I hope to review Gun Crazy and Eastern Promises in the next few days, until then, here is Rear Window.
ear Window is among Hitchcock’s greatest accomplishments. Using the camera as a voyeur, Hitchcock plunges the viewer into the mind of L. B. Jefferies, as he himself is confined to a room and finds his only pleasure in spying on his neighbours. When he thinks he sees a murder being committed, he does all he can to investigate by enlisting the help of his nurse and his beautiful girlfriend. The camera only sees and hears what Jefferies does, and the audience feels just as trapped and unsure as him. This works against the theory of dramatic irony, that Hitchcock once claimed was the key to suspense, and that he had used to full opportunity in many of his earlier films. That is to say, the audience knows more about what is happening than the characters and this is the source of suspense. In Shadow of a Doubt, for example the audience knows right off the bat the Uncle Charlie is indeed a murderer. Most of the suspense comes from the incidental events, as Young Charlie begins to unravel the fact that her uncle is dangerous. Same thing in Notorious, when Hitchcock reveals to the audience that Sebastien and his mother have realised that Alicia is working for the Americans, but she is completely unaware. Rear Window is one of Hitchcock’s first departures from this method (discounting films that don’t exactly fit into the “thriller” genre, at least not explicitly, like The 39 Steps or even Rebecca), and along with Vertigo, probably his most successful.
This shift in the way he allows the film to unravel is essential to the success of Rear Window. Dramatic Irony would have been drastically changed how Rear Window was crafted, and truthfully would have most likely been an inappropriate way to move the plot forward, and to create suspense. Placing the camera with Jefferies, the suspense comes from what we don’t know rather than what we do know. Hitchcock’s clever inclusion of both Lisa and Stella, strengthens the films tension as it gives the more sceptical audience members, characters to latch onto if they don’t immediately believe like Jefferies does, that a murder has been committed. Hitchcock is aware that not everybody will be convinced that a murder has been committed, and instead of losing his viewers because they can’t commit to a sense of suspended disbelief, he allows them to slowly be convinced along with the other two characters. If you are not caught by the time Grace Kelly, staring in confused disbelief asks Jefferies to repeat everything he thinks is going on, you’re a lost cause.
Of course, the two characters don’t serve solely as a means of driving the suspense, they enhance the strength of the film’s characterizations and thematic depth. Lisa (Grace Kelly) in particular, serves to add sexual conflict that plays into the established voyeurism. She is the perfect woman, in almost every sense of the word; beautiful, intelligent, hard working and madly in love with Jefferies. Her perfection is the grounds on which he wants to break off their relationship, before he even suspects a murder has taken place across the yard. Those early conversations they have about commitment, and her not being equipped for his line of work are a great set-up for the sacrifice and risks she takes later in the film. It’s strange that it’s the investigation of a possible murder that truly brings them together, and he finds value in the knowledge of clothes and women he earlier dismissed and realises she is prepared to put herself in dangerous situations to satisfy him, as well as her own curiosity. The scene where she sneaks into the murderer’s apartment is one of the most gripping ever committed to screen. Again, playing into the fact the audience is in effect in Jefferies mind, it’s almost as if we are also in love with her and the fear that something will go wrong permeates every frame. There is something intensely sexual about these scenes, as we are watching something that we shouldn’t, and instead of looking away we are compelled, even aroused by it. Film is a voyeuristic medium, and Hitchcock is able to turn the camera back onto his audience, revealing to us the perversity in our obsession and love for cinema (at the very least).
All of this is enhanced by Hitchcock’s meticulous attention to detail in the construction, what was at the time the largest indoor set in the Paramount studios, what literally was a living and breathing neighbourhood in almost constant movement. Hitchcock uses incidental music only, and the soundtrack is composed only of sounds that’s source can be traced somewhere within the scene. Furthermore, the orchestration of all the actors is tremendous, like an elaborate ballet. It makes the film all the more interesting in repeated viewings as your focus can drift somewhat from the exact happenings of a scene to see what the woman downstairs is doing, or the popular ballet dancer is dancing or who her guest is at a given moment. The use of lighting, which reminds me very much of Rope, is exaggerated and beautiful. The twilight scenes in particular are glowing with colour, and we see exactly why Hitchcock preferred working on a set than to go out on location. The art of set design, and lighting that makes films by Hitchcock, or Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger so intense and visually interesting, unfortunately seems an art lost to the ages.
Even today, Hitchcock is all too often relegated to the sidelines when the all time great directors and films are being discussed, taking a closer look at his filmography one realises that few filmmakers have ever compared to the depth and even the entertainment value of his work. Choosing just one film to represent them all is near impossible, and his work is so rich that at least a dozen films of his can qualitatively be called his best. Rear Window is a rare film that all films should watch at least once, and for a film that relies on surprise it’s amazing that it holds up with every viewing.