auto race. Confined to his New York apartment, he spends his time looking out of the rear window observing the neighbors. He begins to suspect that a man across the courtyard may have murdered his wife. Jeff enlists the help of his high society fashion-consultant girlfriend Lisa Freemont and his visiting nurse Stella to investigate.
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But did you believe it?
Never saw the whole thing through until tonight, on TCM. And I must say, I again got impatient with Hitchcock's penchant for manipulating reality, as if it didn't matter, in setting up his character conflicts towards suspenseful endings. It's all to do with believing what you see. One should not take for granted any audiences, all of whom are familiar with real life.

The film begins with a long long establishing panning shot of the location and ends up in tight close-up of our hero at the window, which was fine, but why was the camera movement so shaky? Surely smooth pans were achievable back in 1954, weren't they?

Then silly little things annoyed me. Like, did New Yorkers ever leave their front doors unlocked? When I lived there in the early sixties, we installed police locks, because regular locks were deemed too easy for intruders to break in. And what was with the SLR camera and its huge long lens that Stewart kept peering through? He wasn't taking pictures, he seemed to be using it as a telescope in preference to his powerful binoculars.

Dramatic writing skill consists largely of giving information necessary to the plot in well disguised ways. When we first meet Grace Kelly, the method used to reveal her character's name was by her pointing out bits of furniture after herself - embarrassing. And one could not believe her sudden conversion from scorn to belief in Stewart's suspicions, nor her journey to dig up the murderer's garden while wearing the long flowing "new look" fashion, nor her break-in climbing ladders to get into his apartment.

What I'm saying is that paying attention to real-life situations to serve the setting up of dramatic conflict has always been a challenge for film-makers, and if done successfully can only serve to make the finished product much more acceptable - suspension of disbelief being key. Hitchcock too often reveals a contempt for this, preferring to manipulate the small details of real life, in order to serve what he sees as his higher purpose.
A multi-layered voyeuristic masterpiece
Rear Window is about an immobilised man Jeff who is restricted to his apartment and spies on his neighbours through boredom. He is sure he witnesses a neighbour called Thorwald murder his wife across the courtyard and is thereafter determined to prove he is right. He enrols the help of his girlfriend Lisa to help him solve the puzzle.

Rear Window is one of Alfred Hitchcock's biggest critical and commercial successes of the 50's. Starring James Stewart and Grace Kelly (introduced with a glorious dream-like slow-motion kiss), it followed the template of his earlier films such as The 39 Steps where it combined suspense, comedy and romance. It is also one of his most purely cinematic movies. The story is told by imagery whenever possible such as the opening pan where we see all the neighbours, then the bandaged Jeff and the contents of his apartment – in this brief bit of camera work we learn much about Jeff's situation without a word being spoken. The camera POV almost never leave's Jeff's apartment. We observe the people across the courtyard but we only faintly hear them at best. The film relies on an optically subjective narrative, where we see what Jeff sees, and we see how he reacts. The issue of voyeurism presents the film's moral dilemma. Is it right to spy on your neighbours? Obviously Jeff uncovers a murder so his actions seem ultimately justified but there is an underlying darkness to his motives. It could be reasonably argued that Jeff subconsciously wants Thorwald to have murdered his wife so that he has an exciting murder-mystery to solve that will alleviate the daily boredom of recovering from his broken leg.

Rear Window is a film about looking. It reflects the cinematic experience itself. Jeff passively watches other lives unfold from a fixed position in a similar way to how we the audience watch movies. The neighbours could almost be said to represent different genres of film – the musician (the musical), Miss Lonelyhearts (the melodrama), the elderly couple with the dog (domestic comedy), Miss Torso (soft-core erotica), the newlyweds (social realism), the Thorwalds (murder-mystery). At the very least, his neighbours over the courtyard represent a microcosm of the society of a big city. Moreover, the scenes from the other apartments offer alternative possibilities to Jeff's own bachelor life – loneliness (Miss Lonelyhearts), the restrictions of marriage (the newlyweds) and, at a horrific extreme, domestic homicide (the Thorwalds). The roles that the immobile Jeff and the active Lisa are reversed over the court with Thorwald and his bed-ridden wife. Much of the romantic thread of the film concerns Jeff's reluctance to commit to Lisa, and unmistakable parallels can be drawn between them and the Thorwalds.

Rear Window in other words is a multi-layered masterpiece. An experimental visual exercise, a romantic drama, an examination of the cinema watching experience; and of course a witty, supremely acted and immaculately directed thriller. Much more than meets the eye!
A culture that loves to watch
Only in the hands of master filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock could a seemingly simple tale about a man in a wheelchair watching his neighbours be twisted into a captivating tale of suspense and intrigue, mixed with a sturdy backbone of moral and ethical dilemmas and a social commentary on the culture that would be viewing the film. Hitchcock, who was notorious for mixing in such deeper themes with seemingly superficial suspense epics seemed to particularly relish the tale of Rear Window, a film entirely devoted to a man simply watching. At first glance, the plot sounds overly contrived, even downright dull, but under Hitchcock's careful grasp, the film never drifts into anything less than crackling with low key intrigue and tension - but always equally thought provoking as well as entertaining throughout.

Rear Window proved innovative in film-making style as well as supremely entertaining movie - a masterpiece in pacing, as well as a unique narrative style. The story plays itself out as a murder mystery, but as the plot unfolds, the solution remains abundantly clear to the audience watching the events transpire. Rather than throwing in a hackneyed forced plot twist near the end, Hitchcock is content to simply let the climax unfold exactly as the viewer would have predicted all along - after all, the joy of the film is not solving a mystery, but merely observing the murderous event itself transpire. In a day and age grown so accustomed to climatic plot twists, the absence of any is in itself more of a surprise than another forced plot twist would have been. Unfortunately, one of the film's minuscule flaws is that its ending comes across as a touch abrupt and forced; a minor lapse in pacing in a film which proves an otherwise stellar example of it.

But Hitchcock is not content with simply telling his story in an innovative fashion - his trademark deeper and darker themes make their way into a story which seems deceptively simple, brilliantly written by John Michael Hayes. In many ways, the premise of Rear Window serves as a social commentary on mass culture: people love to watch. How else to explain the enormous generation of income of the film industry than the general public's fascination with the stories of other people; often moreso than in their own lives. James Stewart's character seems to act as a representation of most audience members - too captivated by the social dramas of his neighbours and the glamour of potential murder (another trademark Hitchcock theme) to pay attention to his own life.

And there is no denying that it is enjoyable to watch, as we, the audience, get easily drawn into the private lives of these seemingly inconsequential characters ("Miss Torso", "Ms. Lonelyhearts" and "The Pianist" as Stewart refers to them) framed by the spectacular cinematography, all shot from the room of Stewart's apartment - another reference as to how little it takes to entertain an audience. Indeed, Rear Window seems to serve as a precursor to the world of reality television, and the fascination ensuing from watching shows such as Survivor or Big Brother - simply observing "real life" as it is billed.

Hitchcock also raises moral issues as to the ethics of observing to the point of intrusion of privacy in a scene where Stewart debates the ethics of spying on his neighbours, even if he may bring a murderer to justice. Hitchcock seems to be silently making raising the question to his audiences - we are a culture that loves to watch, but is it always right to watch, and are we always meant to see what we see? Whatever decisions or interpretations audiences may take out of Hitchcock's social commentaries, their mere presence in the film make the unfolding of the plot that much more interesting to follow, and add strongly to the quality of the film overall.

An already brilliantly realized film is only made more powerful by the immensely capable cast - James Stewart proves perfect casting as the ornery yet charming L. B. Jeffries, the wheelchair bound photographer with a bizarre interest in his neighbours' private lives, determined to prove one of them to be a murderer. The peerlessly elegant Grace Kelly brings sheer class to the film as Jeffries' socialite girlfriend, though how could Jeffries ever be capable of pushing such an ideal woman away, and why she continue to be interested in one who comes across as a cranky older man is truly a question for the ages. Character actress Thelma Ritter proves an unquestionable scene stealer, raising many a laugh and making use of many of the film's best lines as Jeffries' unassuming but sharp tongued nurse. Wendell Corey is a similarly strong presence as Jeffries' detective friend who is eventually drawn into the conflict. Raymond Burr, seen almost entirely in extreme long shots still establishes himself as a formidable and intimidating presence as the suspected murderer, and some of the suspenseful scenes involving his character are some of the best nail biting sequences Hitchcock ever churned up. All the supporting players, also seen only in long shots still manage to draw the audience into their personal lives, forcing them to care even when they realize they should be observing dispassionately - an inspired directorial touch.

All in all Rear Window proves to be one of Hitchcock's most fascinating yet philosophical films in a career demonstrating many of the same traits. Though Rear Window may sound slow and uninteresting at first glance, there is a certain fascination the film evokes which triggers inevitable repeat viewing after viewing. This is one window which demands looking into.

What more can be said? Just this:
With over 400 glowing reviews already posted, the only thing that needs to be added is that, if ever a movie proved that "spoilers" can't spoil a superb film, it's "Rear Window."

The movie is smashing great fun even if you know the ending, because what matters is not "The End" but how we got there. I've seen "Rear Window" at least a dozen times, and it seduces me every time with the smart dialog, the performances (go, Thelma!), and especially with the way Hitchcock builds suspense in what is essentially a comic film. He is the master.

Far from spoiling a good film, knowing the ending actually allows you to better appreciate the structure and skill that went into it. After all, who doesn't know how Romeo and Juliet ends? or Amadeus? or The Gospel According to St. Matthew? Does that mean they're "spoiled"? And it isn't just true of adaptations, biographies, and the Bible. Even original stories that seem to depend on surprise-- thrillers like "The Sixth Sense," mysteries like "Chinatown," comedies like "The Sting"-- are just as good the second time if they're well-made in the first place.
Tenement Symphony
Hitchcock buffs often point out that his serious movies are laced with laughs and this one has a terrific laugh toward the end. Murder suspect Raymond Burr has been lured out of his apartment in order that Grace Kelly and Thelma Ritter can dig up the flowerbed. Frustrated to find nothing Kelly enters his apartment in search of evidence. Stewart, watching from across the courtyard, sees Burr returning and unable to warn Kelly rings the police - after first looking up the number - explains that a man is assaulting a woman (not true, though he IS about to) and - wait for it - the police ARRIVE inside five minutes. I mean is this funny or not. I seem to be saying the same thing over and over; namely that Hitchcock is vastly overrated. Why then do I watch his films. Well you might ask. The short answer is that I know a lot of people, some of them are even friends, who have, in my opinion, fallen for the hype, because by now the myth is self-perpetuating, and keep pressing dvds on me in the hope of converting me. They're something akin to those well-meaning folks who can't see an unattached person without attempted matchmaking. So far I'm holding out. Whilst I acknowledge a competent filmmaker that's as far as it goes. On the other hand any director would have his work cut out to coax even a mediocre, let alone a bad performance out of Jimmy Stewart just as any director would have his work cut out to elicit anything resembling acting from Grace Kelly. So now we have a stand-off. On the plus side we have Thelma Ritter, who enhances anything she appears in but then he spoils it again by casting ex-Forestry Commission employee Wendell Corey. Not as bad as To Catch A Thief but then what is.
Classic Hitchcock from a unique perspective
With the acting talent of two of Alfred Hitchcock's favourite actors, Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly, and a strong supporting cast of Thelma Ritter, Wendell Corey, and Raymond Burr, we have the ingredients of a great movie. However, this movie is much more than the sum of its stars since the directing genius of Hitchcock is more than evident in this film, which is in the top tier of his work. The movie takes place on a small set; in fact, the action takes place in a bachelor apartment with cutaways to other apartments on the opposite side of a courtyard. The location is in a downtown neighbourhood of Manhattan.

The viewer sees much of the action through the telephoto lens of Jimmy Stewart (known as Jeff to his friends), who is a photographer sidelined by an accident. He takes to watching the antics of his neighbours in his spare time. The comic and the sad come together as the camera pans from one apartment to another. The neighbour he is mainly interested in is the apartment of one Lars Thorwald, played by Raymond Burr, who Jeff believes has killed his wife. Thorwald thinks he is acting without the knowledge of anyone but in fact, there is an intruder looking on from the other side of the courtyard, through his rear window.

Raymond Burr gives a convincing portrayal of the sinister Mr. Thorwald – a far cry from the suave, courtly lawyer known on T.V. as Perry Mason. Grace Kelly, as Lisa Carol Freemont, enhances the look of this movie every time she walks on the set. In every scene, she appears like a model from the 1950's. I didn't count the number of costume changes she made but they must have been numerous and she made the most of each one. She is a class act every time she appears and plays the role of the uptown Manhattan girl to a tee. The close-ups of her are eye candy of the first order. In fact, Jimmy Stewart hesitates to marry her because as he says, "she's too perfect". Thelma Ritter (Stella) as the housebound photographer's nurse/masseuse/housekeeper is an absolute marvel with her quick repartee and New York twang to give it that extra zing. During her career, she was nominated for several Academy Awards and is a rich talent. Stella is almost a surrogate mother to Jimmy Stewart, playing the devil's advocate and giving her own two cents'worth on the love match between Lisa and Jeff, particularly Jeff's reluctance to wed.

The plot moves toward the climax when Thorwald realizes he is being stalked and after Jeff finally enlists the support of his buddy Det. Doyle (Wendell Corey). The voyeur's interest in his neighbours leads to some skilled speculation by Jeff that could at any point have been blown away by a logical explanation, as Doyle was suggesting. But the evidence kept mounting and became more and more difficult to ignore.

Some hands-on detective work by Lisa and Stella moves the story towards its climax. This classic movie will hold your interest from its amusing start to goose-bump finish. Along the way, there is a fine script and lots of wit.
Did I miss something?
I had heard a lot about this film so was really looking forward to seeing it. I watched it in the company of my wife and her sister and at the end all three of us felt the same about it as my review below. I found it a huge disappointment - it trundled along at a slow pace and I kept waiting for something to happen which would be thrilling or suspenseful etc - typically Hitchcock. I am still waiting. I kept wondering, if someone is a professional photographer with a massive telephoto lens at his disposal, why did he not take any photographs. Isn't that what voyeurs do? Also, could someone tell me the purpose of the back massages - I am no masseuse but there seemed to be no rhyme or reason to them. This movie was a horrible waste of my time.
Tepid stuff indeed.
I'm glad to see I'm not the only person who thought this movie was a stinker. How Hitchcock maintained his title of "master of suspense" after making this is beyond my comprehension. There is NO suspense in the movie. Jeffries suspects his neighbor is a killer, and, golly-gee-willikers, his neighbor IS a killer. Wow, what a twist. I haven't been so underwhelmed since I saw "The Burbs" (which is a far better movie and much more entertaining), and "Disturbia" at least delivers some true action.

"Rear Window" is so tepid you wonder if audiences of 1954 did not have a pulse. If they found this suspenseful, they must have been hypnotized.

Aside from the boring, uneventful plot, there are other serious issues with this movie. Stewart's relationship with Grace Kelly is totally unbelievable. He is 20 years older than she is. He should be flirting with someone his own age – namely Thelma Ritter who was about the same age as he. But Hollywood – even today – is always pairing old dudes with young women, as if that happens every day in real life. (Grace seems to have made a career of slobbering on old men – Gary Cooper, Bing Crosby, etc. What did people see in her anyhow?)

If Stewart really is a rough-and-tumble photojournalist, you'd think he'd have a better physique. His nude chest is embarrassing to look at – the only thing more embarrassing is when he locks lips with Grace Kelly.

One also wonders if Stewart's character was an idiot. He can't occupy himself any other way than spying on his neighbors? He doesn't know how to read? He doesn't have a TV? He can't listen to the radio? He IS in a wheelchair; I thought the reason for a wheelchair was so the person could be mobile; he is not bedridden.

This movie might have had some success if it had been shot in black-and-white. Then there could have been a "noir" thing going. But there is so much talk, talk, and more talk that I doubt even that could save it.

Critics have also made a big deal of the "voyeurism" theme of this film, as if that is truly shocking somehow. Again, maybe that was a big deal in 1954, but in our day and age it is just yet another tired example of motion picture psychobabble.

I admire Jimmy Stewart in Westerns – he was generally good in them. But every movie he made for Hitchock was embarrassing (yes, I include that turkey "Vertigo" in the group); while this one is not quite as bad as "The Man Who Knew Too Much" it comes close. I hope I never have to sit through this again as long as I live!
An Open And Trusting World?
As far as I know, this is a huge favorite with older folks. Kids of today would be bored to death with this famous Alfred Hitchcock film.

I went on a bit of a roller-coaster ride myself regarding how I viewed this movie. When I first saw it on the big screen as a kid, I was fascinated and almost terrified at the end. Years later, watching it twice within five years on VHS, I found it boring with Grace Kelly's dialog annoyingly corny and dated. Recently I viewed it again - a fourth try - and absolutely loved it. Next to Psycho, it's now my favorite Hitchcock film.

Yeah, it's still dated quite a bit, and, in future viewings, I might fast-forward through a couple of talky parts with Kelly or Thelma Ritter. I would prefer to stick with the focus of the story, namely Stewart's voyeurism and suspicions of what is going on in Raymond Burr's apartment. That storyline is entertaining and builds tremendous suspense. Stewart is usually fun to listen to, anyway. Kelly is there for looks.

Speaking of dated, can you imagine all the people in the apartments keeping their blinds open all the time, and Stewart keeping his door unlocked all the time as well, and people entering without bothering to knock first? True, it was more trusting and safer world back then, but it couldn't have been THAT transparent and trusting. Give me a break!

Yet, credibility aside, it's so involving and fun to watch that who cares if doesn't make a lot of sense?
A Time Capsule
Hitchock's smart review on voyeurism and human composed need for entertainment is fantastically stamped within "Rear Window". Those who see just a suspense story will overlook the most important backbone of the movie itself: the arrangement of a fauna of great, interesting human beings, each with their problems, happiness and something to scoop on.

The story quickly digests important views where a man with his broken leg gets no other option than to spend time watching and examining his neighbors' life. Before Television arrived, this endearing inspection like Big Brother brings the fantastic nexus that ties up the story. But there will be a transformation where the watching will transform into an obsession, and the most inner feelings of connection with the other will be arisen by what we call voyeurism, or morbidness. We will unite sober James Stewart in his progressive burial over the neighborhood's secrets.

There is in the movie one crucial analogy: the eyes watching the window. The eyes are subjective, and see what the mind wants to see. Curiously, eyes are the so called windows of the souls. Whereas the window exposes the reality, the fact to be interpreted (in many ways): here ambiguity strikes and in Jeffries situation it will present itself in the mood of paranoia. All of this scrutinizing over the others life is presented as unethical, but irresistible. Hitchcock uses Franz Waxman's moody music to alter the spectator's disposition to each scene, that lightens throughout the chilling sessions and paralyzes within the climax moments. There is a sense of fear, of being also observed and panicking of being discovered while enjoying the watch. The story seems possible and everyday, presented in a superb way, it will be more effective than what you expect it so. The photography is immense, roaming delicately over the used setting profiting on the smooth editing. We also can expect the most sophisticated and somewhat naive sense of humor to lighten the sordid tension of the movie.

"Rear Window" lives clearly up to the reputation. It is a movie to be examined closely and enjoyed with a good glass of freezing cold water to set the mood right. I believe the movie is somewhat of a time capsule, a very good one indeed, because it has gone over more than fifty years since released, and its a beautiful way of being entertained as it paints a wonderful picture of the era: the way they talked, they dressed, they spent their time. Time cannot falter pieces of art as this one. It renders past oblivion.
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