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Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window

Voyeurism, Love, Marriage and Murder

About.com Rating 5 Star Rating



Rear Window DVD Cover

(c) Paramount
A brilliant, suspenseful Alfred Hitchcock film that hangs on an unhealthy but irresistible voyeurism, Rear Window takes on the ideas of love, marriage and murder in the confines of a New York City courtyard. Jimmy Stewart stars as an adventurous magazine photographer stuck in his apartment with a broken leg, reduced to snooping on his neighbors.

With luminous Grace Kelly as his fashion goddess girlfriend, witty dialog, a clever point of view for the camera and nail-biting suspense, Rear Window is among the finest Hitchcock films, entertaining and thrilling.

The Plot

The action takes place entirely on a special set constructed for the movie - a Greenwich Village courtyard with low buildings, tiny gardens, and a single alley exit to the street. The camera sees all the action from the rear window in photographer L.B. “Jeff” Jeffries’ tiny studio apartment. We see only what he can see: his own apartment, his neighbors’ windows and balconies, the courtyard and a sliver of street through the alley.

The bored photographer uses binoculars and even a zoom lens to spy on his neighbors: honeymooners, a composer, a ballet dancer, a lonely spinster, happily married couples, and, as he comes to suspect, a murderous husband (Raymond Burr before he was Perry Mason).

Jeff’s girlfriend Lisa (Kelly), the visiting nurse from the insurance company (Thelma Ritter) and his old pal from the Air Force, now a police detective, are at first skeptical about his theory that traveling salesman Lars Thorvald (Burr) has done with away with his nagging missus, but as Thorvald carts sample cases in and out, packs a trunk with her clothes, Jeff starts to win them over - except for the detective.

The themes of romance and marriage done right and gone wrong thread throughout. Jeff and Lisa quarrel over his reluctance to marry her and settle down. Meanwhile, he watches as the newlywed husband occasionally opens the window, gasping for air; the ballet dancer juggles suitors; and the spinster struggles to find romance (a bit of snooping that finally causes Jeff to feel some shame at his peeping.)

The Cast of 'Rear Window'

Rear Window asks a lot of Stewart (he’s in every scene), and he delivers. His slow-talking geniality and dry humor gradually dissolve with his impatience at his confinement and his inability to prove Thorwald’s guilt. And you simply can’t keep your eyes off Grace Kelly as she waltzes through the movie in a series of smashing outfits. Her performance is superb as well. She was never better - soft, feminine and firmly in control.

Ritter is delightful as the wise-cracking nurse who can “smell trouble,” and Wendell Corey is good as Doyle, the police detective who keeps throwing cold water on Jeff’s theories. The neighbors, always viewed from a distance, are more mimes than actors, but they’re all compelling.

The Backstory

The tense climax depends on a brilliant visual image that may not be familiar to younger viewers -- the extremely bright flashbulbs once used with old cameras that could temporarily blind the subject. It’s realized wonderfully here for those old enough to remember the sensation, but could be baffling to others.

Rear Window was made entirely at Paramount Studios, and the set, which included several fully furnished apartments, was the largest ever built indoors at the time. Hitchcock’s signature cameo appears early in the film, as he fiddles with something on the mantelpiece in the composer’s apartment.

Rear Window was remade in 1998 with a paralyzed Christopher Reeve in the lead role, and again in 2007 as Disturbia.

'Rear Window' - the bottom line

Clever, compelling and utterly original, Rear Window is among Hitchcock’s finest films. Not to be missed by any fan of classic movies, suspense films, the director or his stars.

Recommended for You

If you liked Rear Window, you may like other Alfred Hitchcock films, or such film noir mysteries as The Big Sleep or The Maltese Falcon.

'Rear Window' at a Glance:

Year: 1954, Color
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Running Time: 112 minutes
Studio: Paramount
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