“The American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Greatest Movies was selected by AFI’s blue-ribbon panel of more than 1,500 leaders of the American movie community to commemorate 100 Years of Movies”. Every weekend(ish) during 2015, I’ll review two(ish), counting them down from 100 to 1.
“You didn’t see the killing or the body. How do you know there was a murder?”
Before I started writing about the movies I watched, I never thought I was a big Alfred Hitchcock fan. I mean, I’d seen his really famous movies and appreciated them, but I never loved any of them. Now, without even trying, I’ve managed to watch eight Hitchcock joints. And with the exception of Family Plot, I think I’ve loved them all. I’m finally starting to understand why he’s so revered. And it’s not because of his knack for twists and turns. It turns out, Alfred Hitchcock was just a phenomenal technical film maker and flawless story teller. Exhibit A, Rear Window.
An action photographer for a magazine, the globetrotting LB ‘Jeff’ Jefferies (James Stewart) has been stuck in his small apartment with a broken leg for six weeks after he got too close to a speeding car while on assignment. Bored, restless, wheelchair bound and suffering cabin fever, he has nothing to do all day but look outside his window, at a courtyard surrounded by other apartments. Starring through windows, he’s come to know his neigbours and their habits in a way that’s not healthy for a man who’s so bored. Something that becomes all too obvious once his over active mind starts to see things that might not be there.
One night, he hears the wife of his neighbour, Thorwald (Raymond Burr) scream. In the middle of the night, Jeff sees Thorworld coming and going several times with a large bag. Convinced that Thorwald has murdered his wife, Jeff recruits his girlfriend (Grace Kelly as Lisa) to help investigate.
I don’t think I’d never consciously noticed this on previous viewings, but there’s a really interesting gender dynamic going on in Rear Window. While Jeff is technically the hero, the protagonist who keeps the story moving, his broken leg keeps him at a distance from the action. Instead, it’s Lisa and Jeff’s nurse (Thelma Ritter as Stella) who get their hands dirty.
With Grace Kelly’s wardrobe in this movie, she looks more like a barbie doll than a real woman, and the character of Stella is older, small and the opposite of physically intimidating. So to see these two women do the leg work and face the danger, while Jeff looks on through his telephoto lens, is something I may not have noticed before, but might now be one of my favourite things in a movie full of things that could easily be my favourite.
I’d seen Rear Window two or three times before over the last 20 years or so, and as I began watching it today, I realised something, I had no idea how it ended. And that’s in no way because the ending is bad, or easily dismissed or just doesn’t work. This entire movie builds to one, big revelation. If it got that wrong, it wouldn’t be the iconic movie it is today, more than 60 years after this release. And it wouldn’t be on the AFI Top 100 list. The ending is great and everything pays off in that classic Hitchcock way. And I hope that I forget the particulars of it again before I watch Rear Window next time. Because the thrill of this movie is something too good to only get once.
Best Director (Hitchcock nominated, lost to Elia Kazan for On the Waterfront)
Best Story and Screenplay (nominated, lost to The Country Girl)