Rear Window (1954) Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Rear Window is about two things. The first theme is seeing, watching and interpreting. Here the film can deliciously refer to events within its story and to the process of being the viewer of the movie. It would be too simplistic to call it voyerism and leave it at that.
The other layer of Rear Window is the comment it is making on the conventions of a heterosexual relationship. This is mostly discussed through the characters of Lisa (Grace Kelly) and Jeff (James Steward).
What Jeff is watching while he sits in his wheelchair at home are the variations and phases in lives of heterosexual men and women. Miss Torso is the admired and wanted feminine sexuality. Miss Lonely Heart is punished for not conforming. The murdering husband is the worst case scenario of a heterosexual marriage, whereas the couple sleeping on the balcony is a somewhat more optimistic description. The piano-playing drunk is an ambiguous character – possibly an example of choosing the life of a bachelor, or is it the loneliness of a gay man in the 1950s?
In any case, we are watching these people through the eyes of Jeff. He is a traveling photographer who takes great risks in his job (that's where he broke his leg) and views the prospect of marriage to Lisa as a scary and boring thought. While he is bound to his chair, Lisa appears every evening looking like a movie star, bringing him meals and wooing him to marry her. It really is almost like a cartoon character of 1950s feminine perfection appears in the depressing apartment. The contrast is intentional.
Initially, Jeff finds it difficult to relate to her world, which he clearly judges as superficial. To his visiting nurse he tells that Lisa is too perfect. Lisa says she is willing to conform to his world, even to travel with just one small suitcase to the end of the world. But it is once she begins to look at the neighboring windows through the eyes of Jeff and helping him with the investigation of a possible murder that Jeff seems to accept her.
The film ends in an ambiguous shot at Jeff's apartment after the murder case has been solved by him and Lisa. Now instead of one leg, both of Jeff's legs are cast and obviously he'll be staying in his wheelchair a while longer. Slowly the camera moves to showing Lisa, who lies on her side in Jeff's single bed reading Bazaar magazine. Trapped for good. Is that the message Hitch?
I bought this huge Alfred Hitchcock box-set at Christmas, some 15 films, all with bonus material. We've been intermittently dipping in and out of the box, for example, I was blown away by The Birds last weekend. So, this weekend, Rear Window. This is rated as the one of the high-points of Hitchcock's repertoire, and rightly so.
There is much to admire here. A great performance by one of my favorite actors James Stewart (Jeff), when is he ever bad? Grace Kelly playing Stewart's girlfriend Lisa, looking so wonderful in the Edith Head designs. The much under-valued Thelma Ritter keeps it real as Jeff's masseur. The incredible set on a studio back-lot of the back yard where Jeff views the daily lives of his neighbors is almost a star in its own right. The neighbors Jeff's obsessive gaze introduces us to are Miss Lonelyhearts, Songwriter, Miss Torso and the sinister Lars Thorwald (Raymond Burr). The action mainly takes place in Jeff's living room, this being not only the main protagonists, but the audience's window to the world and characters of Rear Window.
The everyday lives put under a microscope reveal lots of blatant sexuality, loneliness, alcoholism, weary relationships and ultimately murder, subjects most of your average mid-50's studio pictures wouldn't go near. That Rear Window can do this from such a non-linear plot-driven premise, amazes me. Most of this is seen from Stewart's wheelchair-bound hero's perspective, voyeuristic in the extreme. Hitchcock even questions the immoral motives of Stewart's character spying on his neighbors. In reality, it's through nothing other than boredom.
Not much objectivity from me on Rear Window, but for me this picture is pure joy. It is a cinematic exercise in perspective and imagination. It's also Hitchcock, so behind all the theory and psychology this picture is suspenseful and entertaining. A master class.