Based on Cornell Woolrich’s short story It Must be Murder, Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 Mystery film is regarded as one of the Director’s finest. Having broken his leg while away on an assignment, photographer Jeff Jefferies (James Stewart) whiles away the hours watching his neighbours from the window of his apartment. One day he wakes up to discover that a woman across the courtyard is no longer there and her husband is acting suspiciously. With the help of his girlfriend Lisa Freemont (Grace Kelly), Jeff investigates his suspected murder case from the confines of his window side wheelchair.
I’ve only seen around half a dozen of Hitchcock’s films but I’ve found that my favourites are those which I have heard nothing about. I was a little bit disappointed by North by Northwest but loved Rope and Shadow of a Doubt. Rear Window falls somewhere in between. I can certainly see why it is considered so great but there are films in the Director’s extensive cannon which are just as if not more impressive.
The suspense and mystery slowly builds throughout the film as hints are dropped and ideas quashed. Theories come and go, filling ones head with all sorts of ideas. At the same time the audience can make up their own mind given the facts laid out in front of them. The audience sees exactly what Jeff sees through his apartment window. A clever camera technique also means that if Jeff is simply looking out of the window we see a wide shot, if he uses binoculars then we get a close up. I thought that was a masterful way of showing what was going on and created the voyeur feel that encompasses the film. Jeff’s broken leg and confinement also creates a feeling of claustrophobia which when added to the mystery across the courtyard, makes one want to leap out of the confines of the apartment and investigate. Although the mystery was well set up I thought that its conclusion lacked tension. The hanging from the window scene was good but following that everything was tied up far too neatly. The sped up shots of people running out of their apartments also looked wrong.
The set is probably one of the finest I’ve ever seen. I absolutely loved it. There was so much detail and realism in it that when I first saw it I wasn’t sure it was a soundstage set. It is also enormous for the period. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the set is how it is filled with what feels like a realistic neighbourhood of people. There are several characters that we never really meet but by the end, feel as we know. Miss Torso (Georgine Darcy) for instance is a young ballet dancer who spends a lot of time practicing in her underwear. Through Jeff’s eyes we get to know about her and her habits despite never actually hearing her speak or meeting her close up. The same can be said for Miss Lonelyhearts (Judith Evelyn). It is clear from Jeff’s observations that she is a lonely middle aged woman who is in need of company. Her arc also contains something which was just as tense as the murder mystery in the apartment above hers. I found it incredible that the lives of the characters were so laid out for us when we never meet them in the traditional sense. The feat shows extraordinary work on the part of the Writer and Director.
Of the central characters I found the acting to be excellent. James Stewart gives a calm and delivered performance with that voice of his, somewhere between Christopher Walken and a hiccupping salesman. His lack of mobility could have hindered his performance but he seems to use it to his advantage as he relies on facial rather than bodily expression. I found his character’s initial lack of enthusiasm for his girlfriend a little odd though given who she was. Grace Kelly is just as good as Stewart, in a prominent and strong role. Rather than playing a typical 50s female role she is given something with which she can sink her teeth into. Both actors have great chemistry despite the obvious age difference. I also really enjoyed Thelma Ritter’s performance as Jeff’s nurse. She was straight talking and inquisitive and often quite funny. Raymond Burr is creepy enough to be believable as a killer but no so much that you don’t buy his innocence.
Overall I really enjoyed Rear Window. I can see its charm and understand the reasons behind its success but I wasn’t as big a fan of the mystery element as I was the set design and Direction. I like what the film says about voyeurism and how it suggests that we find parallels in our own lives. It also seems to suggest that fixation on one area can lead you to miss things in other areas. What's more I wish I’d seen the film before 2007s Disturbia which was loosely based on the picture, as that was pants.