Rear Window (1954)
L.B. "Jeff" Jeffries (Stewart), a professional photographer, breaks his leg while taking an extreme action shot. Finding himself confined to his New York apartment he spends his time looking out of the rear window observing his neighbours. He begins to suspect that a man across the courtyard may have murdered his wife. Jeff enlists the help of his fashion-consultant girlfriend Lisa Freemont (Grace Kelly) and his visiting nurse Stella (Thelma Ritter) to investigate.
This film had me at hello. Why? Because it was the first Hitchcock film I'd ever watched and I was unprepared for the full on experience of sight, sound and passion.
The opening sequence of Rear Window employs great use of cinematic techniques, mainly panning, zooming, cutting and sound with the sole aim of making the viewer feel as voyeuristic as Jeff. It also introduces all the neighbours.
Hitchcock is famous for not following the pack; he invented a few techniques of his own which are copied copiously by younger directors. Somehow though it feels they don't have Hitchcock's passion and project a parody of his greatness.
But I digress, back to Rear Window. Jeff and Lisa have an odd relationship, especially from the Hollywood perspective. She is in love and wants marriage; he is in love but wants his freedom. At first Lisa is indifferent to window watching but eventually is lured into it and becomes as obsessed as Jeff. We are introduced to the maid, Stella who cheers them on and the obsession grows.
Things take a very dark turn when Jeff and Lisa witness their neighbour packing up his wife's things and taking them out of the apartment after midnight one night.
The obsession overtakes Jeff, Lisa and Stella and eventually leads to Lisa breaking into the apartment to look for clues. Unfortunately, the neighbour, Thorwald (Raymond Burr) comes back to the apartment and catches Lisa. But she manages to get away.
Jeff's detective friend tells them to calm down as he has chatted to Thorwald and tells them Thorwald's wife is visiting family. Lisa doesn't believe this as she saw all the wife's jewellery in the apartment and explains no woman would leave her wedding ring at home. Ah, 50's Hollywood.
But now the enemy knows he is being watched and sits quietly in the dark in his apartment, the only sign a red hot cigarette tip as it burns slowly away.
Hitchcock builds the tension relentlessly and leaves it to build and build. Quite honestly this technique has been copied time and time again but this film still leaves me stressed and unsettled by the final scenes.
Especially interesting is the filming of Jeff's final encounter with Thorwald and his fall from the rear window. The photography is deliberately jagged and Stewart's facial acting is amazing. But the neighbours all come running in the end and two of them break Jeff's fall. It seems everyone has been watching everyone else.
It's my favourite Hitchcock film, as the cast is amazing, the cinematography incredible and with a script full of jovial sarcasm, what's not to like.
It's on my play list.
Read my review of "Disturbia" 2007