Rear Window

Rear Window ★★★★½

Imagine dating Grace Kelly and being reluctant to marry her. Couldn´t be me.

“Rear Window” is a groundbreaking mystery thriller and one of Alfred Hitchcock´s greatest masterpieces. It´s definitely one of his most brilliantly crafted movies and that says a lot.

The layered, thematically rich, and perfectly constructed screenplay, confident and masterful direction, witty and quotable dialogue, sublime camerawork, fantastic visual storytelling, and iconic mise en scène are all a masterclass in filmmaking and should be studied by everyone interested in movies. “Rear Window” is one of Hitchcock´s several one location films and the set design, which was built in one large indoor soundstage, is unforgettable and used to great effect. In fact, the set is a character on its own.

The film has an intriguing premise and an engaging mystery at its core. One important aspect of the movie´s brilliant concept is that the camera never leaves the apartment and that we see everything from Jeff´s perspective. This creates a strong connection with our protagonist and increases the immersion. It lets us feel the same boredom, claustrophobia, curiosity, paranoia, and helplessness he is feeling and makes us complicit in his actions. And the lack of full information leads to doubt and uncertainty. Is Jeff right about the murder or does he just have a vivid imagination? And what does it say about us that we hope that he´s right? No one creates suspense like Hitchcock, and he shows this here in many scenes. Lisa´s break-in at the suspect´s apartment and the exciting climax are my favorite scenes in that regard. Still, the film is also full of small but effective doses of humor, which give the movie a lighthearted charm you wouldn´t expect.

The major theme of voyeurism can be seen as a metaphor for cinema itself. Both making and watching movies are inherently voyeuristic activities. Jeff observes his neighbors for the same reason we watch movies, for escapist distraction and entertainment. The several windows are like different TV channels, all with their own ongoing program. Drama, romance, comedy, music, eroticism, even mystery and crime, all of this is right there for him to see outside his window. And just like we see ourselves in movie characters and compare our lives to theirs, Jeff does the same with his neighbors. Especially his relationship with Lisa as well as his hopes and fears concerning it are mirrored by the relationships he observes. It´s very fitting that Jeff is a photographer, another inherently voyeuristic profession (which explains his curiosity), and observes a lot of what´s happening through a lens, hoping to capture something interesting, just like a director or cinematographer. At the same time, he is bound to a wheelchair and cannot actively influence the events he sees. He is forced to witness them sitting down, just like the audience. That way, Jeff is a stand-in for both the director and the audience simultaneously.

“Rear Window” wouldn´t be the same without its small but stellar cast. Jimmy Stewart delivers one of his greatest performances and the film relies a lot on his subtle facial expressions to convey moods and emotions. Furthermore, his natural charm and likeable charisma prevent his character from coming across as creepy, which could easily be the case. Instead, you´re on his side and enjoy solving this mystery with him. He wins you over to his cause, just as he wins over Grace Kelly´s and Thelma Ritter´s initially skeptic characters. Grace Kelly´s radiant beauty and delightful screen presence light up the screen, as well, and make her one of the film´s most memorable aspects. Her electrifying chemistry and funny banter with Stewart are both endearing and very fun to watch. Thelma Ritter, who plays Jeff´s quirky and outspoken nurse Stella, adds a lot of humor, energy, and esprit to the film. All in all, Jeff, Lisa, and Stella are among my favorite on-screen trios. Raymond Burr as Lars Thorwald might not be as charismatic and iconic as other Hitchcock antagonists like Norman Bates or Bruno Antony but as a representation of the ordinary evil that could hide next door, he is the perfect villain for this specific movie.

It´s also noteworthy that the two main female characters are not only equal to Jeff in wit and intelligence, they are also responsible for most of the active tasks, while Jeff can only watch passively. Grace Kelly does most of the “action” you would normally associate with the male star of the film at that time and she still looks feminine as hell while doing it. I thought that was worth mentioning, since in general, Hitchcock has not a great reputation when it comes to female characters.

I also love the little subplots that take place in all the different apartments Jeff is watching. By the end of the movie, you feel like you really know these people. My favorite is the Miss Lonelyhearts subplot, which is surprisingly dark and emotional resonating.

To conclude, “Rear Window” shows Alfred Hitchcock at the top of his game and is rightfully regarded as one of his greatest achievements. It´s a captivating, entertaining, thematically rich, and highly influential classic and a must-see for every cinephile.

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