THE 100 GREATEST FILMS OF ALL TIME – 67: REAR WINDOW

by Laurent Kelly

Rear Window (1954) – Director: Alfred Hitchcock  Starring: James Stewart, Grace Kelly, Thelma Ritter, Raymond Burr  Adapted Screenplay: John Michael Hayes  OSCAR COUNT (0) – Nominated for Direction and Screenplay

This is Alfred Hitchcock’s second entry in this countdown. To view his previous entry see below:

91: Strangers on a train

Rear Window is centred around an ingenious premise which I’m sure many writers which they had considered themselves namely what would happen if you grew increasingly suspicious about the behaviour of a neighbour across the road.  Its a simple but perfect idea expertly handled by Alfred Hitchcock. There is a reason why he was given the monikker of the master of  suspense and this film is further proof of his delightful cinematic gifts.

The most admirable element of Rear Window is its patient plotting as the potentially whacky scenario thankfully never descends into an elaborate, overblown gimmick. Like the protagonist Jeffrie we begin to gradually piece together the clues and become caught up in the adventure of trying to solve the case. As the characters become immersed deeper into the puzzle some thrilling moments are wonderfully staged such as Grace Kelly’s character Lisa Carol who investigates the killers apartment only for the man himself to return whilst she is blissfully roams around in his home.  Jeffrie is helpless, bound in his wheelchair much like we as an audience become completely helpless and can do nothing but watch as it appears as if she will be caught. The use of dramatic irony in this sequence is brilliantly utilised, bringing the audience into the story and heightening the emotional appeal towards her character.

Similarly the ending sequence is an exhilarating piece of cinema as the killer makes his way over to Jeffrie’s apartment. Jeffrie turns off the lights and we are quite literally left in the dark during a prolonged and agonising wait for the film’s antagonist. Each footstep makes the heart beat pound a little faster and it becomes almost unbearably tense not knowing when he might suddenly appear. It takes real guts to leave the audience in the lurch in such a manner and yet this minimalistic, stagey approach is far scarier than the impact of frenetic editing and action. Writing this now the scene reminds me of the terrifying moment in the Coen Brothers film No Country for Old Men where Llewyn waits for Chigurgh to make his way inside the room – a nailbiting sequence for much the same reason.

Another clever trick of the film of course is its exploration of voyeurism and indeed the film’s comment on the voyeuristic nature of cinema. Jeffrie uses his binoculars to spy on his neighbours and like him we become intrigued by life behind closed doors. The film forces us to acknowledge the fact that we are essentially very fascinated by others people’s lives which is indeed one of the great appeals of cinema itself.

The actual shots of various people in their homes was the result of a stunning piece of direction as all the various actors has to perfectly synchronise their movements so that we see what Jeffrie sees as he gazes outside his window. In spite of this challenging piece of choreography all of the action looks entirely naturalistic and this is credit once again to the mastermind behind the camera.

Hitchcock made more emotionally satisfying pictures but I think that Rear Window sits alongside North by Northwest as two of his most thrilling.

DID YOU KNOW? Hitchcock worked only in Jeffrie’s apartment throughout the entire shoot relaying information for the other shots through a series of ear-pieces.

Iconic Moment: Grace Kelly’s entrance as Lisa Carol Fremont:

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