Rear Window, by Albert W. Vogt III

Count Alfred Hitchcock among the legendary Hollywood directors of which I have not been as enamored with as others.  Not everything he has done is bad in my view.  The problem is The Birds (1963).  It is one of his more memorable films, at least in my experience.  My mom swore by it and made me watch it when I was a kid.  I do not recall liking it then, and my opinion remained unimproved upon seeing it as an adult.  It almost ruined all his other offerings for me.  I have seen many, including some that are not on the American Film Institute’s (AFI) list of the 100 greatest American films of all time.  Speaking of those rankings, Hitchcock has four entries among them.  That is quite the accomplishment.  My opinion of him has rallied in recent days, especially after watching North by Northwest (1959), which is number fifty-five according to AFI.  Today, I am giving you the forty-eighth entry, Rear Window (1954).  Is it possible to surpass North by Northwest?  AFI will tell you no, but I disagree when it comes to Rear Window.

The first thing to know about Rear Window is that it all takes place in one location.  It is the title part of L. B. “Jeff” Jefferies’ (James Stewart) apartment.  He is laid up in his abode having broken his leg a few weeks previously in the line of duty.  That sounds more dangerous than what normally happens to a professional photographer, but that is the kind of injury you risk when you step onto a track in the middle of an automobile race to get a shot.  Thus, he passes his time being a creep.  That is being flippant.  He lives amongst a collection of flats in the Greenwich Village area of Manhattan in New York City, with the majority of his neighbors all opening onto the same courtyard.  With little else to do, he becomes familiar with the comings and goings of his neighbors.  Most of what he sees happens in the building across the way.  There is the eccentric artist dubbed “Miss Hearing Aid” (Jesslyn Fax); the even more eccentric couple that sleep on their fire escape (Sara Berner and Frank Cady); the solitary musician (Ross Bogdasarian) whose composition provides the soundtrack for all the open windows; and “Miss Lonelyhearts” (Judith Evelyn), whose appellation should tell you all you need to know about what Jeff observes from her.  His activities are not approved of by his nurse, Stella (Thelma Ritter), who comes daily to provide her care.  Besides criticizing Jeff’s voyeurism, she also disapproves of his noncommittal feelings towards his girlfriend, the stunningly beautiful Lisa Carol Fremont (Grace Kelly).  In his defense, Jeff cannot understand why somebody so high class and, well, perfect, would want to get involved with a penniless and literally broke photographer whose career can take him around the world at a moment’s notice.  Because of her perfection, he resolves to break up with her.  Yet, when she comes over later that night for dinner, bringing a sumptuous meal from a fancy restaurant, his loses his will.  I cannot say that I blame him.  He comes close to ending it, but as she is about to leave for the night, he loses his nerve and she says she will return the following evening.  With this, it is back to Jeff’s new nighttime activity of watching his neighbors’ habits.  There is one set of people I left off in talking about the targets of Jeff’s spying, and that is Anna (Irene Winston) and Lars Thorwald (Raymond Burr).  From what Jeff can see, it is not a happy nest.  Anna is infirm and Lars seems uncaring of her situation.  The night after we first meet Lisa, Jeff looks on as Lars makes several trips out of his apartment at odd hours of the night, carrying a metal briefcase each time.  Jeff also stops seeing Anna in her bed.  It all seems highly suspicious to him, and initially nobody seems to want to take his suggestion of foul play seriously.  This includes Lisa, until she takes part in the furtive gazing and sees enough to arouse her own suspicions.  Of note is the large trunk that Lars take out of his flat, and the fact that none of Anna’s jewelry has gone with her to wherever is her supposed destination.  The person that Jeff has more trouble making a believer out of is his old comrade from the war (World War II, I am guessing) and current New York City Police Department (NYPD) Detective Lieutenant Thomas “Tom” J. Doyle (Wendell Corey).  As Jeff’s fears grow that a murder has taken place in the Thorwald household, he asks Tom to look into the matter.  Tom remains unconvinced, but does a cursory investigation at Jeff’s prompting.  As such, Tom turns up nothing out of the ordinary, with witnesses claiming that a woman believed to be Anna had gone on a trip and arrived at her destination.  He delivers this news to Jeff and Lisa, and it seems final.  Jeff is ready to give up until the dog belonging to the fire escape couple is found dead in the courtyard.  Jeff believes this to be the result of it digging in a flower bed in which he earlier saw Lars seemingly burying something.  Thinking they now have something, Lisa and Stella volunteer to go in place of the immobile Jeff to put a shovel to the plants.  They can do this because Jeff has telephoned Lars to get him out of the way.  When their search uncovers nothing, Lisa takes it upon herself to climb up into the Thorwald flat.  Jeff watches in horror as Lars returns while she is inside.  Luckily, he had already called the police, and they arrive before any real harm could be done to Lisa.  Unfortunately, it is at this moment that Lars finally notices Jeff’s snooping.  With nowhere to hide, Jeff tries to use a camera flashbulb to distract Lars when he comes to Jeff’s place, bent on revenge.  Jeff struggles as best as he can, but what saves him is his yelling for help when Lisa returns with more cops.  He gets dropped out of his apartment window, but Tom is there to break his fall.  We close with him having a second broken leg, but Lisa is there with him and looking into honeymoon destinations.

When watching a film like Rear Window, a modern viewer is likely put off by how Jeff is passing the time.  It is made all the more repugnant when you factor in “Miss Torso” (Georgine Darcy).  She is another of the courtyard occupants that I did not mention in the previous paragraph.  She has no real role to play other than to be eye candy for Jeff, and the audience by extension.  Most of the time she is parading around her apartment in her underwear, practicing her routine as a ballerina.  Frankly, there is no purpose for her being in the movie, and it is the only real black mark against the proceedings.  At the same time, you might be saying, well, what about the voyeurism?  The thing is that nobody in this area seems to have any sense of privacy.  Put differently, though not necessarily excusing Jeff’s behavior, Miss Torso should have closed her shades.  The only reason why she, or anyone else, did not do so is because it is the middle of a hot summer.  Thus, everyone has their business out for their neighbors to see.  While watching it, I could not help but think of Luke 10:25-29.  This is right before the parable of the Good Samaritan, which is also a fitting metaphor for Jeff.  In fact, that passage is in respond to Luke 10:25-29.  A teacher of the law asks Jesus what must be done to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  Jesus gives a Socratic response about what the law says about such matters.  The teacher responds with a vague quoting of scripture, but one that is apt for this movie.  He says that one should “. . . love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”  It is that last phrase that I want to emphasize, but I could not resist conveying the beauty of the whole answer.  I am not sure Jeff would call what he does as “love.”  He does learn to love Lisa, which is great.  Whatever you want to call it, he is genuinely concerned about what happened to Anna.  Granted, he walks a fine line between certainty and mania, but thankfully he is proven correct.  At the same time, how many among you would mind their own business if put in a similar situation?

If you can get past the fact that Rear Window is about a guy being a peeping Tom, including those of a young woman in desperate need of some blinds, then you have a great movie.  In fact, I dare say that it my favorite Hitchcock film.  If that is not enough for you, then see it for the incredible set that was built for it.  That is worth a viewing if nothing else.


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