Classic Cracker: Rear Window (1954)

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Rear Window. Where do you start when attempting a futile critical evaluation of this Hitchcock masterpiece? So many others have already discussed and dissected the film, is there really anything left to say about it? In some ways, not really. Yet, because every viewing experience is a personal thing between the movie and the viewer, maybe I can put some words down. Even if all I do is remind someone else to revisit it, because this is a film that stands up to numerous rewatched, for both entertainment purposes and also general film studies.

James Stewart is a talented photographer who has spent seven weeks in a wheelchair, with a broken leg in plaster, after getting himself in the thick of some action during an assignment at a car race. He has one week to go. To occupy his time, he watches his neighbours who live across the courtyard. There’s a woman dubbed “Miss Lonelyhearts”, there’s a newlywed couple, an energetic dancer dubbed “Miss Torso”, a music composer, and a few others. There’s also someone (Raymond Burr) who may or may not have just murdered his wife. And that’s the meat of the plot, as Stewart starts to play amateur sleuth, roping in his care assistant (Thelma Ritter), his patient girlfriend (Grace Kelly), and a friend from the police force (Wendell Corey).

Figuring out where to beging when praising Rear Window is a bit of a struggle, because it feels a bit like heaping too much praise upon one aspect might make people assume you don’t rate other aspects as highly. That’s just not the case. I want to praise Hitchcock, of course, particularly for moments in which the story is allowed to unfold almost entirely in visuals. He’s a master of the craft working during a period when arguably at the height of his powers. But I also want to praise writer John Michael Hayes, who adapted the short story by Cornell Woolrich. Although much of the film is told visually, almost every line of dialogue develops character or furthers the plot. And, of course, these things are complemented by the stellar acting from the entire cast. Stewart is on top form (he rarely wasn’t, as far as I’m concerned), Kelly has lots of fun in her role, as does Ritter, Corey is absolutely solid, and Burr comes into his own during the big finale.

There’s also a quality cast of supporting players to praise, a diegetic soundtrack that works beautifully to keep you immersed in the world that Stewart is observing, and a runtime close to two hours that feels as if it just zips by. I’m going to stop now, bearing in mind the saying that mentions keeping your mouth closed and being thought a fool as an option better than opening it and proving your foolishness to everyone, but I could spend a lot more time just complimenting every scene, every move of the camera, all of the perfect framing, and anything else that might come to mind. Just see the film if you haven’t already, or give it a rewatch if you’ve left it a while since your last viewing.

DIRECTOR: ALFRED HITCHCOCK
WRITER: JOHN MICHAEL HAYES, BASED ON THE SHORT STORY BY CORNELL WOOLRICH
STARS: JAMES STEWART, GRACE KELLY, THELMA RITTER, RAYMOND BURR, WENDELL COREY
RUNTIME: 112 MINS APPROX
COUNTRY: USA

Film Rating: ★★★★★

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