Top 100 Movie: #42 – Rear Window (1954)

A Movie That Does Everything.

Witty dialogue, a unique set up, and tension stick with you the entire way. 

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Jimmy Stuart.

American Film Institutes Ranking: #42/100
Awards: Four Nominations for Director, Adapted Screenplay, Color, and Sound Mixing
My Rating: cropped-smooth-starcropped-smooth-starcropped-smooth-starcropped-smooth-starcropped-smooth-star

Some movies struggle to do one thing well, failing to even be a good example of the genre that they are intending to represent.

Rear Window does so many things well. The four main characters are immensely interesting with their banter and witty dialogue moving the film along. The set up is a man stuck at home due to a broken leg with no entertainment other than the lives of his neighbors — voyeurism at its best. Add the murder mystery and you get to see an exquisite example of the great Alfred Hitchcock at work.

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[story/spoilers.]

L.B. Jeffries is stuck in his apartment due to a broken leg. Being a world photographer used to endangering his life for his profession, he is getting stir crazy. His only entertainment is now his neighbors. He spends his days looking throughout the courtyard peaking into the lives of others.

He occasionally has two visitors: Stella (Thelma Ritter), the company nurse sent to check up on him and Lisa (Grace Kelly), his high-class, socialite girlfriend. Both think he’s going a bit crazy, telling him he needs to do something else than being a Peeping Tom into the neighbors’ affairs.

One neighbor in particular has captured his attention: he lives with his bed ridden wife who later disappears. Jeffries catches him cleaning saws and taking multiple trips in the middle of the night at 2am. Sure that he murdered his wife, he calls on an old friend with the police force, Tom Doyle (Wendell Cory), who reluctantly agrees to check out more about his neighbor.

Everyone more or less follows Jeff down the rabbit hole, eating up his infectious paranoia. The only question is whether Jeff has it right or is he losing it.

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[analysis.]

The setting for this movie is what makes it an all-time great. The courtyard set features multiple characters that are all shuffled in at different doses. It encapsulates life: some we barely get to know, others we spend a lot of time with, but they all have their own beat and rhythm. Even in the frame pictured above, you can feel the powerful ecosystem of the small community that Hitchcock created.

This movie is a psychological thriller. It centers on whether Jeffries is succumbing to cabin-fever neurosis or if a crime really was committed. With the suspense coming from that question, it was vital that there was enough human element and intrigue via characters and conversation — there is very little “action” in this movie. Thankfully, the vignettes of the neighborhood and the interactions of the main characters are exquisite.

The main characters (Jeff, Tom, Stella and Lisa) all are sophisticated, cynical, and enjoy banter. This leads to sharp back and forths:

Lisa: I wish I were creative.

Jeff: You are. You’re great at creating difficult situations.

Lisa Carol Fremont: Where does a man get inspiration to write a song like that?
L.B. Jeffries (Jeff): He gets it from the landlady once a month.

These strong characters and vibrant setting provide the appropriate human nature to keep you immensely intrigued — the human condition never grows old as a theme, does it?

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[conclusion.]

It’s been a while since I have watched such a complete movie. Hitchcock not only sets all these pieces in motion, he ends each with with appropriate coda. The weaving of so many good elements with the right conclusion shows how complete his control is from beginning to end. Don’t pass up your own chance to be voyeuristic and look through your own rear window into the lives of this 1954 masterpiece.

Other People’s Take:

  • Wolffian Classic Movies Digest: Rear Window is a wonderfully simple thriller that also flirts with comedy and drama.”
  • Maddy Loves Her Classic Film: “I consider Rear Window to be one of Alfred Hitchcock’s cleverest and most absorbing  films.”
  • Film Era: “Rear Window is just such a picture, a perfect example of Hitchcock as a master of suspense and a scribe of cinematic history.”

Author: Casual But Smart

I review the top 100 books, movies, albums, and games of all time.

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