The Directors’ Chair: Rear Window (Hitchcock, 1954)
“REAR WINDOW” (1954) – CURIOSITY KILLED THE…
Holed up in his apartment with a broken leg, a photo journalist played by James Stewart, whiles away his recuperative time watching his neighbors in the building across the courtyard. He uses the vignette of their lives as his own private cinema. And let me tell you something, if Raymond Burr is a tenant, you know SOMETHING is rotten in Denmark…and Greenwich Village. Hitchcock makes a slow methodical case (in a slow methodical pace) for circumstantial evidence pointing to a man suspected of murdering and dismembering his wife.
First Hitchcock draws in Stewart, along with us. Then he draws in wise- cracking nurse Thelma Ritter. The next into the fold is the glamorous Grace Kelly, more animated here than I’ve ever seen her. (Thank goodness. I’m just about at the end of my rope with her “ice~princess~still~waters~ run~deep” mode.)
As Stewart’s steady girlfriend, Kelly’s focus is not outside the apartment, but inside, on Stewart and getting him lassoed by his…antlers to the altar. He’s resistant to everything she throws at him from her feminine arsenal. And such a nice feminine arsenal too.
ARounding out the cast is Doubting Thomas Wendell Corey with ice blue eyes and cold skepticism. He’s the detective friend who thinks Stewart is crying wolf.
Curiosity is no substitute for flat-footed police work. Ritter and Kelly take Stewart’s curiosity up another level as they up the ante with Nancy Drew- style investigative antics into Burr’s affairs. The reward for those efforts is to bring the Menace from across the courtyard, right to Stewart’s doorstep.
I don’t usually run with open arms to Rear Window as I do Hitchcock’s Psycho or Notorious or The Birds. For some reason, I need to be coaxed into watching this one. Then when I get into the swing of things, I’m totally in. I don’t know why. I can’t explain me to me, sometimes. I don’t know WHY I have reservations. Hitchcock has done something brilliant here. He creates smaller movies within the larger film with the stories of the tenants across the yard. And we are vested in their stories as well. Hitchcock makes that apartment building the visual, cinematic representation of what writers do when they create characters and weave their subplots throughout the main story. (He creates some suspense in the poignant Miss Loneyheart’s story. Will she or won’t she kill herself.)
But it’s really Burr as Boogey Man. There’s only one thing scarier than him showing up on Stewart’s doorstep. And that’s the shot of his darkened apartment with just the glowing light of his cigarette.
Hitchcock, how could I have doubted you.
— Theresa Brown for Classic Movie Hub
Theresa Brown is a native New Yorker, a Capricorn and a biker chick (rider as well as passenger). When she’s not on her motorcycle, you can find her on her couch blogging about classic films for CineMaven’s Essays from the Couch. Classic films are her passion. You can find her on Twitter at @CineMava.