I’ve long been a fan of Alfred Hitchcock’s movies, ever since I first saw his early 60s horror double bill, Psycho and The Birds, but it wasn’t really until sitting down to properly watch Rear Window that I realized quite why he was dubbed by many “The Master of Suspense”.
Focusing on James Stewart wheelchair bound photographer, L.B. “Jeff” Jeffries, as he goes stir crazy, and cabin fever and paranoia set in, as he nears the end of an 8 week stint in his New York apartment recovering from a broken leg.
As the film begins, all appears normal as we are looking into the everyday lives of Jeff and his neighbours, all from the viewpoint of his apartment, and we meet Jeff fashionista girlfriend, Lisa (Grace Kelly).
As with many of Hitchcock’s films the leading pair of Stewart and Kelly are oddly mismatched, possibly reflecting Hitch’s own supposed fantasies, but, for the most part, I was so engrossed in the tense story developing around them that this was a minor factor.
As the suspense heightens as Jeff believes he is witness to a murder Hitchcock’s mastery of direction really makes itself obvious, as the camera never leaves the flat giving us the same feeling as our hero as he sees what he thinks he sees.
The design of the set is another wonder. The apartment block shows itself to be a full size practical creation as we explore the lives of its inhabitants and events slowly reveal themselves and we get to know everyone as well (or better) as many know their own neighbours in real life.
Stewart’s performance, trapped in a wheelchair for most of the movie, is brilliantly understated for the first half of the film before the signs of paranoia begin to display themselves in largely subtle ways, until the film’s climax. Kelly also plays this style acting largely as an equal to Stewart, leading to some great scenes between the two and its only in the end that she becomes the damsel in distress and, even then, the script gives her a little extra something to play with.
For only one scene is Jeff’s apartment blocked off from the outside world as Lisa lowers the blinds to offer the couple some privacy, but, even then, Hitchcock never lets us forget the proximity in which Jeff is living with his neighbours as the lights of the other apartments remain clearly visible through the barrier.
This really gives the film its main theme as we are plunged into the heart of a modern society that was really hitting its peak in the post war era the film comes from, and it still reflects something about society today, where people are living in close proximity to each other but don’t really know who each other or what they might be getting up to.
As Hitchcock movies go, Rear Window falls somewhere between the out-and-out ‘graphic’ movies like Psycho and The Birds and the more suspense based films like North By Northwest and Vertigo to create another truly great picture that demonstrates just what made Hitchcock such a celebrated director.