Let’s Talk About…’Rear Window’ (1954)

Film #10 in FilmExodus’ AFI 100 Movies

Every Tuesday FilmExodus does a review/analysis of a different cinematic masterpiece from AFI’s 100 Movies 2007 updated list. For a complete overview and how you can participate, click here.

Alfred Hitchcock directed many great films during his long career and Rear Window (1954) is among the best of them.  This film, without indulging in hyperbole, is a masterpiece.  It earned nominations for academy awards in the categories of best director, best adapted screenplay, best cinematography-color, and best sound mixing.

Rear Window stars James Stewart as L.B. Jefferies, a professional photographer confined to a wheelchair due to a broken leg.  The rear window of Jefferies’ apartment faces a courtyard shared by other tenants.  During an intense heat wave, Jefferies takes up the habit of observing his neighbors through their open windows using binoculars and a telephoto lens.  During a storm one night, Jefferies hears a scream and observes suspicious behavior by one of his neighbors, Thorwald (Raymond Burr), which leads him to believe that the man may have killed his wife.  The charming Grace Kelly co-stars as Lisa Fremont, Jefferies’ significant other.

Rear Window has a lot going for it.  It is a tight, exciting thriller.  There are several instances where the audience and Jefferies share the same perspective and even the same experiences.  In one of the film’s most suspenseful scenes, both the audience and Jefferies are forced to watch through the window of Thorwald’s apartment as Lisa searches the man’s home for clues of the murder.  When Thorwald returns it is a true edge-of-the-seat moment.

Voyeurism, obviously, is a main subject of the film.  In addition to using the film to talk about that, Hitchcock uses the neighbors’ lives (as viewed by Jefferies) as subplots to introduce themes of isolation, relationships, and the way perception sometimes belies reality:  the stories we make up about the people we see every day may have nothing to do with the lives they actually lead.

James Stewart takes a bit of a risk in portraying, basically, a peeping tom.  It’s Stewart’s charisma that prevents him from being simply a creep who spies on his neighbors.

Rear Window has become a cultural touchstone.  Disturbia (2007) was a modern retelling.  References and spoofs have appeared in television shows as varied as The Simpsons, Get Smart, and That ‘70’s Show.  Entire books have been written about this film, so there is MUCH more to talk about than I can cover in a brief introduction.  Take a look at the links below and then hit the comments section to chime in.  If you haven’t seen Rear Window yet, DO IT.  Hitchcock is at the top of his game here.

Here’s the opening of Rear Window.  It is a great sequence that establishes the setting and immediately lures the viewer into the world Hitchcock has created.  It is also a great showcase for the huge, intricate set constructed for the film.

The scene where Lisa is caught in Thorwald’s apartment.  The shot of Thorwald staring straight at Jefferies (and the audience) is chilling.

Martin Scorsese on Rear Window:

Finally, here’s a neat little video that demonstrates how Alfred Hitchcock was able to masterfully manipulate his audiences: