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Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window

Moral, social, and legal questions are as thick as the suspense.
With the dense concentration of urban city life today, very few city dwellers, at one time or another, have not glanced out their apartment windows, searching for signs of life in other high rise apartment complexes nearby. I live in a rural area in which I can hardly see my neighbors' houses, much less see in them, so I can ask with a clear conscience, does such a quick glance constitute voyeurism? Few would disagree that peering out a window at people living nearby with binoculars, a telescope, or a telescopic camera lens goes too far. People value their privacy which, in turn, is protected by laws and social values in which such nosey neighbors fully deserve the designation "peeping Tom."

Jimmy Stewart as L.B. (Jeff) Jeffries.
In his classic 1954 suspense thriller, Rear Window, Alfred Hitchcock tackles both the positive and negative elements of voyeurism leaving his breathless audience to contemplate whether an illegal means (voyeurism) justifies solving a murder, bringing a murderous husband to justice, while incidentally preventing a suicide. The film is an intriguing, brilliant, macabre Hitchcockian visual study of obsessive human curiosity and voyeurism based on John Michael Hayes' screenplay, which was based on Cornell Woolrich's original 1942 short story, It Had to Be Murder. For about one third of the film you see an immobilized man looking out. The second part details what he sees, while the third part exposes how he reacts.

At what point between a glance out the "rear window"
and breaking out the binoculars does voyeurism raise
its nosy face?
Although Grace Kelly, Wendell Corey, and Thelma Ritter were all equally outstanding in their parts, and if you'll notice, received equal billing (top), right beneath that of the star, Jimmy Stewart; the real star is director Alfred Hitchcock. He was the only one nominated for an Academy Award (he didn't win). Years later, Roger Ebert put it best: "[Hitchcock] develops such a clean, uncluttered line from beginning to end that we're drawn through it (and into it) effortlessly. The experience is not so much like watching a movie, as like...well, like spying on your neighbors. Hitchcock traps us right from the first...and because he makes us accomplices in Stewart's voyeurism--we're along for the ride. When an enraged man comes bursting through the door to kill Stewart, we can't detach ourselves, because we looked too, and so we share the guilt..."

Hollywood set design and lighting at their best.
Set as complex as this are modeled
before being built.
Quite apart from Hitchcock's astute directing, his massive outdoor set designed and built entirely inside an enormous Paramount soundstage deserves a round of kudos for set de-signers, Hal Pereira, Joseph MacMil-lan. All the drama in the movie takes place in a block of Manhattan apart-ments in buildings surrounding an inner courtyard. Most of the buildings surrounding the central courtyard are typical American city brick apart-ments. Though all were constructed inside, lighting was ingeniously de-signed to create the effects of night and day (above) over the course of the four days during which the story evolves.

Jimmy Stewart may well be one of the few, perhaps
the only, actor to do an entire film sitting down.
A man confined to a wheelchair needs all the help he can get. That's where the supporting cast comes in. Thelma Ritter plays Stella, who sees to all Jeffries physical needs while passing out wise advice whether the man wants it or needs it or not. Lisa Fremont, played by Grace Kelly, is Jeffries' mild love interest (far milder that she would like); while Wendell Corey as Tom Doyle, is Jeffries police detective friend, who for some reason overlooks the fact his friend is breaking the law (one of the few weak performances in the film). A gray-haired Raymond Burr, before he became a high-priced attorney, plays Lars Thorwald, who...well, we wouldn't want to give away the plot in a who-done-it murder mystery.
Character actress Thelma Ritter with Jimmy Stewart.
She's always a joy to watch, whatever her role.
It's hard to divorce Burr from his later TV roles as Perry Mason, and Robert T. Ironside.
The movie was released worldwide on September 1, 1954. The film went on to earn an estimated $5.3 million (with a budget of one-million) at the North American box office in 1954. The film received overwhelmingly positive reviews from critics and is considered one of Hitchcock's best. On the website Rotten Tomatoes, the Rear Window has been universally praised, garnering a 100% certified fresh rating, based on 61 reviews, with the consensus stating that "Hitchcock exerted full potential of suspense in this masterpiece." Grace Kelly (below) didn't do too bad either.
From fashion model to damsel in distress, Grace Kelly played Lisa Fremont with cool grace.


If you see REAR WINDOW twenty times.
This motion picture has enough merit to
stand up under any number of viewings.

But please do not anticipate those
deliciously terrifying scenes that make
you scream. Hold your breath until
the scenes actually appear on the
screen. Then let go.

--Alfred Hitchcock


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