Rear Window (1954)

Rear Window

  • One of Alfred Hitchcock’s greatest achievements, Rear Window is almost flawless.
  • Not least because Hitchcock’s technique intensifies tension. By shooting almost every scene from Jeff’s (James Stewart) rear window point of view, the director makes us feel the protagonist’s isolation, impotence and fantasy.
  • The movie’s score does the same. Filled with ample repetitiveness and plenty of heart-pounding moments, the music is anxiety inducing.
  • So are the performances, especially Stewart’s. Immobility only helps the actor hit the proper notes. Because of Stewart’s facial expressions, slight gestures and general body language, we feel Jeff’s obsession.
  • Therein is why we never judge his voyeurism. The director and actor effectively turn us into watchers, as well. We too want the newly-weds to open their shades, Miss Lonely Hearts to find some happiness, the musician to finish his masterpiece, and so on.
  • It is amazing filmmaking, all the more so because Hitchcock eventually deconstructs our attachment to Jeff. When Doyle (Wendall Corey) convinces that the neighborhood is crime-less, we are as disappointed as the protagonist and his girlfriend, Lisa (Grace Kelly).
  • What does that say about us? About them?
  • Such questions are why Rear Window resonates thematically. And proves as thrilling as it does.
  • The finale helps in that regard. Yes it adds certainty, but it doesn’t undermine the rest of the picture, an impressive feat, to say the least. For much of its running time, Rear Window works because questions go unanswered, because the film is ambiguous. Given that, eventual factual reveals risk reducing tension.
  • Here they never do. They only increase it.
  • So as not to spoil anything, I will not expound the point; I will only suggest it is Rear Window’s greatest achievement.
  • Which is amplified by the virtual meaninglessness of the film’s minor flaws. Characters arrive in Jeff’s neighborhood a little too quickly, fudging timelines in ways that aren’t entirely believable.
  • Moreover, Lisa, who lacks characterization outside of supporting Jeff, is not well developed.
  • Something that might be a bigger issue if Grace Kelly’s performance were not so enchanting. But Kelly adds nuance and depth to a character that has little of either.
  • And so even Lisa actually becomes a strength.
  • Rear Window is a masterfully suspenseful psychological thriller that earns and retains the viewer’s investment. It might be Alfred Hitchcock’s best movie.
  • Final Grade: A

12 thoughts on “Rear Window (1954)

  1. I really wish the ghost of Alfred Hitchcock would just possess the body of a modern filmmaker. Can this be done? If so, we would have a ton of great movies on our hands in this modern day and age. Speaking of, I never watched this one. Silly Critic man, silly!

    • Very silly. You should remedy that mistake; this one is awesome.

      And I’m all for more Hitchcock movies, though maybe not for ghostly possession. Can he talk through a medium instead? 🙂

  2. A reminder of why your blog is one of my favourites. Detailed, perceptive and persuasive. This isn’t my favourite of his, but it just comes down to preference. There’s pretty much noting wrong with it.

    • Thank you. That’s the thing that has always impressed me most about this movie. Not only don’t we judge it. We participate in it, happily and without shame. Obviously, that is largely because it’s a movie, and we know it isn’t real life, but even still. I think it pretty darn impressive.

  3. A very interestingly detailed critique on one of my favourites.
    As I mentioned once, I studied Hitchcock. I should add, if you look at the tenants, the whole movie has an underling that revolves around marriage/ married life (according to that time), There’s a young girl, who flirts around, there is a newly married couple, a middle aged couple, a widow, and the two protagonist constantly fight about where their relationship is heading. ( I believe i mentioned my dissertation was called ‘Marriage in Hitchcock Films: From Rebecca to Marnie’). If you were to check out all those crime Films of Hitchcock, they all have a direct or indirect reference to Marriage. Especially his Hollywood films from 1940 to the mid-60’s.

    • I remember you telling me you studied Hitchcock. I even remember the general idea of the thesis. 🙂

      Having not read all of the evidence for your argument, I cannot say whether or not I agree. But I can say it passes the prima facie test. Certainly possible these movies are about marriage.

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