The second film we chose for the 1950’s was Rear Window from 1954, a Hitchcock classic starring James Stewart and Grace Kelly. The premise is that a photographer has broken his leg getting a great action shot on a race track and has been in a cast and wheel chair for six weeks. At the time of the movie, it is his final week in the cast and then he will get back to traveling the globe taking pictures for a magazine. He doesn’t leave his two room apartment in Manhattan. His entire world has been reduced to daily visits from his insurance company nurse (played by Thelma Ritter) and his socialite girlfriend. Having nothing to do but submit to his nurse’s ministrations and fend off commitment with the “too perfect, too beautiful” girlfriend, he has taken to watching his neighbors. His apartment window faces a courtyard at the intersection of three or four different apartment buildings and Jimmy Stewart gets to know them all: “Miss Torso” the ballerina who likes to dance in front of her fridge in her undies, “Miss Lonelyheart” who wears glasses and can’t catch a break with the boys. It’s summer time and everyone leaves their window open so Jimmy gets occasional snippets of sound, as well. This is Hitchcock, so you can guess what happens next. Jimmy, who has taken to falling asleep in his wheelchair wakes up in the middle of a rainy night and sees the neighbor across the courtyard played by Raymond Burr (Perry Mason!) behaving suspiciously. And after that, his nagging wife is gone.
Beyond the sexism (window-woman archetypes are only interesting in how they relate to men: the bombshell, the spinster, the newlywed, and the nagging wife), this is a near perfect film. Hitchcock takes a claustrophobic world (and his camera never ventures beyond what Stewart can see from the window or through his telephoto lens), and turns it into a hive of human drama. The subplots are just as interesting as the main event, and even as tense in parts. The suspenseful moments are so well done they may take your breath away. Aside from the murder, there’s the wonderful story of how a man who thinks his girlfriend is too high maintenance to be happy with (or partner to) a not-rich traveling photographer falls in love with her loyalty, bravery, and adventurous spirit. And Grace. Oh lord, Grace is luminously beautiful and her clothes are wonderful and she wears a charm bracelet that I’ve been coveting my entire life. Her voice, her hair, the way she moves…this is why only having made ten films before becoming Her Serene Highness of Monaco she is still a film icon. I’m gushing. I’ll stop. This is in my top ten films of all time and I adore every frame.
With the name Alfred Hitchcock behind this film, I guess is expecting more than a glorified Peeping Tom movie. While the setting was interesting, the set up went on way too long for me. I think this would have worked as a short 30-45 minute flick, but as a full length movie, it didn’t work for me. Skip it and find something else. If you must see it, watch the first 5 minutes, and then fast forward to the last 30 minutes or so. You won’t miss much.