Written by: John Michael Hayes
Starring: James Stewart, Grace Kelly, Wendell Corey, Thelma Ritter, Raymond Burr
Windows exist as a critical element of any home as it prevents the structure from feeling like a jail cell, allows natural light to enter, and a way to see out into the world without stepping into it. However, having the ability to see out of the window also means others can see in, which certainly has horrifying elements to it but allows for perversity to thrive. This intrigue and curiosity set off the events of Rear Window as it continually unravels into something undeniably masterful.
Stuck in a wheelchair recovering from an accident L.B. Jeffries (James Stewart) spends most of his days looking out of his window and looking to see what his neighbors do with their lives. When his peeking leads to him potentially witnessing a murder, he raises his suspicions and attempts to piece it all together to ensure the killer does not get away with it.
Many thrillers have tried to capture the magic on display in Rear Window and none have ever come close by a wide margin. That comes down to many reasons but all of the elements operating in this feature demonstrate what makes Hitchcock a legendary filmmaker but also makes this particular film probably his greatest achievement. Depending on the day this reaches the top surpassing Psycho for me because of the impeccable craft on display and how it creates a wholly relatable situation.
The perversity running through Rear Window comes from a character who enjoys looking into the lives of others. People watching but behind the thinly-veiled curtain of privacy, one would expect in their own home. Looking into these windows gives Jeffries a snapshot into the lives of these individuals but that does not stop him from creating a complete narrative of them based on what he can see in those limited moments. He should also contend with what individuals do in the presence of outward-facing windows allowing for a level of exhibition and actions they would not display behind a firm wall. Additionally, always looking into the windows of others presents the opportunity where they can look back and catch Jeffries in the act, which certainly becomes a concern based on what he sees. This creates a back-and-forth of what gets displayed and can be seen, which adds to the mystery of what Jeffries observes and how he interprets it.
Taking place during the hot summer in New York City adds a distinct element to this film as well as no other city feels hotter during its summer months. Obviously not existing in the area of the world with the highest recorded temperatures, the sheer amount of people all squeezed together on an island with the black pavement of the streets soaking up the heat makes for an unparalleled collaboration to make anyone feel like they’re boiling. This adds to the frustration of some of the characters, the general discomfort Jeffries feels while in his large cast, and adds liberty to what individuals will display out of their window because of the heat. It all contributes to the perfect storm for a crime of passion to happen and really kick things into gear.
With this feature demonstrating one of Hitchcock’s finest directorial achievements, the true star of the show undoubtedly proved to be the screenplay. A decisively sharp piece of writing in how it sets up these characters and creates a witty interplay between them where they reveal more of themselves strategically to the audience. Certain interactions in this feature left my mouth agape in the humor they display but also how these characters can throw daggers at each other through some words. This gives these actors an absolute meal to work with and they make sure to gobble it up.
Even with all of the genius of this screenplay, it still makes no sense, however, why Jeffries refuses to commit to Lisa (Grace Kelly). Well, to be fair, it’s made clear why as immature as the reason may be but my goodness how one can resist the wit and beauty of Grace Kelly in this feature takes a special type of person most people could never emulate. Lisa Fremont in all her frivolousness represents a wonderful person who would make for the perfect companion in all of things and the fact she continually tries to convince Jeffries to commit to her becomes comedic after a while. Truly ridiculous Jeffries could be so stuck in his ways in how he views the world that he continues to reject someone so intriguing and well-rounded becomes a bigger mystery than whatever he sees with his camera or binoculars across the street.
Having the entire film take place in Jeffries’s living room and looking out of it to the exposed windows across the street, Hitchcock needed to do plenty to keep the film visually engaging and unsurprisingly he manages to do it in style. The master of tension strategically stages everything in the apartment for some dynamic shots but also utilizes the camera so well when looking out of Jeffries’s window. In a sense, every time we look out of the window, we experience what gets displayed through the perspective of Jeffries thus becoming his eyes in seeing everything out there. The way the camera moves as it pans from window to window has a natural feel to it and the distinct angles we get into each space. It all makes for the cutbacks to see the reaction of the characters to what they have seen all the more effective. With such a confined space Hitchcock manages to display so much.
Timeless in its quality and still one of the greatest films ever made, Rear Window has retained its perverse and horny elements in telling a mysterious and tense story. It brings together three incredible characters trying to piece this all together aided by an impeccable screenplay by John Michael Hayes. It shines through the simplicity of the premise and allows for something incredibly enjoyable and something to cherish for all of eternity as one of the seminal works of one of the greatest living directors to ever pick up a camera.