Monday, April 17, 2006

Movie Review: Rear Window (1954)

U.S. Release Date: 1954
Running Time: 1:53
Rated: PG (Mature themes, violence)
Cast: James Stewart, Grace Kelley, Wendell Corey, Thelma Ritter, Raymond Burr

Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Producer: Alfred Hitchcock
Screenplay: John Michael Hayes, based on a short story by Cornell Woolrich
Music: Franz Waxman
Studio: Universal Pictures

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For some, Rear Window is Hitchcock’s leading legacy. For others, it is merely one of his better films. Regardless, Rear Window is an intense exercise in suspense and an ardent observation of Hitchcock’s sterling talent. With a jam-packed plot and enough moments of voyeurism to muster up concentrated feelings of privacy violation, Rear Window calls for the title of a “must-experience” rather than a “must-see.”

L.B. Jeffries (James Stewart) is a magazine photographer who has been confined to a wheelchair to allow for his broken leg to recuperate. With a set of large windows and a telephoto lens, Jeffries is inclined to watch over his neighborhood’s happenings. Several apartments are visible, yet one specific tenant catches Jeffries’ eye.

Once Lars Thorwald (Raymond Burr), a traveling jewelry salesman, begins to engage in suspicious behavior, Jeffries becomes convinced that this man murdered and then dismembered his wife. As the clues continue to pile, Jeffries’ love interest, Lisa Fremont (Grace Kelley), who at first is a skeptic, quickly becomes a partnered sleuth. From there, the mystery and the romance simultaneously fuse in a memorable twenty-minute climax.

The surprising thing about Rear Window is that, more than anything, the seemingly-minute details remain vivid—for instance, a glowing cigar from afar and the playful meanderings of the ivory-tickling neighbor. Likewise, the film’s idiosyncratic characters stand out just as much as the stellar leads. Every character in the script finds a way to nudge their persona into the back of your mind and force you to recall them at a later date.

Even so, Grace Kelley plays her part with grace and charm. She is a strikingly beautiful, insanely seductive, and an immensely talented actress. Meanwhile, James Stewart proves why he is one of the finest actors to emerge from the thirties. Between this performance and his work in Vertigo, Hitchcock was arguably capable of bringing out his best.

For any viewer who wants to dip into the mystery and majesty of Hitchcock’s work, Rear Window presents an obvious option. It puts Hitchcock’s capability behind a camera on full display. Among the lighting, score, camera angles, and the psychology of drawing a fine line between being a voyeur and a Good Samaritan, all facets of the film are absolutely flawless.

Whether you have previously viewed this masterpiece or not is immaterial; you will never leave your seat disappointed. When Burr’s character approaches Stewart’s, it will surely send a shiver down your spine—time and time again. Furthermore, the handicap of the main character inhibits your facility to remain calm and adds to the urgent claustrophobia.

Single-handedly, Rear Window fulfills the fantasies of the voyeur in us all. It champions on subtlety, peculiarity, and mystery, and at the same time, it is an elixir designed to combat any ounce of ennui. It is suspenseful, masterful, and artful. Above all, it encompasses the unreserved virtuosity of Hitchcock in one efficient feeding. (**** out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2006