Rear Window

Rear Window ★★★★★

AFI Top 100 Club

While Alfred Hitchcock is remembered for making thrillers, his filmography is much more diverse than it would seem. He made a romantic tragedy (Vertigo), an action adventure (North by Northwest), two gothic films (Psycho, Rebecca), a few espionage ones (The 39 Steps, Notorious), and even an out-and-out disaster movie (The Birds). Rear Window most closely resembles a straightforward murder mystery, but the Master of Suspense flavours it with enough distinctive style for him to be able to lay claim to expertise in that genre, too.

Like Rope, in which the director attempted to tell a story in what appeared to be a single, continuous shot, this film is also very much an experiment, with Hitchcock restricting all the action to the stuffy confines of a flat and the courtyard it looks out onto. From this flat, indisposed photographer L. B. Jeffries gazes out at the doings of his neighbours as a means of combatting boredom, as well as dealing with minor irritation from nurse Stella and glamorous girlfriend Lisa. The suspicious actions of a quiet neighbour one of the opposite flats catches his eye, and he becomes convinced this neighbour is disposing of his nagging wife.

Rear Window walks a very fine line between cinema and theatre. While the single-setting concept smacks heavily of the latter, Hitchcock employs all manner of cinematic techniques that prevent it from leaning into purely stagy territory. The best of these is the use of iris shots and deep focus to reinforce the suggestion of sordid voyeurism present more indirectly elsewhere in Hitchcock's work. Not only does this help to present things strictly from the point of view of Jeffries, it also raises questions of whether what he is doing is by the book. And if you think the film still resembles too closely a stage play, remember the lengths to which Hitchcock went to make the setting vivid - building into the ground and literally flooding the set with high-wattage lighting.

James Stewart and Grace Kelly give typically committed performances, but it's Thelma Ritter who outshines them with her sharp, deadpan line delivery. As usual with a Hitchcock film, the script never deigns even to be average, and this is one of the director's wittiest films by far.

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