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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

Rear Window (1954)



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"Jeff, you know if someone came in here, they wouldn't believe what they'd see? You and me with long faces plunged into despair because we find out a man didn't kill his wife. We're two of the most frightening ghouls I've ever known."

Rear Window is, even in the undiluted sense of the term, a masterpiece. More likely than not, it is Alfred Hitchcock's best film, and perhaps Jimmy Stewart's best too. It's also an extremely tense thriller with some unsettling scenes that depict the horror of helplessness.

The film is all about people watching each other: the nosy instincts in all of us that prompt us to snoop on the people around us and the trouble it can get us into. Stewart plays a photographer who has broken his leg and has to remain in his apartment. To pass the time, he observes his neighbors in adjacent apartment buildings, the lawn between, the street in front, etc. The entire film takes place either in Stewart's apartment or within view of it. The set, fascinating in its intricacy and detail, ranks as one of the greatest and most famous sets ever constructed for a motion picture. Furthermore, except for a single shot where objectivity is important, the camera remains in the apartment -- we see things precisely as Stewart's character sees them, which turns out to be vital to the effectiveness of the film.

It makes it all the more fascinating when the people Stewart spies on, characters whose voices we can scarcely hear and who may never be seen from more than a distance, become real, tangible characters. We, the audience, are permitted a profound and intimate look into the private side of these people's lives, seeing facets of their characters that are normally unseen, facets that neither we nor Stewart's character were ever meant to see. But how can we resist? And why are these characters living their private lives with the blinds open, anyway? A secret need in all of us to be intimately understood? Are open blinds the easiest way to allow this without threatening our inhibitive natures? Regardless of the answer, the difficult task of so fully fleshing out characters seen only from a distance while maintaining the film's moral statement on nosiness is pulled off effortlessly and effectively, thanks to magnificent direction and fine acting.

So what's the story? Stewart witnesses some peculiar occurrences that lead him to believe one of his neighbors is, in fact, a murderer. Much of the plot involves tracking and trapping the killer, all from the confines of Stewart's apartment. The trouble is that none of his friends take him seriously, at least at first. Grace Kelly is an especially noteworthy co-star; she plays a potential love interest and makes an unforgettable dream-like entrance. Her dialogue with Stewart mirrors the mood of most of Hitchcock's films -- fresh, funny, tense, and energetic, with a cold, haunting undercurrent lurking just beneath the surface. Rear Window as a whole is much like that. Like the best of films, it can be viewed on any level -- whether seen simply as a mystery suspense thriller or a cutting statement on the nosy side of human nature, Rear Window is as close to perfection as films generally get.

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