My first exposure to Rear Window was actually The Simpsons episode, “Bart of Darkness,” when Bart breaks his leg, goes slowly crazy, and starts spying on the Flanders.
Who knew that the movie this episode was based on was so good? I mean, aside from the fact that Alfred Hitchcock directed it. I’m actually partial to Lifeboat, I really love that movie. This is probably the classiest movie that I’ve ever reviewed on this blog, so I’m wearing a top hat and monocle. My valet has mixed up an endless thermos of Green Russians. What, you don’t have a valet? Why are you reading a blog? Shouldn’t you be sorting my turtlenecks by their varying shades of blackness?
Anyway, Jimmy Stewart plays L.B “Jeff” Jeffries, action photographer. Or, he was an action photographer until he broke his leg while shooting racecars.
His girlfriend, socialite Lisa Fremont (Grace Kelly) is taking care of him.
The movie happens to be set during a heat wave so no one has their blinds closed. Hitchcock shows how hot it is by showing shots of a thermometer and how people are coping with the heat but I think that the lighting also helps show how hot it’s supposed to be.
That just looks like a miserable city heat wave.
In an era before Jeff would pass the time by playing Skyrim, for example, he watches his neighbors and makes up stories for them. What I think is cool is how Hitchcock frames the shots where Jeff is observing. You often see the outer edges of Jeff’s window and then you see the apartment across the way and through their window. You’re not fully allowed into the lives of Jeff’s neighbors, you only see what he sees, so it’s like the viewer is seeing a movie within the movie.
Jeff’s spying remains fairly innocuous until he begins to suspect that his neighbor across the way, Lars Thorwald (Raymond Burr), killed his invalid wife. Jeff becomes obsessed with proving his guilt, enlisting the aid of a friend on the NYPD, Lisa, and his nurse, Stella (Thelma Ritter.)
I made a mistake watching this movie. Sometimes, if a movie’s running long and I have to go to bed I just split it up and watch the rest the next day. Hitchcock is really good at ramping up the tension in an entirely bloodless movie, but it loses momentum when split in two. I wouldn’t say this movie is scary the way The Descent is, but it’s very tense and keeps you engrossed. What I liked the best about the movie was the way that it looked. For a movie that is essentially a bottle episode, it looks very dynamic. I think this is because of the way the shots in the various apartments are framed and what you actually see happening in the apartments. Hitchcock only worked in the part of the set that was Jeff’s room and gave direction via earpieces to the actors. This kind of blows my mind since some shots were so amazingly well-choreographed. I was especially impressed by the scene where Lisa drops an accusatory note under Thorwald’s door and barely escapes being caught.
The other thing I liked was the stories Jeff created for what he saw versus the eventually revealed reality. “Miss Torso,” the dancer, seems to be living a carefree bohemian life but she has a boyfriend in the service and he’s about a head shorter than her. “Miss Lonely Heart” and the musician end up caring for each other and the newlyweds end up bickering. What I especially liked was how Thorwald’s bickering relationship with his invalid wife was the reverse of Jeff’s relationship with his girlfriend. I mean, both couples were bickering, but Thorwald was caring for his wife, while Lisa was caring for Jeff.
In a grisly bit of real-life intersecting with horror, Hitchcock based the movie’s crime on the murder of Emily Kaye by Patrick Mahon. Mahon quartered his pregnant girlfriend and left her remains at the beach-house they shared.
Oh, the address where Jeff’s character lives? One hundred and twenty-five west Ninth Street. That isn’t a real address but it is approximately at the entrance of the Ninth Street PATH station. Ha, I’ve been there! A lot!
So, if you haven’t seen Rear Window already–I’m guessing most of you have because I am always late to the game—then you should give it a shot if you want a thriller that most thrillers could take a lesson from.