An Essential and Stylish Movie Classic
Made in 1954, director Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, starring Jimmy Stewart and the always beautiful Grace Kelly, set the standard for classic movie thrillers for decades to come. In fact its voyeur-who-witnesses-a-murder-and-isn’t-believed theme is an essential part of any movie that seeks to encourage a bit of paranoia and suspense. Alfred Hitchcock himself relied upon this premise in several other movies of his over the years, to great effect.
The film opens with Jimmy Stewart’s photographer character, Jeff Jeffries, bound to a wheelchair, convalescing after an accident. Actually more of a professional voyeur, he spends the day observing the comings-and-goings of the neighbors in his apartment building. The films darkens quickly enough, after he observes what he thinks may have been a murder. It’s at this point that Jeffries has a very hard, if not at first impossible, time convincing his girlfriend Lisa — effectively played by Grace Kelly – and others that the upstanding citizen across the way may not be as harmless and nice as he seems.
A lot of critics, including this one, feel that the murder that Stewart’s character may or may not have witnessed is nothing more than what’s called a “MacGuffin.” That is, it’s a pretext with which to give motivation to certain characters to make them do what they need to do in the movie. This makes sense, because Rear Window forces us to examine Jeffries, Lisa, and the possible murderer (Raymond Burr), and how they react to what’s going on around them; their interrelationships and the emotions which play across their faces, at times. The possibility of murder itself, cold as it may seem, is just something that’s used to get these characters going in the directions they need to. We especially find ourselves interested in examining how Jimmy Stewart, in the role of voyeur or sentinel, reacts to his situation, hobbled as he is by his confinement to a wheelchair. And that’s the genius behind this film, for only a truly masterful actor (which Stewart was) could be convincing enough to make the average movie audience of the time care more about him than about a person who may have been killed.
Honored as one the 100 best movies of all time, Rear Window set the standard for the classic movie thriller. Its cinematography and skillful use of camera work by Hitchcock, who propels you into the feelings of the main characters as effortlessly as a river of water flows downstream, will keep you riveted to your chair. If you get a chance, rent it or buy one of the re-mastered DVDs available for sale.