Cert: PG Runtime: 112 mins Director: Alfred Hitchcock Cast: James Stewart, Grace Kelly, Wendell Corey, Thelma Ritter and Raymond Burr
Intelligence. Nothing has caused the human race so much trouble as intelligence.
Alfred Hitchcock’s movies have almost always cut against one of the strongest currents in American Cinema: complete verisimilitude. Even some of his masterpieces, like North by Northwest, Vertigo, or Psycho use montage, special lighting effects, and back projection to break out of pure believable film-making. But it’s intentional. It’s part of the experience of watching a movie, like watching a play, that reminds you that you are a viewer, and the movie is a separate thing, a work of art, or stretch of celluloid in a can. So what is Rear Window about? Professional photographer L.B. “Jeff” Jeffries (James Stewart) breaks his leg while getting an action shot at an auto race. Confined to his New York apartment, he spends his time looking out of the rear window observing the neighbours. He begins to suspect that a man across the courtyard may have murdered his wife. Jeff enlists the help of his high society fashion-consultant girlfriend Lisa Fermont (Grace Kelly) and his visiting nurse Stella (Thelma Ritter) to investigate.
Rear Window makes intentional artifice the defining aesthetic of the entire shoot. And now wonderful it all works. Yes, we can totally accept it all, somehow. The events are unusual, but not unbelievable, and the acting is candid and remarkably nuanced with everyday expressions. Jimmy Stewart in particular is amazing as the wheelchair bound photographer with nothing to do but look at the neighbours in around the courtyard, but Thelma Ritter is also in top form, quirky but in a lovable, not distracting, way.The rest, outside, is all theatre. We see with uncanny perfection what is happening through all these apartment windows, and so there is a dancer and a pianist and a newly-wed couple and a lonely middle aged woman and a bickering couple and another couple who sleeps on the fire escape.
It’s exaggerated just so, partly comic, partly trenchant (who can not love the groom carrying the bride over the threshold?), and we see it more or less through Stewart’s eyes, and appreciate his reactions up close. What a great set up for a movie, and for storytelling in general.And so, night and day and beautiful twilight, we learn about the neighbours and events begin to sort out and suspicions about one neighbour’s activities rise. And rise higher, causing disruption among those in Stewart’s apartment. It goes from there, always a little light-hearted, but with such visual, quiet, deft handling you just sweep along happily, sometimes joyously. The echoes of camera angles, the moving in and out in space, the layering of close views and far as he looks through his camera’s telephoto on and off, all make for a steady visual pace that gives a sense of control and confidence. We know we are in a deliberate movie, and that the artifice will surprise us and delight us both. And that we will come away unscathed, but enchanted.There are few films this carefully flawless.