#22: Rear Window (1954)

Another Hitchcock film, another opportunity to fall in with the critics and love one of Hollywood’s most famous directors. Although I had high hopes following the success that was Psycho, and overall I did enjoy the film, for me Rear Window was mostly a return to my normal Hitchcock experience: interesting premise, great ideas, well-shot, exciting moments, but I lost interest for the middle 45 minutes. In fact a tea break pit-stop was necessary.
Saying that, this film most certainly comes in second place in terms of Hitchcock’s films on my list. There is excitement - definitely - with many instances of me pulling on my face skin in sheer horror. There are some instances of very straight-talking social commentary and informative cultural insights. The latter are mostly just the result of watching this film from a different time and culture - you don’t have to chat to your landlord about letting a lady stay over these days. As for the social commentary, it was hammered home in a frustrating manner, but as these speeches were mostly backed up by the action of the plot (so we’re shown as well, not just told), I shall forgive. Besides, these could be the moments where screenwriter John Michael Hayes stays closest to Cornell Woolrich’s source novel.
As for the plot, James Steward plays temporarily disabled photographer L.B. Jeffries, whose only relief from the boredom off a broken leg is watching his neighbours through his rear window. He begins to suspect the salesman opposite, a Mr Thorwald (the rotund Raymond Burr), of murdering his wife. Aided in his investigations by a detective friend, his nurse, and his girlfriend Lisa (the inexplicably elegant Grace Kelly), we’re left guessing as to the real situation until near the end of the film. Or, at least, I was. It’s all very well-plotted and you’re just not quite sure. Or, at least, I wasn’t.
Overall Rear Window is a good watch, but there were mounting annoyances which shadowed my enjoyment. My main point of contention throughout the film was why Lisa, Grace Kelly, was dressed as though she were about to throw a ball for the Queen, when the entire film is set in Jeff’s apartment. It’s as though the producers were so overwhelmed to have her on the project that they couldn’t bear to show her off in anything less than a ball gown. Sure, it’s meant to show up the social differences between Jeff and Lisa, and therefore the strains in their relationship, but it was so contrived and ridiculous that I forgot to figure out the Thorwald situation, and just fumed at the pretension of it all. But then, I suppose it is Hollywood.
Also, I can never decide whether James Stewart is actually a good actor or not. There are times I wasn’t sure if he fluffed his lines or if he was emphasising Jeff’s ineptness, stuck in a wheelchair and unable to sort out this mystery himself. Surely the studio wasn’t that short of tape. It’s just, I’m fairly sure he’s played the same character in every film I’ve seen him in, and none of them was particularly engaging.

I’m not sure what exactly I want from Rear Window to make me like it. The ending gives it thriller status - worth the wait - and the build up was full of moments to make you ponder. I mean, there’s a lot to say here about 1950s America being in a curious place culturally, where the private and public spheres begin to overlap. Where does one draw the line, ethically? There is also a lot going on in terms of male/female relationships and the strains of marriage, and with these as the two main points of interest, Rear Window is good to study. But for an evening in? Make sure you fill up the thermos and stack up the custard cremes.

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