Rear Window Movie Review
Seeing the restored "Rear Window" on the big screen again gave me goose bumps. This voyeuristic mystery is a masterpiece of meticulous detail -- the kind of detail that just doesn't come across on a TV, I don't care how big the screen or how sharp the picture.
All but four of the characters spend the entire movie 50 feet away from the audience's vantage point. They have little audible dialogue. Yet Alfred Hitchcock, genius that he was, managed to portray the littlest nuances of their personalities as James Stewart -- our bored, peeping hero, laid up with a broken leg in his sweltering New York flat -- spies on them all in their apartments from his window.
The story, of course, centers around stir-crazy Stewart's intense scrutiny of one of these neighbors, after witnessing the aftermath of a possible murder. Raymond Burr (sporting badly dyed gray hair), plays a scowling, barrel-chested salesman who steps out several times late one night carrying very heavy luggage and returns with the same bags much lighter. When his bickering, bed-ridden wife is conspicuously absent the next morning, Stewart's analytical imagination goes into overdrive.
The precision with which Hitchcock unveils piecemeal the evidence of homicide gives this picture a sense of high anxiety that sneaks up on you, because the mischievous director lulls his audience into a sense of comfort and familiarity with sharp banter (between Stewart and the snappy Thelma Ritter as his busybody nurse) and other delightful distractions. For instance, the luminous Grace Kelly, at her most intelligent and desirable as Stewart's attentive and adventurous society girlfriend.
While not as crisp as a picture produced today would be, this print of "Window" has uniformly restored its Technicolor splendor and the remarkably precise sound design which helped win the film a pair of technical Oscars.
Hitchcock (who won Best Director) makes the audience strain, just as Stewart does, to hear voices across the courtyard between buildings and over the din of the city. The effect helps to mount tremendous tension as Kelly and Ritter start taking risks to expose Burr's crime -- like sneaking into his apartment to look for clues while Stewart watches helplessly from his window.
Hitchcock's most timeless masterpiece, "Rear Window" is more modern as ever in today's voyeuristic times (witness trashy TV talk shows, "The Real World," "Cops" and "Blind Date"), and its battery of modest, natural performances is equally ageless. Stewart and Kelly have never been more human then they are in this film.
"Rear Window" is also a testament to the suspense master's boundless talent for simple, gripping storytelling.
He establishes the basis of Stewart's character in a single camera pan -- across the cast on his broken leg, over a stack of magazine covers and a smashed camera (evidence of the accident that landed him in a cast), and up to a wall of framed, action-packed pictures divulging his intrepid photojournalism career.
In another shot, he sets up summer in New York, passing across the screen Stewart's sweaty brow, a thermometer displaying 94 degrees and a couple across the courtyard sleeping on their fire escape.
Just watching the bamboo shades on Stewart's windows roll up in the title sequence to reveal nearby buildings full of fascinating neighbors betrays the director's brilliance at a fundamental level.
As is always the case with Hitchcock, this is a movie that only gets better as the trepidation builds. I've seen "Rear Window" at least a dozen times, and my shoulders still get tense as it approaches its ominous climax without ever venturing far from Stewart's windowsill.